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Monday, June 03, 2013

LaMesa Philippine Cuisine, Haymarket Chinatown

lechon roast pork at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown

If you've always wanted to try Filipino cuisine, but never had the chance, LaMesa has made it easy for you. This family-owned business has uprooted from Dee Why and relocated to Chinatown, taking over the first floor space next door to Mamak.

Filipino cuisine has yet to reach mainstream popularity, but if there's one foodstuff they've conquered like no other, it's crackling. Yep, that got your attention. The pinnacle of supreme pork skin comes in the form of lechon roast pork, and crispy pata, a pork hock that's boiled and then deep-fried until the entire surface blisters to a pork crackling bonanza.

okoy sweet potato fritters at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Okoy $7.50

But first, entrees. The okoy is our pick of the bunch, crisp fritters of sweet potato strips studded with carrot, pumpkin and plump baby prawns. They're delicate and full of crunch, and refreshed by a dip in the accompanying chilli vinegar sauce.

embotido pork meatloaf at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Embotido $15

Embotido sounded more interesting on the menu, we confess, but we plough into the traditional steamed pork meatloaf with enthusiasm regardless. The 'sweet tomato sauce' on the side tastes more like sweet and sour.

dining room at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
LaMesa dining room

It's heartwarming to see the dining room filled with Filipino locals too. Word is that dinners have become so popular (LaMesa is still in its first month of operation) that bookings are now strongly recommended unless you want to risk disappointment. There are two flights of stairs to climb from the street, but the newly furnished dining room - resplendent in dark timbers, artefacts and artworks - is a world away from the city streets. Two large TV screens don't really seem necessary but presumably they provide a handy distraction for kids.

calamansi juice at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Calamansi juice

Staff are friendly if a little distracted, and we had to go through our entire order again when his touchpad device failed. Our double order of okoy also came out as two deliveries, five minutes apart.

But these are hopefully just opening hiccups, easily forgotten with a slurp of young coconut juice or the lesser seen calamansi juice, a beloved citrus fruit that looks like a miniature round lime. The juice isn't as sour, and tastes more like a marriage between tangerine and lime.

kare-kare oxtail curry at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Kare-kare $21

Kare-kare arrives in a miniature black cauldron, a rich curry of oxtail in a thick peanut sauce. Chunks of pumpkin, eggplant and bright green beans help lighten the dish although there's not a strong presence of the promised bagoong, a Filipino shrimp paste. This is a dish that's made for winter, and the sauce needs to be sopped up with rice.

pinakbet at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Pinakbet $16 
and large garlic rice $14

The pinakbet isn't as feisty as I'd expected, either, the bagoong shrimp paste quite mild in this northern Philippines dish of eggplant, snake beans, pumpkin and pork. Slices of bitter melon are cooked until just tender, adding a pleasing bitterness to the dish.

ginisang ampalaya at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Ginisang Ampalaya $14

The menu is split up by different proteins, but it's the section titled "Not for the faint-hearted" that catches our eye. There are three temptations for the adventurous gastronome and we have no hesitation in ordering one of each. Please.

The ginisang ampalaya isn't half as terrifying as you might think, unless of course you're averse to the pleasures of bitter melon. Here it's sauteed with minced pork and strewn with egg.

dinuguan pork neck with pork blood jelly at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Dinuguan $18

The dinuguan is more my style, a dark and ominous stew of pork neck cooked with pig blood and garlic in a broth of vinegar. It's a dish I keep coming back to, intrigued by the flavour contrast and textures of pork, blood and vinegar, especially the wobbling cubes of pork blood jelly. It works well on so many levels, the heaviness of the pork matched with the metallic echo of blood and the pairing cut through by the zing of vinegar and sprinkling of shallots.

sizzling sisig pork head at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Sizzling sisig $19

And then there's my favourite sizzling sisig, a hotplate of fun with meticulously chopped pieces of pigs head and liver dancing on blistering cast iron.

mixing the egg yolk into the sisig at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Mixing the egg yolk into the sizzling sisig

The raw egg yolk on top needs to be tossed through the pork mixture immediately, so it cooks and adds a rich sheen. It's a triumph of offal, where one can be reminded of how good a spiced pigs head can really be.

adobo chicken at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Adobo chicken $16

There are ten of us dining tonight, so we make some headway into the menu although with 59 dishes on offer, there are still plenty that go begging. We prioritise an order of adobo chicken, often said to be the Philippines national dish.

Priced at $16, the dish is a little smaller than we'd expect, but there's a balance of sweetness and vinegar in the tender chicken pieces, simmered in soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and sugar cane vinegar.

lechong kawali roast pork at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Lechong kawali $16

All eyes zoom in on the lechong kawali when it arrives, a heavenly vision of fat-ribboned pork belly crowned with golden crackling. The pork is tender and succulent, the crackling is crunchy, and the accompanying mang tomas adds a meaty saltiness. Mang tomas is often served with lechon, a thick sauce made from sugar, vinegar, liver and spices.

tocino sweet pork at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Tocino $16

Sweet tooths will do well to order a serve of tocino, thin slices of sweetened pork that remind me of char siu Chinese roast pork and bak kwa, Malaysian pork jerky. The pork has a caramelly sweetness, a little burnt at the edges in the best way possible, and served with a saucer of chilli-spiced vinegar to counter the sugary excess.

crispy pata deep fried pork leg at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Crispy pata $20

And then there's the crispy pata - guaranteed to stop all table conversation. Even mouse scrolling. Ha.

crispy pata deep fried pork leg at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Crispy pata crackling

Take one pork trotter, boil under tender and then deep fry that baby until all the skin around it puffs into one helluva party of crackling. This is the ratio of meat-to-pork-crackling you've been looking for all your life.

Shreds of juicy, big fat shards of crunchy crackling and a dipping pot of chilli soy vinegar will make your heart sing.

mirrored ceiling at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Mirrors on the ceiling

leche flan dessert at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Leche flan $5

Take a breath and plow straight onto desserts. The leche flan is thick and eggy, not as light and delicate as its French creme caramel counterpart, but I quite enjoy this heavier version which we suspect is made with condensed milk.

turon banana and jackfruit banana fritter dessert at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Turon $4.50

Turon are dessert spring rolls, the thin layers of deep-fried pastry hiding a surprise of sweet ladyfinger bananas and jackfruit.

cassava cake dessert at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Cassava cake $4.50

Cassava cake is another favourite I can't help coming back to - a square of sticky chewy pudding made from grated cassava and coconut milk, baked until the top is blistered and golden.

halo halo dessert at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown
Halo-halo $8

We finish with another Filipino classic, halo-halo which is Tagalog for mix-mix. It's related to Malaysian ice kacang and Indonesian es campur, but here the combination of mixed tropical fruits and jellies is topped with shaved ice, evaporated milk, ice cream and yes, your eyes don't deceive you, a slice of leche flan on top.

It's not the easiest dessert to eat, digging down through the ice in a tall parfait glass, but that's half the fun, just like all good food should be.

leche flan on halo halo dessert at lamesa phillipine cuisine haymarket chinatown

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La Mesa on Urbanspoon

Level 1, 19 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, Chinatown, Sydney
Tel 1300 880 835

Opening hours
Daily 12pm-3.30pm

Sunday to Wednesday 5pm-10pm
Thursday to Saturday 5pm-11pm

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20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/03/2013 12:05:00 am


  • At 6/03/2013 1:21 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    HELEN. You are off eating ALL THE WONDROUS THINGS in America, and instead I have to be patient and look at embotido, which makes me think of albino poo? YOU ARE A HARD TASKMASTER.

    But I do like the sound of the offal dishes. Endlessly fascinating.

  • At 6/03/2013 6:01 am, Blogger Annie said…

    i haven't tried Filipino cuisine before but some of the food here look really delicious. another restaurant to add to my wishlist :)

  • At 6/03/2013 7:53 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    I'm so glad that we now have an awesome Filipino food joint in Sydney. LOL we do love our crackling! Yeah, their crispy pata, lechon kawali and kare kare are pretty kick-ass! Love this place!

  • At 6/03/2013 7:54 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    "Pork crackling bonanza". I do like your choice of words.
    I can't say I've eaten Filipino food a great dean. In fact, the last time was in Manila, about 18 years ago. Hmm, time to get my buds reacquainted.

  • At 6/03/2013 8:42 am, Blogger Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    I've heard so much about the filo cuisine through Raff but I've never really been exposed to it. I am drooling over the crispy pata!

  • At 6/03/2013 8:52 am, Anonymous angela@mykikicake said…

    That Tocino dish looks so yummy and the Halo Halo dessert with leche flan on top...HELLO :)

  • At 6/03/2013 9:24 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Hello crispy pata - I totally stooped reading & scrolling just to stare at it for a minute (or two). I like the look of the halo halo...yum.

  • At 6/03/2013 10:21 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    I'm not too familiar with filo food so I'm excited that there's finally a filo restaurant in Sydney that is more accessible to get to. You had me at crackling!

  • At 6/03/2013 10:43 am, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    omgsh so much crackling and yes, i did stop mouse scrolling!

  • At 6/03/2013 11:03 am, Blogger Jarhead said…

    Excellent review! I visited this place when it was still in Dee Why. Their Crispy Pata is phenomenal!

    I'm really keen to try the sizzling sisig...

  • At 6/03/2013 11:28 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Can't wait to try this!

  • At 6/03/2013 1:44 pm, Blogger Shanks said…

    Deep fried pork hock definitely made me stop, stare, and drool over the ever-impressive crackling!!

  • At 6/03/2013 5:18 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I haven't had Philippine cuisine but judging from similar influences to Peruvian (Spanish and Chinese) I'd guess flavours would be familiar. The names of the dishes certainly are. Great they have moved to Chinatown, I'll schedule a visit with the family.

  • At 6/03/2013 5:26 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've had Filipino before in Blacktown (theres 3 or 4 Filipino places there) and loved it, glad to see this place open in Chinatown!

  • At 6/04/2013 4:38 am, Blogger Jennie T said…

    hehe this place looks nice!!!! however I've only come to enjoy homemade filipino food from my friends ;p it's a joy having filo friends.

    i'm a new foodie blogger btw so please check it out..
    queenofeggsbenny.blogspot.com :)

  • At 6/05/2013 6:35 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I will be there just for the pork belly!

  • At 6/13/2013 3:14 pm, Blogger Jenny said…

    My Filo friends were talking about this recently. Food looks good. A new place to try :)

  • At 6/28/2013 11:14 pm, Blogger lee said…

    Was the lechong kawali drenched in oil? When I ordered this dish, the oil was not soaked up with a paper towel so it was really oily.

  • At 7/20/2013 4:54 pm, Anonymous Trissa said…

    You're right - stopped scrolling when I saw the crispy pata!

  • At 7/27/2013 12:37 pm, Anonymous Cindy said…

    Oh, so happy that there is a Filipino place in the city now, it will be a lot easier to get to!


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