By Ces Oreña-Drilon
The opening of the modern French restaurant Metronome in Makati in 2019 by chef Miko Calo and her partners was a roaring success.
Miko is, after all, a classically trained French chef mentored by the “Chef of the Century,” Joël Robuchon.
Her partners are equally noted in their fields: Hotelier Alain Borgers, a former general manager of Shangri-La Paris and area manager of the Shangri-La Hotels in the Philippines, restaurateur Elbert Cuenca of the Steak Room fame, and Miko’s cousin, RJ Galang, who oversaw the branding, menu and look of the Art Deco-themed restaurant.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 rudely disrupted Metronome’s beat.
“It was hell,” Miko tells me one afternoon, just as lunch service at the restaurant ended.
There was only one occupied table left, with diners relishing a bottle of Macallan 12. “It was the first restaurant that I was a part owner of. I felt like I was letting everyone down. So it was a struggle and I had to get it through my head that there’s really nothing I can do.” Miko shakes her head at the memory.
After a two-year interruption marked by sporadic openings and closings due to government imposed shutdowns and a stint at takeaway via The Lazy Oeuf, Metronome’s rhythm is back—with a vengeance.
“There’s revenge eating, there’s revenge spending. We’re feeling it. It comes to a point that we run out of things. The new produce can’t get here fast enough because I order a lot of European and French products.
A lot of the products I have are flown to the restaurant,” Miko shares. It was a welcome turnaround from the challenge she faced during the pandemic, when shipments of ingredients arrived just as another ban on restaurant dining was declared. The fresh produce had to be sold to friends or even given away.
The average bill per person at Metronome is higher than 2019 levels. Even the lunch crowd has a healthy alcohol tab.
Yes, the restaurant is now open for lunch, a new offering the partners have thought of to maximize revenue. Before the pandemic, Metronome was simply a restaurant where diners can unwind after a long day with a hearty meal.
Miko says it was her partners who thought of opening Metronome’s doors for lunch.
“They said: ‘Look we’re paying for rent, electricity and everything. Why don’t we utilize the restaurant for lunch?’ We never really thought of opening for lunch before. It was simply for dinner.”
The idea didn’t fly at first because Metronome’s lunch menu was the same as what guests ordered at night. “So we had to rethink it. Why don’t we just do a bistro lunch? We thought of offering the products Lazy Oeuf was known for, such as beef bourguignon and coq au vin,” Miko shares.
Lazy Oeuf was Metronome’s takeaway service. It was launched at the height of the pandemic as a way for the staff to keep their jobs. Its main offerings were bistro food that could be reheated at home.
When Metronome had to swivel its lunch offerings, Miko went back to the dishes that helped them get through the lockdown period.
The launch of a new menu drew a diverse clientele: ladies who lunch, families, business executives and regulars who like to linger even until the dinner service begins.
Among the offerings is the Hunter’s Chicken, the first dish ever cooked by Miko when she was starting out as a chef.
The dish features leg quarters braised in cognac and white wine. There are also the French staples: Beef Bourguignon, a Burgundy-style beef stew with mushrooms; Duck Confit, a French duck leg confit served with her famous potato purée; Mussels Mariniere Linguine, Bouchot mussels cooked in onions and white wine; Lamb Ragout Parmentier and Steak Frites, seared hanging tender with sauce au poivre and with french fries.
The menu can’t be complete without the Metronome Burger, a 100 percent Angus Beef patty, pan-seared foie gras, caramelized onions, emmental cheese, and dijon mustard in a brioche bun, served with french fries. These mains can be served a la carte or as part of a pre-fixe menu.
What ties the menu together is simply good, comfort food that feels like a warm hug. The dishes are a welcome respite in the otherwise hustle and bustle of lunch hour.
Miko attributes their success to a new set of clientele. “I honestly believe that because we were so new when we were shut down during the pandemic, people are still starting to get to know us. We were always fully booked in the first seven months of the year.
Customers keep coming back so those who’d like to try us for the first time find it hard to book tables. A lot of our repeat customers are our friends. Elbert and Alain, they have a huge network, my cousin RJ also has a different network.”
Being cooped up at home for nearly two years made people crave a whole new dining experience, Miko observes. “People want that whole experience. We were always big on that. That was always something that I really was adamant that needed to be done. I was really lucky that I have partners like Alain and Elbert who are also on that same page – that dining should be like this.
It doesn’t have to be stiff but so what if I like my linens white and pressed, it makes a difference – we have different wine glasses for different types of grapes- that attention to detail down to – for men with button down shirts we give napkins that have a buttonhole.”
“People are appreciative. We once had a guest who said: ‘I really like this button. You don’t see it a lot.’ We also noticed that now there are more wine bottles on the table, and people have more time to drink. A friend of mine said going out has become more purposeful. People are looking for quality,” Miko mused.
Metronome has been mentioned as a runaway contender in chatter about the first homegrown restaurant which could receive a Michelin star. Miko, however, prefers to focus her attention on improving accessibility to local produce and flavors.
“I want to use more products that are hard to access and let flavors speak for themselves. We still have a lot to do. We need one product whose flavors can be easily recognized and heartily savored,” the Butuan-born chef says.
Miko lived in Butuan until she was 13 years old. She then moved to Manila to live with her aunt, noted culture and travel host, Susan Calo-Medina.
Among the ingredients she has shipped from her hometown to the Metronome kitchen is the kabayawa – an aromatic lime native to Northern Mindanao.
“I use it on my hamachi ceviche with lemon vinaigrette. Every time I smell that I am transported back to my hometown,” Miko says.
The lemongrass grown in Butuan also has a distinct flavor. She has that shipped too. She’s keen to use other local ingredients like espadang pusit, but alas getting them freshly shipped to Manila is a near impossibility.
Miko says the government could take a cue from France and Italy in protecting artisans and the local market. The AOP or DOC seals on wines and cheese motivate regions to keep their quality consistent and allow artisans to command a good price. Miko says these are the foundation of Michelin starred restaurants.
Despite these challenges, there is no other place Miko would rather be. “The attention is in Southeast Asia. After all, ever since I started my career I knew I was going to come back and start something here and I always took pride in being Filipino. Of course if you have Susan Calo Medina raising you, you take pride in that.”
Asked if ampalaya will ever find its way into her menu, Miko laughs. She is already experimenting with malunggay oil and ampalaya oil made by fellow chef, Stephan Roxas Duhesme of Metiz. Any Filipino will undoubtedly be transported home upon savoring these native flavors.