Will Mahusay wants to spread the word of Filipino food to Sydney. When his parents Fred and Fely Mahusay emigrated to Australia in 1987 there was a dearth of Filipino food available. After learning the trade at his parents catering business, he decided to open up an eatery called Sydney Cebu Lechon in Enmore. And on the menu? Pork, pork and more pork (and warning, vegetarians, even the vegetables have shrimp in them).
It's 7.15pm on a Saturday night and we take a seat in the busy restaurant. It's a no frills eatery-you make your order at the counter and they bring your food to the table.
Sydney Cebu Lechon have been operating as a caterer for over three decades supplying corporate customers or general public with whole roasted pigs. The pigs themselves are specifically selected: female, organic free range, up to 22kgs Australian pork. The menu is simple: 5 pork dishes, rice and one vegetable dish and desserts on top of specials.
I ask Will why pork is so popular in the Philippines and he says, "It maybe because pork is a meat that’s easily accessible by the general public and affordable. Very diverse meat that can easily be cooked with no or very limited ingredients."
They tell us that the servings, all prices from $18.50 to $23.50 serves 2 but you'd also need rice and more vegetables for that and I'd say you'd really want to order one pork dish per person.
Which brings us to how we ended up eating a meal without vegetables. The only vegetable fish the Pinakbet just sold out so there we were: four people eating four pork dishes with rice (and desserts).
The Charcoal Roasted Pork or Cebu Lechon is crispy, dry and well seasoned with good sized slices of bone in pork belly. They soft boil strips of pork belly with their in-house recipe of aromatics and spices. The strips are then dried before being deep fried until crispy.
"Cebu food or Cebuano food is different in a sense that its general cooking methods are more around the grilling/barbecuing/roasting," explains Will. "Lechon was introduced to the Filipinos over 300 years ago by the Spanish and the people of Cebu elevated the dish to a new level," he adds. The Cebu Lechon comes as thick pieces of pork. It is slow roasted on site for three hours after being marinated in garlic, star anises, shallots, salt and pepper. The crackling for this is perfection-crispy with a layer of jellied fat underneath it.
As a chorizo freak I was curious to try the chorizo version and to see how pervasive the Spanish influence was on this. The Cebu version of chorizo is quite different. Noticeably sweeter and with an absence of smoked paprika flavour the sausage comes in small round balls with a peppery finish. I'd describe it closer to Lup Cheong than Spanish chorizo. It's actually delicious and I think out of all four pork items I ate the most of this.
We also order one of the specials, the Lechon Paksiw stew with soft pork stewed in soy, vinegar, garlic and spices. Usually leftover lechon kiwali or cebu lechon is used in this. Here they cook it over charcoal for about three hours and then braise it for about 1 1/2 hours until soft. It's Viggo's favourite and you definitely want rice to soak this up.
The biko is a caramelised sweet sticky rice in the shape of a square cake wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. It's not overly sweet (Filipino food is usually very sweet) and has a pleasantly chewy and moreish texture to it. it's made with coconut cream, a sweet sticky rice called malagkit and brown sugar for colour. Admittedly I am a bit of a freak for sticky rice and this one is softer and more jelly like than say a black sticky rice. It almost has a pudding like consistency. It's usually served as an afternoon snack, dessert or at a celebratory occasion.
I love ube aka purple sweet potato desserts. This ube cheesecake is super sweet but with a crunchy sugary base and a creamy cheese layer and an ube layer on top with grated coconut in syrup on top. Mr NQN dives into this with relish-he's very much taken by this.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever had just meat and no vegetables for dinner? Have you tried much Filipino food?
This meal was independently paid for.
Sydney Cebu Lechon
80-80A Enmore Rd, Newtown NSW 2042
Closed Monday to Thursday
Saturday 12–3pm, 6–9pm
Sunday 12–3pm, 6–9pm