A hodgepodge of Western and Oriental flavors formed upon waves and waves of immigration, Australian cuisine is honestly hard to decipher and characterize. There aren’t many Australian restaurants in the Philippines either, so I was eager to try out Canvas Bistro Bar Gallery at Ayala Center Cebu and explore the flavors from Down Under. Read more…
Australian Chef Steve Shrimski is a seasoned hotelier and restaurateur, having done work for hotels and companies around Asia-Pacific. His craft and expertise have brought him to places in China, Thailand, Myanmar, Vanuatu, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Australia.
He married Ms. Eya, a native Cebuana and a seasoned food and beverage manager who has held posts in hotels across Asia and the Philippines. They later decided to stay in Cebu to raise their family and start their own food-related ventures.
Canvas Bistro Bar Gallery is situated on a row of big restaurant names in one of Cebu’s most popular malls. But despite the presence of more popular competitors, the restaurants enjoys a steady stream of clientele, mostly repeat customers, and they have numerous positive feedback online that rank them among the city’s top restaurants to boot. (Note: We’ve been told that the restaurant is moving to a new location starting November 15, 2015.)
The interiors of the casual restaurant aren’t elaborate, and with its metallic chairs, tables, and lamps, the place has an industrial feel to it. Several paintings line the walls to form its gallery.
As Ms. Eya and I waited for Chef Steve to personally prepare our late lunch, we nibbled on their sweet and salty spiced chicken chicharon, chorizo, chicken liver, gizzards, and cashews. Sure, it had a lot of crunchy bits and pieces, but strangely, it worked. And I liked it, despite having liver.
We then warmed up with sips off a warm bowl of curried pumpkin soup, a classic with a mildly spicy Asian kick. We liked it because it wasn’t too creamy and heavy.
Then we were served tapas from their combinable selection. Chef Steve chose to have us try their creamy mushroom and herb bruschetta and their shrimp and beansprout ukoy fritters with garlic and coconut vinegar dip, which were both wonderfully presented. Both were tasty, but if I were to choose one that I liked better, I’d pick the latter because of my bias for mushrooms and cream.
The salad course was the Malay-spiced chicken and mandarin salad with cumin-toasted almonds and sprouts. The tanginess of the mandarins and the toasty taste of the almonds won me over.
The first among the entrees served was one of their bestsellers—original Aussie beef float with mashed potatoes and mushy peas. After a few bites, I understood why their best patrons are crazy over it. It was really, really good, and the pie, despite sitting on a sauce, wasn’t mushy.
I was apprehensive to try their grilled ostrich with balsamic honey sauce, potato cakes, and garden vegetables, but after much prodding from both Chef Steve and Ms. Eya, I had to relent. And it wasn’t I expected it to be—it wasn’t rubbery nor gamey, and the balsamic sauce worked wonders.
It was easy to like the chicken schnitzel with wedges and salad, since it’s a classic dish after all. But unlike some of the others I’ve had, the one at Canvas was tender and not heavy on the breading, and the thickness was thankfully just right.
Although at that point, we were starting to get filled, Chef Steve insisted that I pick from their dessert list. What intrigued me was the “Filipiniana” almond pandan jelly trifle with ube sponge, tropical fruit, and coconut custard. It was similar to halo-halo, even in terms of taste and texture, only that it didn’t have ice, and well, it had squares of fragrant ube sponge cake.
Ms. Eya said I should also try the pumpkin cheesecake with pecan gingernut cookie base and mango ice cream. As a lover of cheesecake, I didn’t say no. And I’m glad I didn’t—it was divine.
To be honest, the place needs more art hung on its walls for it to be called a gallery. But more than the paintings, the works of art at Canvas Bistro Bar Gallery are the food, and what we had tasted good as they looked. The restaurant is undeniably one of Cebu’s best kept secrets.
CANVAS BISTRO BAR GALLERY
The Terraces, Ayala Center Cebu, Archbishop Reyes Avenue, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
Telephone: +63 32 417 1978
Social Media: Facebook
Note: Canvas Bistro Bar Gallery is moving to a new location at STC Building, Paseo Saturnino (along Maria Luisa Park), Banilad, Cebu City, Philippines starting November 15, 2015.