Lugaw ug asin. Porridge and salt. A phrase, often used derogatorily, referring to someone’s poverty that he is unable to afford meats and subsists only on watery starches flavored with the crystals. Essential to animal life, the very common salt, the oldest and most ubiquitous of food seasonings, was once traded for its weight in gold and led nations to wage war and revolution. Producing the one of the four basic taste sensations, this basic element gives liveliness and piquancy even to the most simple of foods. It is from this simplicity that all manner of amazingly good comes from at Salt by John Mark.
Impressed by The Bagel Hatch at the opening of Kiehl’s-Cebu, we found ourselves booked for dinner at the caterer’s showroom the following weekend. Extremely hands-on; owner, chef and almost everything else in between, the eponymous John Mark; graciously welcomed us into his all-white space tucked into Enmore Hotel. On his suggestion, we had the Vol Au Vent Experience and the Mini-Burger Trio. For our main, we picked the Chicken Cordon Bleu with Mushroom Gravy and Pasta from the limited tasting menu.
Classically filled with a cream sauce-based mixture, Salt’s Vol Au Vents came in Chicken, Seafood and Mushroom variants. Translated from French as blown by the wind, the name extended to the pastry bases’ light and airy quality. All three had their fillings done up in the in-house demi-glace with the mushroom taking on the flavoring quite well, tasting almost like meat. It was definitely an experience as it is aptly named.
Angus Beef with some Sirloin made up the perfectly grilled patties set on lettuce and tomatoes between soft, dinner roll-type, black sesame and oat mini-burger buns. Eschewing cheese, the simple stack allowed the natural savory-sweetness of the meat to stand out from the other components. A gherkin on top added a crunchy, salty dimension.
Panko, homemade breadcrumbs and herbs coated the Chicken Cordon Bleu in what was the crispiest crust I’ve ever had on one, perfectly complemented by the Mushroom Gravy. Mozzarella and Emmental cheese oozed out from the local ham core on which a succulent chicken breast is wrapped around. Pasta with tomatoes in olive oil balanced out the savories with the clean taste, the olive oil somehow coming off in that combo almost cheese-like. Beautifully arranged on an extra-large ceramic serving dish-cum-tray, it looked almost too good to eat.
A Warm Chocolate Brownie with Chocolate Ganache capped the meal, compliments of the chef. Native chocolate made the brownie delightfully dark, much to my liking. Those averse to the heady weight and flavor of dark chocolate would find it sweet enough from the coco sugar content. Elements of whipped cream, fresh mint, dried cranberries, a Nutella stripe and a sugar rush came in both as visuals and add-on play of flavor.
The well-curated menu was very nuanced with the interplay of the subtle and the bold flavors in what I would declare to be one of the best examples of quality over quantity in this city–the elegant presentation being the only, but very welcome, distraction to the focus of what is ultimately important in food: taste. This focus extends even to the subtleties in the house iced-tea, a fresh-brew flavored with a fresh mint leaf. Adept service rounded off the exceptional experience making Salt by John Mark definitely worth its salt.
SALT by John Mark showroom and commissary kitchen is located at the G/F of Enmore Hotel, 257-A Jose Avilla Street. Corner Ma. Cristina Ext. ( Near Cebu vacation hotel and Sacred Heart School) Kamputhaw, Cebu City. Contact through phone at +63 927 8861111 / +63 928 7257237 / +63 933 1886224 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.