Half Saints is a small restaurant tucked away at Sergeant Esguerra Avenue in Quezon City. If I’m not mistaken, it opened early last year, and it has been enjoying a steady stream of regulars and curious souls. I say this because sometimes it’s hard to immediately get a table when you come here. I’m not really going to complain about the size of the restaurant though. The inside of Half Saints gives off a cozy and intimate feel, and in fact I think it’s quite nicely decorated. They were obviously inspired by the Japanese minimalist style.
I actually found out about Half Saints by chance. My brother has a friend who lives in Quezon City, and during one of their barkada nights out they went to this restaurant. After that, my brother could not stop talking about this place. Aside from admiring the interiors, he also could not stop talking about how creative the food is. He told me it was the kind of thing I would appreciate, and since he is pretty familiar with my tastes in food, I believed him.
For the most part, he was right.
I have nothing but good things to say about the ambiance of the restaurant. I love the interwoven rope installation they have up on the ceiling! The lighting also sets a nice mood. It’s the sort that makes you want to settle in for a while, although it is a nightmare for food photography without a flash lol. But I managed somehow!
Before we jump to the bit about the food, I just wanted to give a shout-out to the all-woman team I glimpsed working in the kitchen. Regardless of my feedback on their dishes, I have mad respect for the work they’re doing coming up with this really interesting menu. If you look through it, there is no one cuisine you can pinpoint to describe their food. It really looks like a personal collection of bits and pieces from different countries, fused into dishes that are relatable to the Filipino palate. It’s no surprise to find out that the menu was inspired by the travels of the restaurant owner around the world.
The meal was off to a great start thanks to the interesting Chicharron Teriyaki (Php 295). The dish is made up of thin-sliced pork fried to a crisp, with fat and skin intact (their version of bagnet). It’s served with sheets of nori and cream cheese with black sesame. You eat it by spreading some cream cheese onto the nori, then topping it with a piece of pork. Then you roll the nori sheet like a spring roll and eat everything in one bite.
The effect is quite lovely. The savory tang of the cream cheese binds together the umami nori and the sweet-salty flavor of the teriyaki glazing the crunchy pork. In the mouth, it’s a contrast of crunchy and creamy. It’s actually quite addictive. The only thing is that you cannot allow this dish to sit for too long or else the pork slices will become hard.
The Hummus, Roasted Eggplants, Chili Puff Pizza (Php 325) provided a distraction from the chicharron though. Once it gets set on the table, you can’t help but stare at the golden hued puff pastry. The toppings incite your imagination to match flavors with the colors of the ingredients. That said, I probably have quite the imagination because this dish fell a bit flat for me.
For me, this lacked oomph. I could only literally taste roasted eggplants and some butter notes from the puff pastry crust. Hummus can be mild-flavored, but there are ways to make it a bit more tasty. I also didn’t get much of the chili. I reckon some citrus-infused chili sauce or a touch of balsamic vinegar would’ve brightened this puff pizza up.
In contrast, the Dehydrated Tomato & Almond Pesto with Longganisa Spaghettini (Php 265) was quite salty. I really enjoyed the nutty undertones of the pesto, but the saltiness can get intense. We ordered all these dishes to share so the saltiness was divided among four of us. Eating the entire dish on your own might be a different story.
It seemed like Half Saints was saving the best for last though, because the Arroz Con Pollo (Php 395) was quite excellent. I loved the rich hearty flavors of the coconut infused rice, with notes of garlic and tomatoes in the mix. The chicken is tender and very savory as well, thanks to that coconut milk. Such a satisfying dish this was!
Equally satisfying was the Dirty Matcha (Php 150), which is Half Saints’ version of the popular matcha espresso latte. This was one of the best ones I’ve tried locally, with the matcha, espresso, and milk all working in harmony rather than one-upping each other. I’ve tried ones that are too milky and ones that have really thick matcha, but this was great. I WANT MORE.
For dessert, we ordered two dishes. Oddly enough, my reaction to each were polar opposites. I was really surprised by the Cheese & Paprika Tart (Php 70), but not in a good way. My brother who had eaten here a few times before had started building this dessert up to me even while we were in the car on the way here, so I had some really hefty expectations. What I did not expect was blob of super salty filling.
Instead of tasting like cheese, the filling was like thick pastry cream infused with a ton of salt. I was so surprised by it I almost didn’t know what to think. After seeing my reaction, my brother went for a taste himself. I don’t know if they changed the recipe, but based on his comment as a returning customer, it looked and tasted nothing like the version he had before. I wonder if this tart would be different if I went back in the future.
Thankfully, the 64% Dark Chocolate Tart (Php 220 per slice) was SUBLIME. Literally, I can think of nothing but praises to sing for this silky, perfectly deep and chocolatey dessert. It had just the right amount of sweetness, and I’m really happy that they put a pinch of sea salt on top. It adds to the eating experience. This tart looks so unassuming but oh my goodness, it blew my mind.
This might jut be one of my favorite chocolate tarts I have ever eaten, texture-wise and taste-wise. A slice of this and a glass of Dirty Matcha on the side would make me a very happy camper!
The experience of eating here at Half Saints is one I would compare to a roller coaster ride. The ups and downs are so drastic! There’s a lot to be said about their creativity, because so many of their dishes are interesting, and I honestly believe with a little tweaking they could perfect them. As it stands from my experience, the hits are such big hits, but the misses can put a bit of a damper on the eating experience as a whole.
Think about it: You eat a really really good dish to start with, but then follow it up with a dish that has something off about it. That off-dish will seem more pronounced because the previous dish was SO GOOD. You get what I mean? Comparisons will be inevitable because the contrast is so obvious. Maybe it’s an issue of consistency? They have been open for just over a year after all. My experience almost feels like a weird parallelism of the Half Saints name, where half of the food was really good, and the other half could have been better.
That said, I can actually see why this place is so popular. Don’t let the small size of the restaurant fool you into thinking that’s the reason why it’s always full. Having a small area is not always a guarantee that you’ll manage to fill it up with customers. Half Saints is almost always full whenever I pass by, and I think that’s saying something. And I get it. Based on the dishes I enjoyed, I can see what Half Saints is capable of putting on the table. It’s why I’d definitely come back to eat here and try their other interesting dishes. Hopefully it will be a little less of a bumpy ride and more of a smooth cruise.
Full disclosure: This post is NOT sponsored in any way. I paid for this meal on my own and received no compensation for writing this feature. All opinions stated above are my own.