When I enter Kooya Filipino Eatery to meet chef JP Anglo and his wife Camille, they are dining with their staff, passing around platefuls of adobo and garlic rice. The meal is punctuated with chatter and laughter.
It’s not the most common of sights in the UAE and yet, in the Philippines, the hapag-kainan, or dining table, is often a place to celebrate or ruminate with loved ones. This tradition of eating collectively is important for many Filipinos, and is meant to embody generosity, hospitality and family-orientated culture.
“Food brings everyone together,” says Anglo. “Filipinos love to celebrate over a good meal.”
It’s the authenticity, care and joy of Filipino culture that the renowned chef aims to showcase through food.
In the Philippines, the one-time MasterChef Pinoy Edition judge and surfing enthusiast hosts his own lifestyle show called Hungry with Chef JP, through which he explores the country’s hottest surf spots and their regional food culture. Anglo is also the recipient of the Tatler Dining’s Champion for Philippine Cuisine 2020 Award, and helms the successful restaurant chain Sarsa.
Fine Filipino dining
Kooya, which opened in Dubai Marina on March 1, marks Anglo’s first international restaurant. The chef says he wants he wants to share his passion for the “complex wonders” of Filipino food in a city known for its cosmopolitan nature.
“We initially considered branching out to Los Angeles, thinking it would be the perfect place for progressive Filipino food. But then we came to Dubai and we felt wow — forget about America!” says Anglo. “It’s also very rewarding to serve Filipinos here.”
Most importantly, though, Kooya aspires to elevate Filipino food and transform it into a cuisine worth dressing up for, by making it more than a pang-patawid, or quick-to-get-by, meal. Camille is candid when she says she wants people to consider going for it “even for special occasions”, and that she hopes Kooya will be a step towards Filipino food enjoying the same international adoration as other South-East Asian cuisines.
In Tagalog, “kuya” is a term of endearment for an elder brother. “We called the restaurant Kooya because it’s like the big brother of our other restaurants,” says Camille.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of Jannah Place hotel and has been designed by a team of Filipino designers led by Gabriel Lichauco. The greenhouse-esque space is punctuated with a plethora of plants interspersed with canvas illustrations by Filipino illustrator Ken Alonzo, while the ambience exudes a hip beach vibe.
A hapag-kainan for everyone
Anglo believes progressive Filipino cooking is one that does not compromise, but instead respects the (often long) hours and patience it takes to produce a dish. “I try to cook out of the box, but at the same time respect the traditions, foundations and essence of the food.”
The chef takes heavy inspiration from his hometown’s Negrense cuisine, yet has a contemporary approach, in that he accentuates traditional flavour profiles by adapting techniques and flavours from his travels.
The chef can often be found shopping for ingredients in Karama, where he seeks out ingredients from non-Philippine importers. He admits it was initially challenging to work with overseas ingredients, but that now he feels joy and excitement in discovering and experimenting with tantalising new flavours in his dishes.
Accordingly, the Kooya menu boasts Filipino classics with modern twists. A scrumptious standout is the beef caldereta, a stew traditionally served with a spicy tomato sauce. Anglo’s braised beef belly version is updated by grilling the tomatoes and frying the potatoes.
Another hit is the Negrense classic chicken inasal, or grilled chicken, marinated at Kooya in coconut vinegar, lemongrass and annatto. For dessert, guests are treated to a warm piaya, a freshly baked flatbread filled with palm sugar.