25 Seeds & Café Fleur: Chef Sau del Rosario Showcases his Kapampangan Roots
Pampanga is a province of delectable eats, all thanks to the Spanish who christened Pampanga as the first province on Luzon Island in 1571.
The kapampangans spent the following centuries learning the basics of Spanish cooking from the friars and sailors that they worked for and with. This first-hand exposure is the reason for a multitude of tasty dishes that emerged to make up the canon of Kapampangan cuisine: staples like menudo, mechado, embotido, sisig, bringhi (a version of paella Valenciana that’s so hard to make they’re saved for special occasions), morcon, tocino, and even curioser eats like adobong camaru (mole crickets cooked in vinegar and garlic) and betute tugak (frog stuffed with pork).
After spending the morning in Bagac, Bataan’s Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, my family and I had planned to have a late lunch in 25 Seeds in Angeles, Pampanga. Besides the name of the restaurant and of its famous proprietor, we had no idea what we were in for.
Chef Sau del Rosario, being a proud son of Pampanga, decided to move his talents back to his hometown, acknowledging that the area had infinite potential as a home for his next culinary ventures. After 25 years of travelling the world over to cook for different audiences, it was a no-brainer to celebrate the milestone by coming back to the very place that he owed much of his palate to.
Waze then led 9 hungry stomachs safely toward the spacious renovated 1920s house that Chef Sau chose to house 25 Seeds. Take the wooden stair straight into the house’s old sala, whose interiors were painstakingly decorated by Chef Sau himself, now designed to have a small receiving area with comfortable seating, pictures hung on frames, and coffee table books piled on wooden console tables, one of them Chef Sau’s book, “20 Years of Love + Cooking”.
It was almost 3 in the afternoon, so it was easy to find a seat in the empty restaurant. Our server Charisse:
Super Minestrone with quinoa, chickpea, and moringga pesto (P275)
Chef Sau’s Gado-gado with tofu, pineapple, sweet potato, boiled egg, cucumber, red radish, kropek, to be dipped in peanut sauce (P350)
Portobello Confit with arugula, gorgonzola, apple shreds, and balsamic jus (P395)
Sisig Paella with japanese rice, chicken liver, and kamias (P425)
Fried Whole Duck Adobo with garlic rice and egg (P475)
Steamed Apahap (a local seabass) steamed in garlic-soy sauce, with carrots and coriander (P625)
Each dish was adorned with colorful flowers and fragrant herbs grown straight out of the restaurant’s very own farm, located right behind the house beside the parking lot. Moving his business out of Manila has proven a success: Chef Sau is serving kapampangan culture with the freshest ingredients to his diners. 25 Seeds is arguably farm-to-table dining at its simplest, and finest.
The author and her family with none other than Chef Sau himself
We asked Chef Sau about dessert, and knowing that we had driven all the way from Manila suggested that we head to 25 Seeds’ sister, Café Fleur, which was conveniently just 5 minutes away (so close we could’ve walked!).
There is no shortage of parking space in both locations, which is testament to how both are prepared to cater to weekend diners that drive in from all directions to enjoy Chef Sau’s dishes.
Café Fleur was much smaller than 25 Seeds, with only 3-4 tables inside. It did, however, have a varied menu of appetizers, pastries, drinks, and Kapampangan specialties served up with a much-appreciated twist, like: the Pampanguena Tamales, Crispy Okoy and Shrimps, Lamb Shank Caldereta, and another version of the sisig by Chef Sau’s partner, Eric, aptly called Sisig á la Chef Eric.
No matter how everything on the menu looked, having stuffed ourselves silly at 25 Seeds we knew it was impossible to order any more of the savory mains. It took only one look at the chalkboard, however, and another at the desserts chilling coolly from behind a refrigerated glass display, for us to realize that we still had room for a cup of batirol alongside a dessert.
Bibingka Cheesecake (photo courtesy of Café Fleur Facebook page)
The cheesecake was accompanied by two more slices of sansrival, Jackfruit and Pandan. The cheesecake was creamy, and the slices of salted egg completed each fork load. The sansrival started to soften a few minutes after the plates were set upon our table, but they didn’t last long once. Both sansrival slices were flavorful and buttery, and were supported by a meringue crust that was just thick enough to complement the buttercream. The only downside? The slices were too small. We should’ve each ordered our own slices!
We ordered 3 out of the 6 incarnations of the Tsokolate Batirol drink: a hot Tsokoron (tsokolate + polvoron), Tsokchoc (tsokolate + chocnut), and Tsokoli (tsokolate + sili), and a Tsokolate Batirol smoothie. Despite having saturated our tastebuds with the sweetness of the cakes we’d just had, the cups of batirol were just the right amount of chocolatey. They were the perfect end to our food trip!
**Photos of 25 Seeds courtesy of Marco Vibal.