Chef Dennis Lim, a towering presence with an almost shy, soft-spoken voice, has developed a cult-like following for his rustic, reservation-only private dining restaurant Denlim’s Kitchen in Pampanga. So much so that if you wish to secure a reservation for a weekday, you’d get one for March – next year. Weekdays will prove to be a longer wait, as his next available schedule is in October—again, next year.
It came as no surprise then that Holiday Inn & Suites Makati wanted, for the longest time, to collaborate with the self-taught Lim. And as just as the adage—good things come to those who wait—goes, the hotel had to wait almost 10 months for Lim’s schedule to free up since the idea for a partnership was first broached in December last year.
And worth the wait his dishes were.
The press preview lunch started with bangus paté served with French baguette. It was a light starter – the steamed bangus a nod to his Kapampangan roots, flaked and tossed with olive oil and capers. Next was Chef Lim’s Oriental cashew salad, a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with julienned carrots and bell pepper, bean sprouts, corn flakes, cashews and candied walnuts with a very light but flavorful dressing.
His mains include Spanish callos, pasta Corrito, beef shank with mushroom sauce and served with grilled corn and enoki mushrooms, crab Marlen, and pugon-cooked liempo with pork buro and lettuce wraps. For his callos, he smokes first the beef knuckles and hocks to give the dish, which he stews with beef skin and tripes for six hours, additional flavor. Crab Marlen, named after his aunt, uses 36 salted egg yolks for every three kilos of crabs—a deadly combination that one can do justice only by eating with one’s hands, hotel napkins be damned. (The waiters were thoughtful enough to serve finger dips with sliced lemons.) The pasta Corrito, an olive oil-based seafood pasta topped with tomatoes, shrimps, squid, and mussels and served with lemon wedges on the side, provided a lovely break to the meat-based dishes served, but the pause only enough to prepare us for his piece de resistance—the pugon liempo, with the meat tender and the pork skin perfectly crunchy. The succulent pork belly slices are wrapped in lettuce and smothered with a generous serving of the buro babi, which, according to Chef Lim, traces its roots to Candaba, Pampanga, and has no sour taste and smell unlike the shrimp or fish varieties.
All his dishes were intelligently executed, and promise not to disappoint those who choose to wait for a slot to make that gustatory trip to Pampanga. Even better, his dishes will be part of Holiday Inn’s signature buffet restaurant, Flavors, from Oct.10 to 19, affording a chance, albeit limited for ten days only, to those who want to experience Chef Lim’s culinary masterpieces.
“We are always looking for interesting food ideas and collaborations to bring a great dining and travel experience to our guests and customers. Chef Lim is a good fit because his cooking style reflects Flavors Restaurant’s friendly and unpretentious vibe,” said Andy Belmonte, Holiday Inn & Suites Makati manager.
“It felt right,” said Chef Lim, who admits this is his first time to collaborate with an international hotel. “More than just another feather in my cap, I know it will be good experience working with other chefs. I do not have formal training, so I know I will learn a lot from this.”
“I wouldn’t know what to call my style of cooking. I just keep it simple, as I like to bring out the true flavors in my dishes,” he added.
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