When I first heard about this, I was expecting something that involved schoolboys throwing food at each other.
In fact, it goes back to the antics of the military in the jungles of the Philippines – food would be laid out on banana leaves, with a big bowl of rice in the middle, and hungry soldiers would eat with their hands. Of course, they’d grab as much as they could, jostling each other, rather than really fighting.
Food from the Philippines is relatively unknown in the UK and there are just a handful of restaurants in London. It’s a shame as it’s a distinct culinary experience, standing out from its other Asian neighbours with little use of chillies. But Filipino cuisine is no stranger to strong flavours with vinegar, citrus, soy sauce and garlic flavouring dishes that are salty, sweet and sour.
The restaurant in Hoxton is the brainchild of Mediterranean-trained Pinoy Chef Francis Puyat, formerly of Yotam Ottolenghi’s NOPI. It’s an intimate space with a big central bar area surrounded by tables. The ambience is informal and the Boodle Fight is served every Sunday afternoon – you can choose a Full Boodle or limit it to meat, veggie, fish or even vegan.
Of course, we go for the Full Boodle and it’s served on a banana leaf board, filling the table. Frankly there’s a lot of food and the waitress guides us round the different dishes. We’re spoilt for choice and it’s difficult to know where to start. Since it’s the middle of winter it makes sense to sample the hot stuff first.
At the centre is Lechon – suckling pig, slow-roasted on a spit, to create juicy meat, melted fat and crispy skin. It’s exactly as described and gets an extra zing with the sweet and sour Atchara papaya pickle. This is a good way to start the meal and I’m already sensing those distinctive Filipino flavours.
Something far more subtle are the banana leaf parcels of grilled seabass, with a mild chopped pineapple and coconut sambal, that are for more sensitive souls. We continue eating fish with Kilawin, the Filipino equivalent of ceviche. Raw salmon is cured with kalamansi lime, then added to mango soaked in palm vinegar and coconut milk. There’s a touch of jalapeno pepper to give it a slight kick.
Back to the hot dishes. One of my favourites is Pinakbet, a mixture of prawns, shrimp paste, crispy pork and sliced okra, the meat and fish combination complementing each other. There’s also Sisig, a Filipino favourite, made from braised pig’s head, lemon and pork scratchings, topped with a fried egg. This is genuinely authentic and as good as any I’ve had.
We’re slowing slightly but we wrap the Lumpia, pork spring rolls, in lettuce and dip them into kalamansi juice, before tackling the oxtail Kare Kare. These are archetypal Spanish croquetas, stuffed with tender slow-cooked meat, served on a layer of aubergine and pak choi, with peanut and shrimp sauce.
Next, shredded carrot, sweet potato and butternut squash are combined in Ukoy fritters which we eat with fresh lemon and a lemongrass and chilli dip. Our Boodle ends with a burnt aubergine salad, an excellent palate cleanser. It’s a refreshing combination of coconut, hazelnut, tomato, apple and beetroot adding freshness to the smoky aubergine. Unfortunately, we leave the two mounds of rice untouched.
And so to dessert which the menu describes as Halo Halo, a platter of delights tempting us to eat more. There’s purple yam coconut ice cream, Maja Blanca, a corn coconut custard, topped with sliced berries and popcorn, and sticky rice pudding. I would lie if I said we finished it all, but we did a valiant job.
Throughout service has been attentive and there’s a pleasantly laid back atmosphere here. The Boodle Fight is an excellent introduction to Filipino food and spans the wide range of flavours that I’ve tasted in the Philippines. As for the combat, we ate using knives and forks and no soldier was harmed during our feast. I wish I could say the same for our waistlines.
Tell Me More About Boodle Fight At Rapsa
RAPSA @ 100 Hoxton 100-102 Hoxton St Shoreditch, London
N1 6SG E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: 020 7729 1444
Boodle Boards are available every Sunday from 3.30-8 PM. They cost £14pp for a veggie boodle, £16pp for a meaty boodle, with the fish option an extra £6pp. The Halo-Halo dessert platter is £4 pp.
100 Hoxton is a two-minute walk from Hoxton Square or Kingsland Road in the centre of Shoreditch.