THINK authentic Spanish cuisine served in a hip and modern setting with some of the best Spanish cocktails and wines, and one of the first places that come to mind is Tapella by Gaudi, located in an unobtrusive corner of Greenbelt 5, with provisions for al fresco dining.
Tapella, which specializes in tapas and paella, has always been known for its authentic Spanish cuisine, which diners enjoy with the best wines around the world at reasonable prices. But since Chef Robert Spakowski joined the restaurant as its executive chef, it became even more popular because Chef Robert constantly introduces new dishes that are a combination of classic Spanish dishes and modern interpretations of Spanish flavors. He puts these on the restaurant’s Chef’s Specials, which are always exciting because it’s a collaboration between him and his team of chefs.
Not one to take all the credit for the restaurant’s success, Chef Robert has put in place an unorthodox management system that focuses on time management, food safety and sanitation, and promotes leadership, team work, discipline and accountability among the staff. One of the other important things that he did when he came in as executive chef was standardize recipes to ensure food consistency and authenticity of flavors.
Armed with 15 years of experience in the food industry, Chef Robert — Polish-Kapampangan on his father’s side, and Spanish, American, Lebanese and partly Chinese on his mother’s side — earned his Diploma in Culinary Arts and Technology Management from the Center for Culinary Arts Manila (CCA). Dreaming of one day running his own restaurant, he worked in the kitchens of some of Shanghai and Beijing’s noted restaurants. In Manila, he also gained experience as executive chef of Venezia Bar and Restaurant, overall consultant of H&H Martini Restaurant and Bar, special projects consultant of Dunkin’ Café, research and development food specialist of Chef’s Secret Inc., and guest chef of Café 137 in Tagaytay, among others.
When a family friend, the former executive chef of Tapella, talked to him about the possibility of him taking her place as executive chef of Tapella after she decided to go back to Spain following the demise of her husband, Chef Robert decided to take a three-month intensive Grand Diplome in Spanish Culinary Arts course under Chef Jose Andres at the International Culinary Center in New York, USA, to equip him better for the job. There, he worked seriously on his studies, drawing inspiration from the wall near his locker which displayed the handprints of the most famous chefs in the world and surprising even himself with his perfect class attendance record. He came home to Manila afterwards with a wealth of knowledge about Spanish cuisine and eager to take on the challenges of his new job.
Now, as executive chef, partner and restaurant consultant of Tapella, Chef Robert has steered the restaurant to even greater heights of popularity, earning for it a steady clientele who come to the restaurant to enjoy its food and drinks to go with its cozy and relaxed ambiance.
Among the most recent — and most popular! — Spanish tapas that Chef Robert has introduced are Morcilla de Cebolla (Php450), a traditional blood sausage stuffed with onion and special Spanish spices, grilled and sliced, and served over a bed of Patatas ala Pobre in olive oil; Chorizo Picante (Php350), spiced and savored as an appetizer with a kick, and served over a bed of seasoned Patatas ala Pobre with strips of red and green bell peppers; Butifarra (Php475), a popular tapas originating from Catalan and is grilled over a bed of hand-cut, spiced and seasoned cubed fries, and served with a Dijon mustard dip; and Chorizo Criollo (Php475), which is just as good.
The dashing chef of Tapella also recently introduced his Certified U.S. Prime Angus Beef Top Blade (Php1,499+), which comes with three kinds of dips: Dijon Mustard, Mojo Rojo and Mojo Verde. The Mojo Verde dip, which highlights the pleasing blend of cilantro and cumin, is also great with the new tapas on the menu mentioned above. Going back to the Certified U.S. Prime Angus Beef Top Blade, it is also served with a side of specially seasoned hand-cut fries and a salad of mixed and micro greens, candied walnuts and feta cheese tossed in tamarind balsamico, a house vinaigrette. One order is good for sharing among two to three persons.
Not to be missed, of course, is Tapella’s paellas (rice dishes), which come in different variants, including Pulpo (octopus), Gambas (shrimps), Calamares (squid), Negra (squid ink) and Marisco (seafood).
Then there are the new cocktail drinks. Chef Robert has just introduced four new Sangrias: Banzai Sangria (white sangria, which combines sake, cucumber, and infused with homemade candied ginger), Lychee Sangria (sake with lychee among its major ingredients), Don Roberto (red sangria with red wine and fruits that have been marinated for 24 hours), and Rico J (an even more potent red sangria).
(Tapella is located on the ground level of Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City; with telephone number 757-2710.)