Hey Handsome is Poised to Become Your New Favorite Restaurant
Step into Chef Nicco Santos' culinary playground for a whirlwind of flavors.
There used to be just sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, but distinctions are blurred when you find yourself sitting at Chef Nicco Santos’ dining table where what you’re tasting
is never quite what you think it would be.
We are at Hey Handsome, his soon-to-open gastronomic playground where he, Chef Quenee Vilar, their dynamic team, and Charlie Paw (the quiet restaurateur who
spearheaded Hole in the Wall, Le Petit Souffle, Wrong Ramen, and more) are taking our taste buds on a uniquely delicious whirlwind.
It’s all practice for now though. Hey Handsome is opening on August 12, Friday, and Chef Nicco and his kitchen collaborators are coming up with more and more ways to tweak their menu. There’s peanut brittle in the sea bass where there wasn’t just hours before, as well as rookie garnishes that push them (both the chefs and the dishes) to learn the limits of what they can achieve with time and space restraints.
Hey Handsome carries the from-scratch ambitions of every serious kitchen nowadays. If you’ve been to Nicco and Quenee’s Your Local in Legazpi Village, then you know that they don’t cautiously build up their dishes for a blissful but brisk snapshot of flavor. Every item leaves a final blow that will have you spinning for a long time.
Their version of Nasi Lemak has seabass otah, ikan bilis, picked egg, and their house sambal.
Nothing is ever simply sweet or sour or salty or bitter at Hey Handsome. The beef in the Nam Tok is honeyed but. The fish in the Nasi Lemak is savory but. Glimpses of spice creep up in the beetroot paneer and quinoa. Heat trails in the nasi ulam. The effect goes beyond appeasing your stomach and right to challenging your brain.
Bebek Penyet: deep-fried duck, nasi ulam, achar, and sunny side-up duck egg.
At this point, it’s no longer enough to just talk about what you’re eating. Hey Handsome was named so to catch attention, and the amount of detail and thought of how everything was put together on the plate will indeed captivate you—completely. It’s an inadvertently necessary strategy, if only for customers to recognize the effort behind those hours-long braises, the spot-on curing of the duck, the pickling of the gooey duck egg, the freshness of the homemade yogurt, and more.
Kambing Buah Keluak: goat, buah keluak, nasi ulam, sambal matah, kerupek
You’ll bite into a dish thinking that it’s the best use of cilantro you’ve ever tried—only for the good chef to tell you that the zingy leaf is absent from the production. The fact is Chef Nicco intentionally designs herbs to play specific parts and specific flavors. This deep and nuanced understanding of seasoning, not to mention their preference for making everything in-house, allows Chef Nicco an unlimited amount of control over his combinations. What you taste at Hey Handsome is something you won’t find elsewhere. They’re also the only restaurant to utilize buah keluak, a cyanide-laced fruit imported from Malaysia. Soaked for three days till it’s edible, it’s a bit of a thrill to enjoy.
The vegetarian Beetroot Paneer dish:beertwoor, paneer, mushrooms (shimeji, shiitake, oyster), quinoa, tabouleh, and yogurt.
Homemade yogurt with black sesame tuille and black jam.
Hey Handsome’s dishes (five for now, but a total of 12 when they open to the public) come in layers that you peel off; and every bite—from the first to the last—feels like
an intimate discovery of flavor. The beef ribs are resounding as is, but even beefier with the sharp sourness of the salad. Seabass wrapped in banana leaves is fragrant and
astounding, but more so with the unorthodox addition of homemade peanut brittle (a cool representation of the usual peanut sauce). Turn the plate of duck around and
you’ll be surprised to find a version of atsara at the back. And while every element is satisfying on its own, you’ll be happier when you put them all in one bite. Even the
seemingly extraneous black sesame tuille and black sesame jam takes the homemade yogurt from hokey to easily gourmet.
Rosie Arnold: lemonade infused with rosemary, muddled cherry, and lemon wheel.
Frothy egg whites turn a zippy yet-to- be-named lemon drink to something akin to a smoothie. In the Rosie Arnold, the delicacy of lemonade and rosemary is chased by a
sharp touch of ginger—then soothed by the sweetness of muddled cherry. Clearly, the impeccable precision doesn’t exempt anything on the menu.
Rose-infused crepe with coconut filling and macaron counterpart.
The Kambing Buah Keluak was one of Hey Handsome’s first dishes. It debuted at last June’s Supermanly Eats where the chefs gave a little preview of what was to
come. “A woman came up and I didn’t realize she was Penarakan until she spoke. She asked about the dish and I got nervous because this was her cuisine. When she
took a bite, she started crying. She said she missed home so much. I was so happy that we were able to give her that.”
Always in pursuit of newer realms of flavor, Hey Handsome might never be truly satisfied with what they put up. But they know they’ve done good.