L’Elephant Bleu, Alona Beach, Philippines

FINGER licking good. That was how I’d describe the best meal on my travels in the Philippines. It wasn’t just the food – I’ve had tasty treats along the way – it was the whole experience. The service, the attention to detail, my exhaustion and hunger, my desire for a comforting meal; all of this combined to create a dinner to remember. It was a meal that made me surreptitiously grin whenever I thought I may get away with not looking like a lunatic.

I haven’t photographed it, for no image would capture the full experience. It wasn’t fine dining, it wasn’t magnificently presented. I just tasted damn good.

It began with a neatly laid table, candle lit, and a warm welcome; followed by a carafe of cold water and my order of fresh calamansi juice (little limes) arriving. The juice was tart but not bitter, with a sugar bowl on the side should I feel the need for sweetening it.

A complimentary plate of warm sourdough bread topped with tomatoes and onions, dressed in a sticky balsamic dressing, was then served. This abated my hunger as I awaited my order of grilled tiger prawns in a Pastis sauce.

Thank God I was hungry. When my dish arrived it was a feast of buttery goodness. Three gigantic prawns took over the plate, heads, tails and all. About an inch in diameter, the flesh was so meaty that at times it was a struggle to remove the heads. But they were perfectly succulent, doused in a gloriously rich creamy Pastis sauce. I got stuck in, sucking every last drop of the salty, garlicky juice from the shells.

Served alongside these shellfish superstars, but in no means secondary to the meal, was a generous portion of rosemary fried potatoes, a crisp salad garnish drizzled with homemade French dressing, and a pile of green beans, grated carrots, sayote (green chunks that were a cross between a squash and marrow in texture) and caramelised shallots in a peppery melted butter and lemon juice sauce.

It was the kind of food that delighted with every mouthful. A testament to the French knowing their food. It was a very pleasant surprise to find a Frenchman bring his skills to the island of Panglao in the Philippines, having heard such negativity towards the food available in the Philippines. Especially when the restaurant’s surroundings ensured a relaxing meal in either its small dining room or serene garden, sounds of French speaking guests murmuring in the background.

Unsurprisingly I returned for more the following evening. And lets just say I was not disappointed.

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