There’s been a quiet Chele-volution going on as of late. Chef Chele Gonzales’s plate, of The Gallery by Chele fame, has been filled to the brim with new events, new restaurants across the country, and rediscovering his passion as a DJ.
Something that’s taken up quite a chunk of the chef’s time is revisiting the menu of Samira by Chele. Located in the picturesque Anya Resort in Tagaytay, Samira is the poster child of a restaurant that emerged stronger after the one-two punch that was the eruption of Taal and the pandemic-induced lockdown not long after.
@nolisoli.ph still thinking about that dinner. get in my tummy again please 😋 #nolisolieats #tagaytay #foodieph #foodtok ♬ Calm LoFi song(882353) – S_R
After the years-long damper the pandemic brought on the culinary world, Chele Gonzales and Samira executive chef Chris Leaning have breathed new life into the destination dining restaurant. They’ve devised a new six-course dinner degustation menu as a testament to their recovery from the challenges they’ve faced over the past few years.
Bites, bites, bites
Before dinner formally commenced, we were treated to cocktails and the beautiful Tagaytay sunset. We were seated at a long table in front of a panoramic window overlooking the rest of the property.
As with most restaurants, the location is very much a part of the overall experience as the food is.
Aside from being a resort, Anya is a wellness retreat that takes your mind away from the city—which helps set the tone for an evening of decadent food.
As with most degustation style dining, the official first course of the night was preceded by a plate of bites. There were four bites that evening, which were the brioche and beef tartare with egg yolk emulsion and ikura, Irish Gallagher oysters with compressed pear, black squid arancini with parmesan mousse, and bulalo tacos—a nod to the restaurant’s locale.
The bites were a balance of sweet, savory, rich, and umami; a fitting starter for an evening filled with even more mouthwatering food.
For the first course, a dish of Tasmanian ocean trout tartare with dill, fried capers, apple, sliced red radish, topped with creme fraiche and dill oil was presented to the table. It came with a side of puffed tapioca chips, which is used to spoon the dish straight into your mouth. It’s a light, fresh dish that benefits from the freshness of the produce and the quality of the ingredients it uses.
The next two dishes were also seafood based: the signature Chele charred, grilled octopus, and the pan-seared dorado on a sweet pea puree with charred romaine lettuce, sun dried tomatoes, and hazelnut salsa.
Samira’s charred, grilled octopus is straight from the depths of my food imagination. It’s cooked perfectly—not chewy at all—and very tender on the inside. Aside from the octopus, the most discernible flavor in the dish is the smokiness from how it was cooked. The tips of the tendrils turn into these dark, somewhat crispy, umami bits that add character to every bite.
For the seared dorado, the combination of elements were what made the dish. The flavorful tenderness of the fish paired quite nicely with the acid and the hazelnut from the salsa. The sweetness from the pea purée also added another layer of flavor to the dish.
Then, came the heavy hitters.
For the fourth course of the evening, we were treated to a dish of sous vide, seared Secreto Iberico served over a bed of creamy, rich Secreto Iberico rice with mushroom, and a side of asparagus spears.
The Iberico itself is a stunner. The cut of Iberico they use is the Secreto, which is a special cut of jowl located between the pig’s shoulder and loin. The minute the risotto and the Iberico hit my palate, I knew this was going to be a dish I’d remember for the rest of my life. Every bite is an edible version of comfort and richness that I’d want even my worst enemy (I don’t have one, for the record) to experience.
I had the dinner’s penultimate dish twice—courtesy of my boss (our managing editor Pauline Miranda) who gets full too fast.
The dish in question is the grilled, grass-fed, Bolzico beef tenderloin, which was served with a side of roasted potato confit, burnt eggplant purée, arugula, poached shallot, and topped with beef jus.
As a steak person through and through, this was likely one of the best steaks I’ve had. The steak itself is impeccably seasoned and cooked to a proper medium rare (which is the only way to eat steak), but the combination of the steak, eggplant puree, and potato is what lit my appetite on fire.
The eggplant purée’s smokey flavor enhanced the richness of the steak and potato for an unforgettable bite I still remember like it was two minutes ago. The second go around (my boss’s plate) only proved something that I already knew from my first bite—I was going to finish the whole thing again.
You’d think that after four bites, five dishes, and an extra one courtesy of our managing editor there’d be no room for dessert. Absolutely not.
A fitting finale
For the final course of the evening, we were served a cream cheese ice cream with grilled strawberries, and lime meringue chips drizzled with forest berry coulis and finished off with some freshly picked mint leaves from Anya’s gardens.
All of the elements of this dish are simple. What makes them deliciously dangerous for your appetite is when they all come together. The cheese ice cream had a sweet tartness from the cheese, which was balanced out by the lime meringue chips.
Where the magic happens, though, is when the smokiness of the grilled strawberries hits you and you suddenly can’t put your spoon down. It was the best way to end the meal. And believe me when I tell you—what a meal it was.
From the execution of the dishes to the pacing, the meal was pitch perfect. More than anything, chefs Chele Gonzales, Chris Leaning, and the team that rallies behind them deserve recognition for the attention to detail they’ve paid to the experience as a whole.
From the location of the restaurant to the way the flavors mix and complement each other, it’s an experience that demands your complete and undivided attention. And ultimately, when the food is this spectacular, you wouldn’t want to pay attention elsewhere.
Samira by Chele is located in Anya Resort in Tagaytay. The degustation menu, as well as a la carte options, are available for both resort guests and visitors. For more information and reservations, you can contact them through Instagram.