Though there's still a roti-sized hole in our hearts after Trunk Road closed its doors, it's always intriguing when a new restaurant opens — especially one that is serving up one of Sydney's most under-represented Southeast Asia cuisines. Rey's Place offers a rare taste of Filipino food in our city, and it's brought to you by Aussie-born owner Jonathan Bayad. Bayad named the joint after his Filipino father and aims is to elevate the cuisine's status in Australia.
The ghost of Trunk Road is still evident in the fitout, which hasn't changed much apart from the addition of an upstairs bar stocked with Don Papa rum and San Miguel beers — both Filipino imports. The aged rum is a relative newcomer to the Filipino booze scene, and the smooth vanilla notes makes it an ideal pairing with dessert, which we'll get to later.
The succinct share menu is filled with classic dishes that ex-pat head chef Shaun Oligo puts his twists on — some of which work, and others that don't. The chicharon ($7) wasn't quite crisped properly, though the traditional vinegar and spiced soy dipping sauce saved the flavour. The king salmon kinilaw (fish ceviche) is tasty, with the ginger really shining through, but the fish is sliced into too-tiny chunks and it does't really need the potato chips ($18).
What does work really well, however, is the lechon (slow-roasted suckling pig), which is as good as any we've had in the Philippines ($28). The crisp skin and juicy pork are extremely satisfying bite-for-bite, and the homemade balsamic liver sauce — an homage to the Filipino staple Mang Tomas — ties it all together with a balance of richness and vinegary tang.
One special, on the menu at the time, was the chicken adobo ($22), which Oligo marinades for 24-hours and then slowly cooks in the dish's classic soy-and-vinegar blend. On the plate, the dish better resembles a Sunday roast, served with leg and thigh, plus finger potatoes and a lemon wedge. It's certainly not a traditional take — more of a nod to the Aussie palate — though the Filipino flavour is hidden within.
For us, the real draw here comes in the cocktail-and-dessert combo. Of the cleverly named concoctions, the standouts include the Mr Rambutan Man (a vodka-based cocktail combining the tropical fruit with aloe vera and ginger) and Lola's Medicine (a rum take on a spritz with aromatic bitters, prosecco and honey). Both are sweet but boozy and represent the region's beachy cocktail vibes appropriately.
Pair one of these cocktails ($17) — or just a dram of Don Papa — with the turon and ube dessert ($13). That's honeyed deep-fried banana with purple yam ice cream, an ingredient which is synonymous with the Philippines. The ube is sourced from overseas and is boiled down until black, giving it a deep, rich colour and a savoury flavour in the final result. The Rey's Place version of turon is closer to a banana spring roll and works well with the cooling ice cream.
The menu will continue to evolve with consistent small changes, as oppose to following seasonal trends. Bayad also plans to start rolling out a $5 menu of snacks, beer and wine from 5–6pm daily, along with events like Tagalog lessons in the near future, so keep an eye on the website for updates.