Lugang Cafe: A culinary innovation that doesn’t work

The Lugang Cafe at SM Mall of Asia is a tony but underwhelming restaurant.

Here’s why.

First, the food. Because there were only three of us — me, my wife, and 1 ½ year old baby — we ordered only the following:

Pineapple Fried Rice (P280), Three-Cup Chicken (P290), and Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao (7 small pieces, P188).

The Pineapple Fried Rice was surely something new for us. As you can see in the picture, it looks yummy. It has some ham in it, some green peas, some bits of pineapple, some cashew nuts. The pineapple bowl deserves an “A” for presentation.

This Pineapple Fried Rice doesn't taste as great as it looks.

The taste, however, is an altogether different thing. It was not bad. But it was unsatisfying, weird, and, well, sufficiently underwhelming. The sweet taste of the pineapple did not go well with the rice. This innovative dish was clearly a disappointment for me.

Now I’m not a connoisseur with highly evolved taste buds. I’m just a culinary poseur whose opinion on food matters in the kingdom of my household. In any case, just to be sure that my judgment was sound, I gave my little baby Aria some of the rice.

I was surprised she did not say a word. She just stuck out her tongue and grimaced. And she wouldn’t let me give her some more.

So the Pineapple Fried Rice, despite being considered a bestseller with a star marking in the menu, gets 2 stars out of 5  for me. I have to give credit to the cute pineapple bowl and the cashew nuts. I love cashew nuts.

Now for the Three-Cup Chicken. I can say that the dish is pleasing to the eyes and to the taste. But the big turn-off for me was that the dish has too many bony parts of chicken. The ribs and the spinal cord are there to assault your teeth and jaws. I do like to munch bones sometimes and I eat them occasionally. But I’m not about to jump for joy for more chicken bones.

The Three-Cup Chicken could have been a winner.

There are some meaty parts but it’s not enough, at least for me. I like to taste juicy flesh, and I like to know that I’m paying for the protein, not for bone minerals which I can get from my supplements. Why don’t they put real meat in there anyway?

This dish I give 3 out of 5 stars.

The Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao was marvelous, very tasty. The juices of the meat collect inside the siomai wrapper, awaiting to startle your taste buds with delight. This is a winner. Aria and my wife Em loved it. It gets 4.5 stars out of 5.

Eat this Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao. You won't regret it.

When we were finishing our meal, we decided to get some dessert. The variety of enticing desserts will greet you as you open the dessert menu. Sadly, however, we didn’t get to taste any, and our satisfaction levels plummeted even further.

We did call a waiter to place our order. He said, “Ok.” After 10 minutes of waiting and we still had no dessert, we asked a waitress to check. We told her we already placed our order and she said, “Ok. Sandali lang po.” (Ok. It will arrive shortly.)

After another 10 minutes, no dessert came. So we asked another waiter to check. He said, “Na-order na po ba?” (Did you order already?) We said, “Oo kanina pa. Dun sa waiter at dun sa babae.” (Yes, we told the waiter and the waitress.)

Ganon po ba? ‘Di pa po kasi na-order. ‘Di nakasulat dito,” he said as he showed us a piece of paper. (Is that so? Your order is not listed here.)

At that point, I just asked for the bill.

And here’s the clincher. When the waitress gave our receipt and change, I counted the money and realized that they shortchanged us by 75 centavos. Is that standard practice at Lugang Cafe?

I know it’s just 75 centavos. But with the incompetence of the waiters, the long wait, and the mostly unsatisfying meal, I asked for my 75 centavos. The waitress gave the money to me without saying anything, not even sorry.

Some of you may have tried other superb dishes at Lugang Cafe, and some of you may have been treated well. But not me and my family on this particular visit.

I give service a -4 out of 5 stars. I think that averages to 1.375 out of 5 stars. Wow, this is the lowest rating I’ve given, not that it matters to Lugang Cafe and its other patrons.

Oh well, now you know what not to order when you visit this restaurant — not unless you’re adventurous and prepared to be disappointed.

Aria and Em think we should've ordered something else, or perhaps went to another restaurant.

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