I confess that I have not seen the best, closest friends of my childhood since we all graduated from high school. Thank goodness, then for Facebook, as it helped me reconnect with some of those friends – an experience which showed me that, despite the passage of time, we’re still pretty much the same girls we’ve always been.
With a number of happy events cropping up of late and to thank my friends for giving me moral support whilst I was writing Puck and Ginger, we decided to meet up for an evening of food, fun, and memories over at Alabang’s Union Jack Tavern.
Dinner pretty much turned into a learning experience for my friends as it was a sort of “British Pub Fare 101” session. :p We kick-started the meal with UJT’s Ploughman’s Cheese Plate. This appetizer set is based on the traditional ploughman’s lunch and features a slice each of mild English cheddar and a more robust Blue Stilton, a length of warm baguette, some crackers, sliced apples, sliced ham, Branston pickle, and a pickled onion.
With the exception of the pickled onion – which, for some really good reason, we all left untouched – everything on the plate was good. The cheddar was deliciously mild with a rather nutty flavor and the ham was tasty, as well, being well-smoked with just the right hit of saltiness. In my personal opinion, however, the real stunner in this dish was the Stilton. Creamy-textured, pungent, with a sharp, peppery flavor, it was perfect for smooshing over the baguette, crackers, and apple slices. The chunky, chutney-like Branston pickle gave it both a flavor and textural contrast: crunchy diced veg on smooth, creamy cheese; a hint of sweet tartness to offset the sharply spicy taste.
Looking like a capital letter D lying on its back, our Cornish pasty came to the table still steaming from the oven. The shortcrust pastry was properly buttery and rich, but not too rich as to knock off the savory beef, potato, and carrot filling within. Delicately seasoned, yet robust, the pie was properly meaty and stodgy enough to ward off the chill of what was getting to be a rather stormy evening. On the side were some proper steamed vegetables (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower) and a relatively new thing to my friends: nice, buttery, sweet mushy peas. Proper lashings – no, spills – of beef gravy finished this off nicely.
Seeing how I’ve been on something like a Scots-culture kick of late (Gee, I wonder why…), I just had to order the haggis. For those of you who don’t know what haggis is, it’s essentially a kind of sausage made with a sheep’s “pluck” – essentially the heart, lungs, and liver. The minced offal is mixed with lamb or mutton stock, minced onions, oatmeal, and suet before being stuffed into the sheep’s stomach. The resulting ball is then simmered for three to four hours.
Traditionally, haggis is served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and a savory turnip puree (neeps). Unfortunately, turnips aren’t at all that common in this part of the world and jicama – with its honeyed sweetness – won’t cut it. So UJT’s haggis comes with mashed potatoes and more steamed veg. Oh, well…
Anyway, the haggis was excellent – even those who are squeamish about eating offal will actually like it. While its grainy, dark brown appearance may be off-putting, the flavors make it a must-try. Properly spiced and flavorful, it is quite meaty with a bit of nuttiness from the oatmeal which – I think – was probably toasted before being mixed into the sausage. I should, however, warn you not to eat it all by your lonesome as it is best shared since it’s quite heavy. My one regret: I didn’t order a dram of Laphroaig (single-malt Scotch) to go with it in the style of a true Burns Supper.
The real stunner on the dinner table was, of course, the fish and chips. A massive dory fillet dipped in beer batter and fried till crisp made its way to our table with fat, chunky, perfectly cooked potato chips and more mushy peas. The fish was only lightly seasoned yet had no off-putting fishiness to it. All it needed was a squeeze of fresh lemon or a splash of proper malt vinegar. (Brown sauce? I should think not!) We were handed a bottle of tomato ketchup which we put where it belonged – on the chips.
All this substantial nosh deserves to be washed down with something equally robust. Unfortunately for us, the Guinness was out of stock. However, we got something equally good: the Newcastle Brown Ale. Less bitter than the usual Cerveza Negra, this bittersweet ale was flavorful and gutsy enough to go with all the richly-flavored dishes yet was light enough to be enjoyed throughout the meal.
The finishing touch: the sticky date pudding with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Infinitely better than the one at Persia Grill, this involved two generous cake-like slabs served warm with the ice cream melting over it. Absolutely scrumptious and definitely worth going back for.
Truth be told, however, while the food was sensational I enjoyed something else even more: the company of long-missed friends, the renewal of bonds among sisters.
Union Jack Tavern: Second Floor – Festival Supermall, Alabang, Muntinlupa.