When it comes to modern Asian cuisine, I always have a lingering question mark on top of my head as I wonder how the chef can transform conventional comfort food into yet another palatable creation. So when we learned from the menu that The Twist by Chef Billy King, the only in-house restaurant and café in the Forest Lodge at Camp John Hay, serves a variety of Asian food, I was psyched. 🙂
The name “Chef Billy King” sounded familiar. Apparently, he’s the famed as “the Anthony Bourdain of the Philippines,” and also the same person who brought Le Soufflé Resto to Manila. With those impressions in mind, I became more interested on how much the dishes at The TWIST would manage to successfully draw approval from our taste buds. Let’s find out! 😀
Review of The Twist Café by Chef Billy King (Forest Lodge, Camp John Hay, Baguio City)
Offering a comfortable casual dining ambiance, The Twist sits almost adjacent to the front desk area of The Forest Lodge. No doors separate the restaurant and the hotel’s airy and spacious lobby, but still the interior was quiet. The Twist had a consistent rustic theme and bold color contrasts, an intelligent balance between traditional and contemporary.
The handmade and sturdy wooden furniture, tribal decors and Filipino modern paintings illustrating a forest on the side made me feel like being transported to a restaurant in a forest. The chandeliers looking fab and artistically installed on high ceilings made the vibe even cozy and chic. Tables and chairs were neatly arranged and it’s worth mentioning that they can be requested to be moved to fit a certain group of people.
Servers were friendly and informative without being overbearing. Securing their attention was easy and their hospitality was good. My only complaint is that waiting time took too long but not longer than promised: 20-30 minutes.
To be fair, we considered that the restaurant was super packed in the morning, with tables getting filled immediately after customers leave. Many might have availed of The Forest Lodge’s ongoing promotion (reserve for room online from October 8, 2014 to December 19, 2014 and get free breakfast from 6AM to 10AM), thus explaining the overflowing diners.
In the case of lunch, I’m not sure what went on. There were two active tables and it took them about half an hour to deliver our orders on the table. Maybe the kitchen staff were normally busy with operations and maintenance at that time or the dishes were prepared too intricately to win us over. Luckily, there’s free wi-fi and many good views in the hotel to keep us entertained.
Lunch – Asian Combinations
We started lunch with Calamari and Prawn Oriental Pasta (PhP 260). To be honest, it wasn’t the best pasta dish I openly recommend. I thought the sauce needed more spices. Just a wee bit of salt and pepper plus a subtle hint of garlic would have made it better. Overall, it can be counted as a nice and light demonstration of simple goodness, with seafood toppings that seemed compatible.
Coming with a generous helping of succulent prawns, the Thai Green Prawn Curry (PhP 380) with vegetable brown rice risotto was delicious. The Thai curry taste may be a bit rare for some people’s liking, but for me it was great! I expected the Thai flavor to be more pronounced though, because of the bright yellow color.
The beautiful sear on the surface of the slice of the Grilled Salmon Fillet (PhP 380) made the fish melt-in-your-mouth, almost. The freshness of the protein shone through, and the lightly sweetened tahini yogurt provided a rich, creamy element together with the vegetable fried rice. Yummy!
The Honey Glazed Crispy Pork Belly (PhP 340) with steamed rice was cooked perfectly, leaving a nice crisp on the skin while the inside remained tender and juicy, locking in all the juices without leaving a greasy aftertaste. The mixture of honey and sauces appealed to us most. No doubt, this is comfort food that you cannot go wrong with. For those who are in the health-conscious zone, this might make you cringe as there’s a rather thick layer of fat in the belly cut. My boyfriend said it’s the fat which made it tasty. 😛
After enjoying four courses, it was then time to let the sweet tooth sink in! We had this Cheesecake (PhP 100) which did not come across as the most photogenic but surely compensated with its strong taste of cheese. This treat is a must-try for all cheesecake fans, and one should stay prepared for the smooth and overwhelming cheese in each bite. 😛
Next, we had the Moist Dark Chocolate Cake (PhP 100) that was so rich that one slice was plenty for five of us to share. Without drinking water or any beverage in between, you’ll feel your mouth hurting in the most pleasurable way imaginable. I bet chocoholics will agree that this chocolate cake is an ultimate indulgence. One-fifth of it was enough for me, and it was the perfect sweet end to our meal.
Stealing the limelight with glistening surface, the Crème Caramel with Fresh Mango (PhP 120) appeared like the classic leche flan. Delicately shaped and sculpted, the caramel custard had a smooth and silky texture, with consistency that was slightly set and very creamy.
Less tantalizing on the eyes, Banana Bread (PhP 150) wasn’t too sweet and not quite decadent as well. As I was looking for a more “banana” taste and more moisture for the bread, it didn’t pass as a big of a hit as compared to the other desserts we had for lunch. Maybe I’m just so used to Red Ribbon’s Banana Crunch Slice that I found The Twist’s version to be lacking in flavor. No ground nuts and cereals but basic banana bread as it is? Meh. 🙁
We were advised that The Forest Lodge does not offer breakfast buffet for its guests but only a la carte meals. That’s fine for us, as long as the food to be served would be equally decent. At least for myself, I thought it’s a positive way of getting the “hidden bonus”: it won’t lead to a significant increase in food intake. 😛 So yeah, we were presented with a menu of Filipino breakfast sets all served with fried egg, grilled tomatoes and garlic fried rice. Hooray for a carbohydrates-loading breakfast!
Well marinated, the Fried Daing na Bangus (PhP 245) was fried to perfection and it’s obvious from the color. It tasted like it was cooked from home. I particularly liked that the milkfish fish was boneless, otherwise I would have a hard time eating it.
Not lacking in terms of fragrance, the Pancakes with Syrup and Butter Cream (PhP 195) were really good. While the edges of the pancake was crisp and brittle (in a good sense), the middle portion remained warm, moist and soft.
I didn’t know that there are numerous versions of longganisa in the Philippines until last two years ago. A friend had me try longganisa from Vigan, Ilocos which is very different from the only longganisa taste and texture from Pampangga that I used to know. The one from Ilocos is tangy with a hint of slightly smokey pungent flavor of “sukang iloco” or sugarcane vinegar. I’d say it’s more favorable.
This time ’round, we had the chance to try Baguio Longganisa (4 pieces) (PhP 245) for the first time. Compared to Vigan’s, it was less juicy, less on the sweet side and more savory.
Another breakfast favorite among the Filipinos, The Twist’s Beef Tapa (PhP 285) had the right combination of sweet and salty. The cured beef was not too chewy but tender enough.
The Tocino (PhP 245) was okay. It’s the tocino (Filipino bacon) you’d usually get, nicely pan-fried to the right texture and relatively without fat. It tasted a tad like “bak kwa” (肉干) but the softer kind.
Each breakfast set is served with a choice of pineapple juice, coffee or hot chocolate. We preferred coffee and hot choco.
Price for Value: ★★★★☆
The Twist at Forest Lodge, Camp John Hay is an attraction on its own—that is, if you’re going to CJH just to dine in as you’re staying in a different hotel overnight. Albeit there were some misses, we enjoyed the food on the whole. If you’re planning to eat here, it will be good to check with the serving staffs for recommendations based on your appetite.
For the price conscious, you would be most delighted to learn that the prices on the menu are affordable considering that you’re dining in a hotel, and the food is value for money.