Jackie McMillan
3rd Mar 2024

Even for a regular consumer of Filipino food, Takam felt exciting. This Darlinghurst cafe-restaurant takes the all-important next step in widening the audience for Pinoy cuisine by condensing the wide, disparate array of dishes originating from across more than 7000 islands, into a cohesive tasting menu. Hit up the tiny 24-seater any Friday or Saturday evening and let yourself be taken through a feast ($98/person) comprising seven different items. Run by a trio of chefs - Francis Dela Cruz, Aileen Aguirre and Lesley Roque - Takam is an easy place to experiment with what might be an unfamiliar cuisine.  

I went rogue and ordered from the menu, rewarded when braised Fremantle octopus ($34) — set around a pool of garlic - heavy adobo with dark, brooding intensity punctuated by beach plants, chorizo and cubes of fried potato - proved the absolute highlight. You can taste the Spanish influence from the country’s history of colonisation. There are also traces of Chinese immigration, and Spanish galleon trade bringing items like maize from Mexico. Taste both in crisp short rib and bone marrow pinsec frito (fried wonton wrappers) topped with wattle seed and corn puree ($6/each). Lumpia de Shanghai ($4/each) elevate street food pork spring rolls with sesame leaf wrappers and saltbush tomato ketsup. We also enjoyed scooping up jackfruit ‘humba’ onto Chinese mantou buns and mignonette lettuce with hoisin and tart house-made pickles. Just like plantain in Pasifikan countries, when jackfruit is green it’s used in savoury dishes, and when it’s ripe, it’s used in dessert. In this dish, which is a play on a braised pork dish, it’s teamed with soy sauce, vinegar, black peppercorns, garlic and fermented black beans with the expected touch of sugar. 

Floor staff delivered a great explanation of poqui poqui ($22): basically tomato and scrambled eggs sitting over mashed eggplant that has been grilled over an open flame. Coal-roasting continued into savoury spatchcock ($39) braised in master stock and served with kakadu plum. The country’s signature citrus, the sweet and sour calamasi, made an appearance in both the ensalada ($12) - a salad of pickled grapes, mignonette lettuce and mild and creamy Pinoy cheese (kaesong puti) - and in their famous Don Papa rum. We sampled across the light, fun entry level rum ($15) that tasted like Mackintosh's coconut toffee, and the 10-year ($25) that highlighted the fruit better with orange and grapefruit flavours. You can also drink from a small but reasonably priced list of wines (there are better options in the reds) or take up the opportunity to BYO ($15/person). With the dishes running a little bit sweet I skipped dessert, but have marked it down to sample on my next visit.