Your inside guide to the menu at Melbourne's most exciting new Filipino restaurant.

You loved the intense deliciousness of the flavours at Kariton Sorbetes, Melbourne’s nation-beating Filipino gelateria, and now founder John Rivera has dusted off his fancy-chef tweezers to jump back into restaurants. Askal has created huge buzz straight out of the gate, delivering on everything you already love about the food of the Philippines (big flavours, no shortage of pork) while simultaneously broadening the picture, showcasing the variety of the islands’ culinary traditions and showing the wonders beyond lechon.

Here’s Rivera’s expert guide to making the most of this essential new spot.

Hey John, what’s good in the snacks at Askal?
There’s a few things that I think are a must to start with. First off, our Askalflakes. They’re a riff on the popular Filipino cracker, SkyFlakes (like a Salada but Pinoy), with ours being made from savoury nutritional yeast and caramelised coconut ghee. We top this with goat’s curd that’s we’ve smoked in banana leaves, and some chewy yet juicy semi dried cherry tomatoes.

I’d also always order some freshly shucked oysters dressed in our aged, house-made pinakurat – a spiced vinegar that we infused with ginger, shallot, garlic, turmeric and chillies. It’s a fresh, zingy and punch little mouthful that really brightens up your day. (Extra points for the addition of scampi caviar if you ask nicely.

You also definitely want some of our fluffy fried bao doughnuts filled with a black garlic and bagoong (fermented shrimp) butterscotch topped with kare-kare, an unctuous oxtail and peanut stew or ‘curry’ of sorts.

If there’s one dish that really captures what Askal is all about, what would it be?
Our sizzling pork jowl and black lip abalone sisig captures exactly what Askal is – re-imagining Filipino food with the best ingredients yet remaining true to our unique authenticity. Unctuous chunks of pork jowl and ribbons of silky abalone are stir-fried with aromats like red chilli and spring onion that’s then dressed in a complex sauce of fermented rice, salted chilli and calamansi. It then goes on a ripping hot sizzling plate topped with chicharon crumbs and some lettuce leaves. Traditionally, you’d be eating sisig over a bed of rice and a litre of Red Horse beer (and taking a long nap afterwards) but we love a Chinese sang choi bao or a Korean ssäm and we’re here to advocate everyone taking the “healthier” choice of using the lettuce as the carrier vessel to your mouth.

If this is my first time eating Filipino food, what should I know?
Filipino food is bold and punchy, we especially love our interplay of salty, sour, sweet and savoury flavours. You can expect a lot of different kinds of dipping sauces too, usually soy sauce or fish sauce mixed with acid from either calamansi lime, citrus fruit or vinegar, and this adds even more complexity and layers of flavour to our food.

And if it’s my 100th time eating Filipino food, what should I look out for?
Look for authentic Filipino flavours and techniques elevated with the best ingredients Australia has to offer!

What’s the best seat in the house?
If you’re here for the show, definitely grab a seat at the bar. Enjoy your meal on the beautiful pink marble countertop with a full view of the bartenders and the kitchen. You really feel the energy and the vibe.

If you’re coming for a date, ask for table four, an intimate corner table on our baby blue leather banquette underneath the capiz shell chandeliers.

If we’re keen for something quick…
Take your pick anywhere in our pulutan (aka snacks) or meryenda (small plates) sections on the menu for a quick bite before a show or a night out. A good choice would be our creamy mung bean dip with a jalapeño and macadamia relish destined to be swiped through with some fresh, crunchy crudites of the market’s best vegetables such as kohlrabi, heirloom Dutch carrots and peppery breakfast radishes. Pair that with our Artic Gibson cocktail and it’s sure to be a great start to the night.

Got anything light and fresh?
With the days getting shorter and the weather getting progressively cooler, you might want to tuck into our salmon sinigang, a hot and sour soup, along similar lines as a tom yum. We slice beautifully rich and fatty Ora King salmon and place it in our palayok (a Filipino claypot) along with blistered baby tomatoes, finely sliced mustard leaves and daikon, and a heaping tablespoon of Yarra Valley salmon roe. Just before it heads out to the table, we pour over a piping hot dashi made from roasted salmon bones and tamarind that gently poaches the fish as it walks over to the table while the beads of roe become little popping jewels of savoury, unctuous richness.

Do you do anything vegetarian or vegan?
Do we ever. We’ve got a full vegan banquet menu. One of the highlights of that menu, for me, is our mushroom piaparan, a dish that takes its inspiration from the southern part of the Philippines close to Malaysia and Indonesia. We marinate a mix of Asian mushrooms in a vibrant yellow coconut curry paste, then stir-fry it over the burning coals, giving it a subtle smokiness and savouriness. That’s put together on the plate with a lemongrass and fennel palapa (a bit like a chunky sambal) and brought together with some sour cucumbers. Perfect with a bowl of our jasmine rice cooked in fragrant coconut water.

What are we drinking?
Chardonnays are perfect for the bright, vibrant flavours of our menu, whether it is going alongside some of our seafood offerings but also bold enough to stand up to some of our richer fare. We love pouring and drinking the 2021 Bicknell FC Applecross Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley, its ripe orchard fruit and faint caramel notes are just a delight to drink.

If cocktails are more your thing, our Ibong Adarna, a blend of Plantation Pineapple Rum, Black Strap Rum and Campari, is a lovely tropical and smoky apéritif..

Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for us?
You wanna go big? You’re going for our King River MS7 wagyu oyster blade set over claypot rice made with spiced braised bone marrow and confit garlic with a roasted log of bone marrow for good measure. The oxtails are braised overnight until they’re rich and tender with some sweet spices such as cassia, brown cardamom, and star anise. We pull the meat from the bones and the stock is seasoned with soy sauce, then cook the rice in that stock to fortify it further. Once that’s all done, it’s mixed together with confit garlic and fried until it gets nice and crisp on the bottom. Once it’s all in the claypot and set on the table, you’re going to scrape the bone marrow into the rice and mix it all together with the perfectly cooked steak and go to town on an absolute meal.

And to close?
Finish yourself off with my sister’s ube cake. My sister is one of the best cake-makers and bakers I know in this city and she’s completely self-taught. You’re going to get a beautifully layered creation of fluffy purple yam chiffon cake, purple yam fudge and coconut Bavarian cream. It’s a secret menu item so IYKYK but now you know, so you know. Just don’t tell anyone I told you.

Askal, 167 Exhibition St, Melbourne,, @askal.melb