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The soul of this Spanish chef is in his kitchen

Chef Luis Martinez hails from Valencia, Spain’s paella capital, where his brother runs a restaurant called Alma. The 36-year-old chef has been making paella since the age of seven and was passionate about the family business until his parents told him that since his brother was already a chef he might want to try another industry.

The obedient son studied veterinary medicine and worked ‘super, super hard’ until, exhausted and in dire need of a holiday, he came here to Siargao five years ago before it became a surfing destination . He fell in love with the island so much that he decided to leave everything in Spain and move to the Philippines.

“I didn’t know what to do until one day I decided, ‘Okay, let’s do a hotel here,'” Martinez recalled. With a business partner, he built a hotel in Siargao but was never able to open due to the pandemic. “So I decided to open a restaurant on the first floor. I opened Alma in the middle of the pandemic – luckily it was working great, great, we were almost full every day.

Alma was one of the best – if not the best – restaurant in Siargao at that time, according to connoisseurs.

“Unfortunately, due to the typhoon that occurred in Siargao, Alma is currently under renovation,” notes Monica Modomo, Nikkei Group’s public relations manager. “So my bosses, Carlo and Jackie Lorenzana, visited Siargao a year ago, and they were introduced to Luis by a mutual friend. Carlo has been in the restaurant industry for decades. He and Jackie were like, ‘Let’s open Alma in Manila.’ But due to some ownership concerns, they decided to name BGC as the “House of Martinez”, his surname, thus Terraza Martinez.

Terraza Martinez at the Shangri-La Fort Arcade has such a warm and rustic vibe that you could almost imagine yourself in Spain. In the open kitchen, you can see the handsome chef (and ladies, take note: single) working hard but still welcoming guests as warmly as the fires on his stove.

Terraza Martinez chef, Luis Martinez: “I’m from Valencia, Spain, so my signature dish is paella.

“Terraza is Alma, and Alma means ‘soul'”, notes the chef. “This is me, this is the Mediterranean style. This is a place where you can enjoy, where you can relax with Spanish cuisine, because that’s what I know how to do. And you see your ingredients from Philippines.

As my flamenco friends and I settled in with our Sangria Roja, cold and hot tapas began to arrive at the table. I loved Snapper’s Tiradito, thinly sliced ​​raw fish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomatoes, red onions, fried capers and lime zest. Tiraditos are a Nikkei signature, but Chef Luis makes it his own with crispy rosemary crackers that you spread the fish on – a truly winning combination.

Hot tapas like Pulpo (roasted octopus with the crunch of fine potatoes), Gambas Al Ajillo (prawns in olive oil with garlic, onions and chili flakes), Croquetas de Calamares (red snapper croquettes, prawns and calamari) and Espinacas y Gorgonzola (spinach and cheese croquettes) brought me back to Spain, but Chef Luis elevates these classics to be as good, if not better, than what you get in his homeland.

The paellas, however, are definitely Terraza Martinez’s pieces de resistance. “My signature dish is paellas, because I belong to Valencia, and Valencia is the place of paellas”, explains the chef. “So I’ve been making paella for more than 20 years. Even the rice you eat comes from Valencia, and it reminds me of a place where you can smell rosemary, thyme, where you can see the cows. It’s Bomba rice, not jasmine rice.

We mixed the ingredients of our two paellas – Negra and Vaca – into the hot and tasty rice… and traveled through the taste buds to Valencia. Although the Negra is a superb must-order, this was our first time trying ‘de Vaca’, which is topped with American hanger steak and a generous slice of bone marrow. Bulalo lovers should try this unique and creamy combination.

I opted for the Bacalao Confitado, a boneless fillet with crispy skin that crumbles at the touch of a fork; accompanied by a garlic confit, an emulsion of mashed potatoes and green beans, it’s a pescatarian’s dream.

Chef Luis, who plans to create different dishes a week depending on the ingredients available, was so kind that he even gave us something off the menu: “I’m super connected with the market and fresh ingredients, so for today I have a Padron pepper – it’s a Spanish pepper and it’s stuffed with truffles and cheese,” he said. “So that’s going to be the next special.”

Eating these Pimientos de Padron is a bit like Russian Roulette – while the majority have a nice heat, you can get one that’s really spicy – so it’s a really fun dish to enjoy with your friends and family. family.

For dessert, our attentive hosts served a chocolate runny fondant lava cake as my “birthday cake”, and my friend Hazel treated us to the other three desserts: a light and crispy chocolate churros, a Crujiente de Manzana apples and a pie. Queso Manchego Cheesecake. All were a delicious ending to an outstanding meal.

“Luis’ goal here at Terraza Martinez is to take fresh, seasonal ingredients from Manila and cook them as simply as possible, but in a very elevated and refined way,” Modomo told us. “We’re not trying to be fine dining, but a place where you can bring your friends from abroad and show that the Philippines has some really, really good fancy restaurants.”

“I’m really happy to be in Manila,” adds chef Luis. “I’m going to stay here for a few months and then I’m going back to Siargao, to my home. Round trips. »

He may be returning to his happy place, but Terraza Martinez has quickly become one of us.

Croquetas de Calamares, black croquettes with red snapper, prawns, calamari, spring onion and green aioli.

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Terraza Martinez is located on the GF of Shangri-La at Fort Arcade (between Pink’s and Maisen), 30th Street corner 5th Avenue, BGC, Taguig, such. 09667005801, 09454098120 or visit www.nikkei.com.ph/book-a-table. Follow them on Instagram @terraza.martinez.

Follow the author on IG @theresejamoragarceau.

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