Melbourne CBD will score its first modern Filipino restaurant in early 2022, led by Philippine-born chef Ross Magnaye and backed by Shane Stafford, co-founder of the now-closed Rice Paper Sister. Called Serai, the restaurant will pay tribute to the diverse cultural influences of the Philippines archipelago, including Malaysian, Chinese and Spanish. The name is the Malaysian word for lemongrass.
Magnaye, born in the south of The Philippines and formerly head chef at Rice Paper Sister, has just returned from a seven-month stint cooking at pop-ups and supper clubs in Bulgaria and is excited to make Filipino cuisine more familiar to Melburnians.
The 50-seat Serai is moving into a laneway space previously occupied by an ice-cream shop. The minimalist fitout will avoid stereotypical cultural references, opting for pale timber and dark red banquettes instead. Magnaye wants Filipino food to stand on its own.
Serai's menu will be split into an Asian-inspired raw bar featuring kinilaw, the Philippines' answer to ceviche, made with Western Australian scampi and coconut; a collection of "crispy things"; and wood-fired dishes such as Clarence River king prawns with Magnaye's take on 'nduja made with longganisa, a Filipino sausage. Large plates include lechon (roasted suckling pig) and aged Milawa duck with pineapple ketchup and roasted bone sauce, while sides and desserts will highlight seasonal fruit.
Expect an all-Australian wine list, San Miguel beer and cocktails inspired by Filipino ingredients and dishes, such as ube (purple yam) and halo halo, a textural dessert similar to Malaysian cendol.
Magnaye credits peers such as Janine Barican (Chibog), John Rivera (Kariton Sorbetes) and Will Mahusay (Sydney Cebu Lechon) with putting Filipino food on the Australian map. With Serai, he hopes to make it a cuisine of choice for Melburnians.
Serai is expected to open by March 2022 at 1 Racing Club Lane, Melbourne.