Cucina ni Bunso, home-style cooking with a heart

In a world where chef’s egos are bigger than their kitchens and where a lot of food is devoid of feeling, to find a place like Cucina ni Bunso where every dish is an honest endearment leaves a fullness in your heart that lingers long after the meal.

The dish that started it all, "Manok ni Mel".

The dish that started it all. Called Ang Manok Ni Mel, it’s roasted chicken with caramelized apples and a thick creamy gravy.

The new resto, which had been on its trial run for a couple of weeks, invited me and a bunch of blogger friends over last Friday. Eager to try out this new addition to the culinary landscape, we all trooped over to Quezon City, where owner and chef Mel Martinez treated us to many delicious surprises.

Bloggers and Chef Mel Martinez

Bloggers and Chef Mel Martinez doing the Buhay Kuneho Photo Pose!

The first surprise was that the restaurant felt inviting and comfortable. Stepping into Cucina ni Bunso was like stepping into the house of an old friend. Spacious and airy, it had an elegant yet laid-back feel, with soft light cheerily streaming from interesting chandeliers dangling from the pale cream-colored ceiling.

Dancing plate decor

Plates dance across the wall, playfully inviting you to check out the menu.

The restaurant has two family-style dining areas made up in the shabby chic style. Copper pots gleam merrily on one wall, bright panels with birds and trees line another. The chairs don’t match but they’re all the same color and work well with the large wooden tables. Our table, in particular, was special – it used to be a door. The restaurateurs found it, painted it white, slipped multicolored glass beads into the grooves, and covered the entire thing with a thick glass pane. It was one of the prettiest pieces of furniture I’ve eaten off of.

The dining areas are sweet!

The dining areas are sweet!

The space itself was recycled – it had previously been a garage, though nobody would think that now.

After I’d oooh-ed and aaah-ed over the décor, I got to sample some of the establishment’s dishes. Delight after delight was served, but what struck me more than just the pleasant taste of the dishes was the overall feeling of fun and comfort one got while eating. Each dish had a twist that was exciting to sample and figure out. Even the signature drink, lemongrass tea, threw me for a loop. Nothing in Cucina is what you would expect it to be, but it was all so good you won’t care.

Born of the ambition and passion of Chef Mel, Cucina ni Bunso seems to embody the philosophy, “feeding is loving”. “Bunso” is Filipino for “youngest child”, the one who is usually the most beloved, the most babied of the sibling set. Every bunso knows the value of “lambing”, and that’s the secret ingredient Chef Mel stirs into every dish – a generous helping of aruga (care) and lambing (tenderness). The menu consists of several familiar pinoy comfort foods, and everything is as warm and welcoming as can be.

Even the coasters aimed to inspire.  This one describes the restaurant perfectly.

Even the coasters aimed to inspire. This one describes the restaurant perfectly.

The nourishing soups, for example, brought me back to the days when I was home sick from the sniffles, and my father would make his signature tinola. Cucina’s Tiktilaok (P145), a creamy tinola soup, is velvety smooth, with no pieces of skin or bone to pick out. You can simply slurp the entire thing non-stop. I wish someone had thought of that when I was growing up! Also, no pic – sorry! Let me soothe you instead with Zucchini rolls.

Fried Zucchini Bacon and Herbs

Zucchini rolls! This is Cucina’s Zucchini Bacon and Herbs, little bites of amazingness.

Seafood kare-kare

Seafood kare-kare, a fun twist on a traditional mega-meat dish.

While the seafood kare-kare (P340) and Italian-inspired beef kaldereta (P345) were huge hits, they were not my favourite parts of the meal. My heart belonged to the lovely, fresh veggie dishes, particularly Meliton’s Spring Roll (P135), with its sweet mango, savory basil, thick peanut sauce, and crunchy watercress sprouts on the side. The Chicken Pomelo salad (185) with its tangy dressing is a close second.

Meliton Spring Rolls

I loved the freshness of this spring roll, with or without the dip.

Chicken Pomelo Salad

Chicken Pomelo Salad, pretty and pretty awesome tasting.

I also enjoyed the stuffed chilli peppers, aptly called Bomba (P155). I think Cucina’s wonton-wrapped version of the dish is the best I’ve had so far. But be careful – it may have a cute nickname, but the peppers pack a wallop and the cheese filling doesn’t really calm it. If you’re sensitive to heat but would still like to try some, eat it with something creamy. Maybe the Popeye (P145) soup, although even if the lovely, spinach-based green soup tastes like it has dollops and dollops of dairy in it, the chef assures us that there’s very little.

Cucina ni Bunso Bomba Chilies

Stuffed with tuna and cheese and swaddled in wonton wrappers before being deep-fried, these chilies are the bomb.

Popeye Soup -a  deeply-flavored soup that, surprisingly, tastes like it might be swimming in cream when it really has just a teeny bit.

Popeye Soup -a deeply-flavored soup that, surprisingly, tastes like it might be swimming in cream when it really has just a teeny bit.

We ended the meal with a three-in-one dessert: halo-halo turon dipped in ube ice cream. At P120, this dish is a steal. Eat it with your hands, wash it down with the local coffee, and relish every sweet bite.

Halo-Halo Turon

I know it’s meant for sharing… but trust me, you won’t want to.

The only dish I didn’t like enough to fawn over was the round piece of home-made bread, and that’s only because I really, really don’t like red eggs, and cinnamon gives me a headache. But to be fair, I had eaten (and appreciated) half of my serving before anyone told me that the dense, flavorful pastry had any red eggs in it. It was like a bagel, but a little more chewy, and with chorizo and a sweet, sticky, cinnamon-y (yes, that’s a word) coating. I might try it again, with coffee or tea, and see how that goes.

Not a win with me, but good, really.

Not a win with me, but good, really.

Today, Cucina ni Bunso formally opens its doors to serve its unique brand of fusion Filipino cuisine to those who hunger for a heartfelt taste of home. Drop by 117B, Scout Lozano Street, Brgy Sacred Heart, Kamuning in Quezon City, bring about 700 per head (assuming that you’ll have one appetiser and dessert each), and be ready to be beloved.

Store hours are at 11 am to 11pm on weekends and 11 am to 10pm on weekdays. The restaurant is closed on Sunday, though.

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    posted on by Little Bunny posted in Uncategorized

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