Small’s SG and A Mano team up for a seven-course menu for pizza lovers.
Many Pinoy foodies have already warmed up to the concept of omakase, and it’s not difficult to see why. Filipinos are always on the lookout for something exciting, and an omakase cannot not be exciting.
Roughly translated to “I’ll leave it up to you” or “chef’s choice,” an omakase is a Japanese dining concept where the chef cooks up a multi-course meal for the guests, guided by seasonality and their professional judgment.
The allure of an omakase lies in its being a unique and immersive culinary experience, not so different from an artistic performance. You wouldn’t really know what to expect because you leave everything in the hands of the chefs who are, most of the time, the ones serving the dishes, making it an opportunity for you to experience their artistry and skill in a more intimate way. The chef, meanwhile, also has the same personal experience, seeing your every reaction—good or otherwise—to the dishes curated just for you.
Last June 22, two esteemed restaurants from two different Southeast Asian countries joined forces to give Pinoy pizza lovers this experience. Micro pizzeria Small’s and well-loved Italian restaurant a mano of Manila treated diners to a seven-course omakase, an ode to pizza, seafood, and creativity.
Bjorn Shen, multi-awarded chef and owner of celebrated restaurants Small’s and Artichoke in Singapore, teamed up with our very own A Mano led by owner Amado Forés and chef Jonathan Redoblado. Together, they came up with a seven-item menu that highlighted Italian favorites with touches of Japanese and Filipino.
A medley of flavors and textures
In an interview with Mantle, Amado recounted that the collaboration happened mostly through their WhatsApp group since chef Bjorn is based in Singapore. Putting together the menu took roughly a month. Ultimately, they decided that the pizza dough, appetizers, pasta, and dessert would be A Mano’s, while chef Bjorn would take charge of the pizza toppings.
“It seemed really cool to invite him. We wanted him to do his pizzas here. We realized that his pizzas in Small’s were very Japanese leaning. We just decided to complement them with one-off dishes from our team,” he shared.
Amado said that the event was more than just a showcase of chef Bjorn’s talent but was also a way to show camaraderie with chefs from other countries. “And always part of that is exchanging knowledge,” added the 32-year-old restaurateur.
The allure of an omakase lies in its being a unique and immersive culinary experience, not so different from an artistic performance.
In a separate interview, chef Bjorn Chen talked about his love for seafood and how it influenced the dishes served during the Small’s x A Mano omakase.
“I like seafood. I won’t necessarily say Japanese, but I like seafood because my favorite things to work with are vegetables and seafood. When you talk about meat, there’s only so many animals that you can eat. But in terms of sea creatures there’s so many,” he explained.
He shared how the diversity of flavors and textures that one gets from seafood and vegetables informs much of his creations. “I love oily fish, fish which other people would call ‘fishy fish,’ sardines, mackerel, anchovies, for example. I love shellfish, crustaceans, crabs—I love crabs so much. I love clams and anything in a shell.”
“I’ve seen so much cool stuff here at A Mano,” he said when asked about his experience working with the local pizzeria, recognized as one of the Top 50 Pizzerias in Asia Pacific in 2023. “I’ve never had a burrata soft serve, the texture is outstanding. I ate pizza and the first mouthful was boom!”
The 42-year-old Master Chef Singapore judge said there were “many things” he learned from his collaboration with the A Mano team. “A lot of it may not be apparent now, but in three months’ time when I’m sitting around Small’s thinking of my next idea, any of these memories can come back to me.”
He added, “That’s the thing about experiences. You don’t realize that they can become ammunition until one day they reveal themselves to you in the future.”
Italian meets Japanese meets Filipino
The omakase was a coming together of three great cooking traditions: Italian, Japanese, and Filipino, with pizzas taking center stage.
We had two kinds of appetizers to start things off. The first one was uni (sea urchin) arancini topped with nori and ikura (salmon roe). With the uni so fresh, buttery, and silky, every bite was pure decadence.
The second of the “small bites” was the crispy bistecca rice topped with sashimi alla Fiorentina (Florentine beef tartare) which, Amado shared, is his favorite from their side of the collab. Instead of A Mano’s trademark bistecca, they turned the beef into sushi over a bed of crispy rice.
The pasta dish by A Mano was a lobster and corn ravioli, followed by a soothing calamansi and candied ginger granita to cleanse the palate.
Chef Bjorn delighted us with three pizza creations. He kicked things off with pizza bianca topped with torched engawa (flounder fin), green papaya, and ankimo (monkfish liver). With almost a theatrical flourish, the ankimo—which tasted very similar to foie gras—was grated on top of each plate of pizza by chef Bjorn. We were advised to wolf down each bite-sized slice in 20 seconds to fully enjoy the warm, melt-in-your mouth creaminess of the monkfish liver.
The second pizza dish was aptly named “Montanara” because it resembled a mountain. It has deep-fried pizza dough as its base, topped with stracciatella, zucchini, shiso (perilla), and seared iwashi (sardines). The toppings yielded an interesting burst of flavors—earthy while at the same time tasting of the sea. It’s the impeccably deep-fried a mano dough, however, which stole the show.
The third and last is not so different from pasta alle vongole but in pizza form—and it worked. Its toppings, consisting of garlic, clams, pork crisps (chicharon), and yellow tomatoes, contrast well with A Mano’s signature dough baked in their fire-engine red Valoriani oven.
Concluding the seven-dish omakase was a classic Italian dessert given a Japanese twist—tiramisu with matcha and white chocolate. Chef Jonathan of A Mano shared that the sweet treat was inspired by a garden—the coffee-dipped ladyfingers are the soil, the matcha the grass, and the white chocolate are white picket fences.
Chef Bjorn shared that all the ingredients were sourced by A Mano except for two which he brought in from Singapore that had been imported first from Japan: the monkfish liver and sashimi-grade Japanese sardines.
Amado shared that the touches of Filipino included the chicharon and the granita’s calamansi and candied ginger. “But the heart and soul of things—the ravioli, it’s still a ravioli at the end of the day, it’s still a granita which is a traditional Italian dish. Even our dessert is still a tiramisu. We didn’t veer off from the traditional dishes of Italy.”
He added that the pasta, flour, and tomatoes they use at a mano are all imported from Italy.
Concluding the seven-dish omakase was a classic Italian dessert given a Japanese twist—tiramisu with matcha and white chocolate.
Aside from the menu prepared by the Small’s and A Mano teams, we were treated to four different wines courtesy of AWC Philippines, which complemented the dishes. The company is the exclusive distributor of over 400 wines from some of the most prominent, family-owned wineries from the main wine regions in the world.
Perfect for the appetizers was a Clos Mont-Blanc Brut Cava Rosé NV from Barbera de la Conca, Spain. Accompanying the ravioli was a François Lurton les Salices Chardonnay 2021 from Languedoc-Roussillon, France.
We paired a rosé and a red wine with the pizzas: François Lurton La Mule Rosé 2021 Grenache/Cinsault, Languedoc-Roussillon, France and an Indigo Eyes Pinot Noir 2020 from Napa Valley in California.
Small’s x A Mano was made possible by the Asian Culinary Exchange organized by Angelo Comsti in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). This year’s edition of the ACE is designed to showcase Singapore through a series of cross-cultural collaborations between Singaporean and Filipino chefs. This is under Serve It, Singapore!—a project by the STB that brings unique dining experiences from Singapore to the Philippines.
Aside from Singaporean and Filipino chef and restaurant collaborations, STB will also be organizing Singa-Pob, a forthcoming takeover of select establishments in Poblacion, Makati happening in August 2023.
For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/VisitSingaporePH.
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(“Peanut” has a wide range of interests from travel to culture, food to books, people to places—interests which she loves writing about. She has recently found solace from life’s stresses in cooking and baking and is now on a mission to bake the best white chocolate chip cookie ever. Follow her on instagram @teachermokwrites or her soon-to-be resurrected blog at teachermok.wordpress.com. )