Chibog review

Pata (deep-fried pork knuckle with condiments).
Pata (deep-fried pork knuckle with condiments). Photo: Eddie Jim

553 Barkly St West Footscray, VIC 3012

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Opening hours Tue-Thu 5.30-10.30pm; Fri 4.30-10.30pm; Sat-Sun 11.30-3.15pm, 4.30pm-10.30pm
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9078 4472

It has been just over one year since Janine Barican opened her business, and then had to switch to takeaway for COVID.

Thankfully, the siren song of home has rung out to the local Filipino community, helped in part by Fides Santos-Arguelles and Grace Guinto who run the Entree Pinays, a website and social media channel that amplifies Filipino-run businesses (and has just launched a mercato for goods). Now, last-minute tables are hard to book, but a dozen stools lining the sleek central bar and some shorter squats around the kitchen are always there for walk-ins.

It's encouraging to see any restaurant packed out at 5.30pm on a weeknight right now. It's better still to be the only lonely island of two in a sea of big family groups, each spanning (at a glance) three generations.

Chibog Filipino restaurant in West Footscray.
Chibog Filipino restaurant in West Footscray. Photo: Eddie Jim

Bringing your own dining militia is a strong tactic. Barican's business partner and chef Alex Yi is delivering the full spectrum of rich, fragrant and ferment-forward Filipino experience.

Chibog is a response to a bizarre Australian phenomenon: a strong Filipino community and relative lack of Filipino restaurants.

Filipino Australian writer Yasmin Newman has theorised this may be because many migrants came from professions such as medicine and law, meaning there was less imperative to start food businesses. Barican is a former nurse, but her pining for food caused her to enlist Yi (who is Chinese Australian) to fill that gap.

Kare-kare (oxtail in peanut stew).
Kare-kare (oxtail in peanut stew). Photo: Eddie Jim

We have seen more Filipino food in restaurants in the past couple of years, notably in high-concept form from John Rivera when he was at Lume, and at Rice Paper Sister in the CBD (which closed during COVID but the Filipino dishes are migrating to Rice Paper Scissors). Chibog delivers a restaurant presentation of classic and familiar dishes.

The lighter, brighter representatives lead the charge. Lumpiang sariwa are coconut crepes that wrap a mellow saute of carrots, cabbage and onion, and are washed in sweet and tangy garlic, soy and peanut sauce.

Kinilaw is the raw fish dish that, unlike citrusy ceviche, sees the ruby raw tuna washed in cane vinegar and coconut milk.

Tortang talong (omelette with eggplant).
Tortang talong (omelette with eggplant). Photo: Eddie Jim

Largely, however, these are the Filipino dishes that party like there's no tomorrow, a celebration writ in rich meats, peanuts and sweet purple yams, ube.

It's pretty much inevitable that you'll order an ube colada when so many of the luminous tulip glasses are doing the rounds and, fair warning, they land a delicious KO punch of coconut and white rum before you've even contemplated the crispy pata.

You will though, once you see the show-stopping deep-fried pork knuckle that takes 20 minutes to reach its prime of crunchy skin to sticky, shreddable meat. Cut from the bone, you dunk the meat in chilli-spiked vinegar-soy dressing, pinch it into mouthfuls with the funky sharp salve of atchara (a shredded side of papaya, fish sauce and a gentle hum of chilli), or swipe through Mang Tomas, a sweet, tangy condiment with a liver base.

Ube colada  cocktail.
Ube colada cocktail. Photo: Eddie Jim

The rich and luxurious party continues with kare-kare, a braise of oxtail in a peanut stew with a funky lift from shrimp paste, and a clean green artillery of snake beans, sticky okra and bok choi to hold it back from the void.

Is it wiser to choose the osso bucco and jackfruit in a sour tamarind soup? I'd consider it if you're also getting the sisig. Usually a festival of pig jowl and ear, they're using a cut with equal meat, fat and skin ratio that is triple-cooked, tossed with onions and served on a sizzling platter with a creamy sauce made with liver pâté and a crunchy halo of chicharon, pork crackling.

The menu has streamlined a little since last year. Originally there were specialties like bilao, a duck embryo cooked in the shell and served with a spiced vinegar. Fingers crossed there's enough interest for these specialties to return. Meanwhile, there's plenty of interest for the package as it is.

There is a burger both for casual afternoons on the Astroturf parklet or when you just want to prop up one of the bar stools at the glittering bar with a (warning: surprisingly potent) Red Horse beer.

There is a tofu version of the sisig with a vegetarian gravy, and tortang talong, a deeply coloured omelette filled with soft, creamy lobes of eggplant crowned with a rough-chopped salsa and lots of lime juice.

And there is dessert: flan captured in spring rolls, served with ube ice-cream or the classic halo halo of shaved ice, sweet beans and fruits with dulce de leche, similar to Korea's bingsu.

The good times are plentiful at Chibog. It is the right time for it, and with all of West Footscray rising up around it, it's the right place, too.

Drinks: Australian wines, cocktails using pandan and ube, San Miguel and Australian beers.

Pro Tip: Bring a bigger group to make a shared feast of the rich dishes.

https://www.chibog.com.au/