Eighteen spices?!? Sign me up!
The past week was a regular rollercoaster on both physical and emotional levels. After our in-house artist bade us adieu – along with Lord knows how many others who have tendered their respective resignations over the past two weeks, I felt more than a little disheartened by what was happening around me and considered my options. Fortunately, a solid job offer came my way on Tuesday – and I start my new gig in early September. Thank God for small mercies like that!
And so, after going all cross-eyed and cranky over the past few weeks, I decided that I’d go and treat myself for a bit; I’d try a new restaurant and have a magnificent, lip-smacking, belly-busting meal. I didn’t know, of course, that I’d get more than what I asked for!
Zabo Chicken is a relative newcomer to the local casual dining scene. In a country that is totally hooked on chicken – fried or roasted, it’s all good – it has positioned itself as an alternative to all the usual suspects. The closest competitor it has, at present, would be Kenny Rogers Roasters as they both offer roast chicken either as is or as part of a set meal. But while Kenny’s fowl is all savoury and peppery, Zabo’s chicken has a hell of a lot more zing, seeing how its main selling point is that it’s been steeped in eighteen spices and herbs. That alone made my jaw drop: I was officially intrigued and did not hesitate to saunter up to the counter and plunk down an order.
Come to mama, baby!
The navy blue and white colour scheme of the restaurant ought to be a dead-giveaway that Zabo’s food skews towards Mediterranean / North African, with quite a bit of a Turkish or Middle Eastern vibe going on with the flavours. Everything is nice and clean, spacious and airy; it’s a comfortable place in which to enjoy a meal.
But going back to the food: it’s all very reasonably priced. Rice bowls topped with chicken turna (marinated and grilled fillets), grilled beef, or Zabo’s zesty take on chicken popcorn go for only P 99.00 each and are rather generously portioned. They also have wraps filled with either chopped up and deboned roast chicken or turna, as well as a tasty array of sides.
But it is the roast chicken that is the star of the show – well, that and the fact that rice-junkies can indulge in not one, not two, but five different rice dishes to go with their chicken. If you throw in an additional P 29.00 to any rice set meal, you’re entitled to unlimited trips to the rice buffet!
For this visit, I went for the quarter roast chicken meal which features a cup of rice and an enormous quarter of roast chicken. When I saw the portion I’d been served, I was crestfallen at first; breast and wing quarters are not my favourite part of the chicken as these tend to be dry, chalky, and ultimately tasteless. To my great surprise, however, the chicken proved to be absolutely delicious: full-flavoured, it was beautifully marinated in a rich, garlicky spice paste, and it was very moist and succulent – definitely a moreish bit of chicken to have for lunch. While the garlic is nice, smoky, and almost fruitily pungent (and pleasantly so), your palate can also detect freshly cracked black pepper, cumin, coriander, and the barest hint of cinnamon and rosemary.
A dollop of garlic dip comes with a tomato quarter and these are good enough accoutrements to your meal.
The unlimited rice buffet features plain steamed rice, brown rice, the turmeric-infused Java rice that comes as the default option on the main plate, a truly incendiary spicy rice cooked in chicken broth with plenty of red pepper, and a nice, garlicky carrot rice that has a nice, nutty flavour that goes very well with the chicken.
Should you opt to gun for the unlimited rice buffet, skip the plain and brown and go for the flavoured options. You would do well, however, to go easy on the spicy rice; it’s a truly fiendish, fiery side!
Not your usual falafels
Speaking of side dishes, these usually go for P 75.00 a helping if you order them ala carte. But, if you order them with a set meal, the price drops to just P 60.00 and you get a nice, generous helping. Standard options for sides include fries, roasted corn on the cob, herbed mashed potatoes, hummus with flatbread, and falafels.
My brother had a rather nasty experience eating cold, stodgy falafels when he was in France a few years back and has steadily advised us to steer clear of these chickpea fritters. I am of the opinion that he will definitely change his mind when he tries Zabo’s falafels.
These are made with a mix of fresh herbs (parsley and rosemary) compounded into a coarse chickpea paste. The resulting dough fries up into fritters that are more chunky than smooth. But these are good fritters: served just out of the fryer, they have a fresh, nutty taste that is amped marvelously by the herbs and a faint touch of garlic.
The best dip for them is Zabo’s proprietary sweet sauce - a creamy brown sludge reminiscent by turns of peanutty gado-gado dressing and fruity chutney. The sauce transforms these already excellent fritters into an amazingly exotic treat.
My total bill came up to P 288.00 (US$ 6.59) all in – and it was definitely worth it. Zabo has my vote for a restaurant worth coming back to – and frequently, at that. ;)
Zabo Chicken: 3rd Floor – SM BF Paranaque, Sucat Road, Paranaque City (Also has branches in Makati and Quezon City.)