A good chef can take you along the phases of her culinary journey through the dishes she creates. Without emitting words, between the person behind the stove and the one behind the dining table, a conversation can roll, muted by a myriad of flavors and aromas that transcend the palate. Mrs. Saldo is not just your ordinary restaurant. It is a personal space of Chef Rhea Rizzo that transforms your typical daytime meal into something distinctively special between the two of you.
A Mrs. Saldo experience starts at the massive wooden Indian gate that opens to an enticing lush garden and gastronomic paradise of half a hectare of property. The rural roads that go deep into Silang, Cavite give you the sense of a wonderful surprise at the end of the little travel from Manila. Do note that they don’t accept walk-in clients, so reserve way in advance because it may take months to get a table. Upon arrival, someone from the staff awaits you for a little tour of the premises: the cellar with the red door, the outdoor sitting areas, the tropical garden, and the Bakery Café. Until finally, you are guided to your reserved table amidst hanging plants and artworks. The whole farm and restaurant took Rhea and her American-Italian husband Dave Rizzo, four years to conceive amidst two major crises: the eruption of Taal Volcano nearby and the global Covid pandemic. The wave of uncertainty to continue the project soon conceded to their strong determination to open their doors.
Rhea had found the direction of her heart from the young age of eight when she wanted to open her own restaurant. Her college education led her to De La Salle University to get a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, then a couple of years at the Center for Asian Culinary Studies in Manila where she got her formal training as a chef. But her thirst for knowledge didn’t stop there because she still took more courses at culinary schools around the globe. She worked in various hotels and restaurants in Manila but because of an important family issue, she went on hiatus for about ten years. Juggling her time between her family and the desire to step back to work, she set up an activity that approached the marketing needs of restaurants. It was a short-lived business but what she learned from her experience left a permanent encouraging imprint on her outlook in taking a step towards her culinary endeavor. Her amazing story continued when she was watching the Netflix’s Chef’s Table episode of Gaggan Anand, a multi-awarded Indian chef in Bangkok, Thailand and became pensive about working professionally in the kitchen again. An email to Gaggan a day later and a response from him to come and work for him rekindled Rhea’s love for cooking. Donning her chef’s whites, she dove back into the fulfilling but physically and emotionally demanding work with the kitchen team of one of the 50 Asia’s Best Restaurants. Five years later, she is happily concocting her own creations in the kitchen of her own restaurant in the Philippines that opened in October 2021.
Rhea’s kitchen is a reflection of the memorable chapters in both her personal and culinary life with passion as her secret ingredient. She has the power to convey in her food her fond childhood memories and her journey in the culinary world. Over the years, she has captured such a wide world of tastes that she is able to express in her own way. Indeed, the best way to get to know her is with her Asian Tasting Menu where she shares snippets of Thai, Indian, Indonesian intertwined with Filipino flavors.
Quantity-wise, the Asian Tasting Menu can be challenging with ten tasting plates to consider but it is clearly a emotive voyage of tastes and aromas that the chef imparts executed with her techniques. The tasting menu starts with a quartet of flavorful appetizers starting with the Sour Cream and Chives; Egg and White Pepper Crab Sandwich; Beef Tart with Kaffir, Mornay and Mango; and Shanghai Braised Pork and Banana Brown Butter. Beef Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette and Cucumber Ice Cream had pronounced contrast while the Thai Fish Curry with Air Flown Hamachi from Japan had a string of persistent flavors served with a small packet of sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf. The Indonesian Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce on Fried Rice was a delicious rendition to the traditional dish while the Peranakan Lamb Curry with Blue Pea Coconut Rice did not only give a beautiful visual impact but also the intricacy of flavors. The sweet dishes started with a Pistachio Baklava with Ganache and Sprinkled with Pink Peppercorns; Honey Buns with Coconut Ice Cream, Kaffir, Caramel and Jackfruit had a delicious homey touch. And the degustation ended with Petits Fours inspired by Rhea’s Filipino childhood favorites of sweets and desserts including the age-old white rabbit candy she grew up with.
The selection in the menu is highlighted with two tasting menus: a ten-course Asian Tasting Menu (€67) and a seven-course Vegan Tasting Menu (€50). The à la carte options reflect a bit of international influence like the Pesto Toast, Burrata and Cherry Tomatoes; the Ceasar Salad and the Crab Dip with Sourdough for the Appetizers (€11 to €13). Main Courses (€12 to €23) include Fried Salmon on Saffron Risotto, Asparagus and Béarnaise Sauce; Dutch Pancakes with Ham and Burrata; Eggs Benedict with Smoked Bacon from nearby Tuny Farm and Hollandaise Sauce; and a Filipino-inspired dish of Flank Steak Tapa with Garlic Rice and Poached Eggs (€43). Desserts (€7) are Panna Cotta with Mango Compote; Orange Almond Cake and Cookie á la Mode. The cellar selection has a large share of California wines and is curated by Rhea and her husband who both lived in Napa Valley prior to the Philippines.