The centrepiece of most barbecue restaurants is their grill, but at Kubo Wood-fired Kitchen, it is a furnace.
The modern Filipino restaurant, which opened in 2022, prefers to call it a pugon, a traditional brick oven that you can built yourself according to Youtube. It burns so intensely that the seats in front of it are best saved for when you are soaked to the core, or climate change deniers.
Kubo‘s founder, Kurt Sombero makes much better use of his pugon. The former Burnt Ends chef harnessed the top to cook yellow curry layered with smoked coconut, mustard, and curry leaf oil, to be soaked up by crusty potato bread. He connected the oven to a smoker stacked with dry-aged duck breast and thigh, both sweetly marinated like a Filipino duck dish called patotim. Their skins were then sharply crisped on an elevated grill, and the result was captivatingly rich and complex.
With an estimated population of 200,000 Filipinos employed here, plus tens of thousands more who call themselves residents, Singapore curiously does not have more restaurants like Kubo. We are more comfortable with Thai, Japanese, French, and Italian cuisines, yet the food of people working among us, even living in our homes, remains foreign.
Kubo knows that, and kindly provides a menu filled with terminology. The name: short for bahay kubô or nipa hut, a type of stilt house. Inasal: a word borrowed from the Visayan people to symbolise grilled meat, translated here into deeply smoked chicken mid-wing with papaya pickles called atchara and an earthy annatto seed sauce. Adobo: a soy, garlic, and vinegar brine, which the restaurant darkened with squid ink and served with smoked octopus tentacles, white bean puree, and charred lentil crackers.
Pork longganissa has no descriptor, but it was worth the intrigue. Based on a skinless sausage reminiscent of chorizo, Kubo crossed it with a celebratory dish called hamonado by marinating it with soy and pineapple. The meat was then shaped into a patty and sandwiched by pickled cucumber slices, cured egg, ikura, and toasted bread. Luscious and savoury, it was the tropical cousin of the hamburg steak.
For dessert, go back to the dictionary for halo-halo, Tagalog for “mixed” and a popular iced treat in the Philippines. The original is characterised by the intensely-purple ube yam, which Kubo turned into a sorbet on top of coconut jam, corn custard, and meringue. In true fashion, the dish is blasted with a flame torch until smoke curled up. “I like fire,” Sombero said with a grin.
Kubo Wood-Fired Kitchen is located at 80 Mohamed Sultan Rd, #01-12 The Pier at Robertson, Singapore 239013. Book here.
(Hero and featured images credit: Kubo Wood-Fired Kitchen)