We’re already 90 minutes late from our scheduled reservation, but Arrozeria in Century City Mall isn’t as packed as we had imagined. It’s payday Friday and the eve of Valentine’s but there isn’t much traffic on the roads and there aren’t too many people in the mall.

Maybe because it’s late, or maybe people just chose to stay home. But whatever reason, this turns out to be fortunate for us. We still manage to get a table and several minutes later, we are faced with some good tapas and paella.

Earlier this year Chef Chele Gonzalez, who has carved a name for himself with the highly acclaimed Vask restaurant, opened a more casual dining place in a relatively less popular area in Makati. This venture called Arrozeria puts emphasis on the paella, a quintessential Spanish dish that’s popular with Filipinos, since it’s basically rice with stuff.

Consistent with Gonzalez’s commitment to sustainability, Arrozeria has partnered with the International Rice Research Institute to create the paellas using a locally grown variety of rice. A chef was also flown in from Spain to ensure that the dishes are as close to what they are in the country of their birth.

Despite it being a casual restaurant, Arrozeria has still somewhat of a high-end vibe to match the mall where it’s housed. The interiors are designed to resemble a rice warehouse, with the high ceilings decorated by hanging ladders, exposed pipes and wires, a large picture of rice sacks near the entrance and an image of a cavernous structure on a wall. An open kitchen also allows diners to see the cooks in action and see their orders being prepared.

A server gives us each a menu that resembles a newspaper and contains items that stick close to Spanish favorites.

Arrozeria’s rice dishes can be ordered al dente, which is how they supposedly eat it in Spain, or soft, which is the preferred texture of Filipinos. We order ours al dente.

Tabla de Pates (PHP 395)
Tabla de Pates (PHP 395)

We start with the Tabla de Pates. A few minutes later, we are facing down a platter of crunchy bread slices, four types of pate (fish terrine, chicken pistachio, cochinillo and mushrooms, and campagne), and a trio of sauces (black olive, parsley and porcini mushrooms). Every pate tastes great but the favorite turns out to be the cochinillo.

Paella Valenciana (PHP 295)
Paella Valenciana (PHP 295 for one order; minimum of 2 orders)

Then the Paella Valenciana turns up. This is an orange-colored rice dish that’s synonymous with the generic term paella, and has become a symbol of the Valencia region. Arrozeria’s version – rice with chicken, string beans and a couple of other vegetables – is sublime, with its firm rice and delicious sauce.

Fideua Negra (PHP 275 for one order; minimum of 2 orders)

Soon after that comes the Fideua Negra, a paellera full of noodles with squid ink. As a non-fan of seafood, it’s okay nonetheless.

Arrozeria provides great food and service, and while it still feels a lot more sophisticated than your average dining place, it’s Spanish cuisine made approachable nonetheless. The paellas are really the star here but if there’s a chance to return and sample the other items, we won’t hesitate.

4/F Century City Mall, Kalayaan Ave., cor. Salamanca St., Poblacion, Makati
U/G C3 Building, Bonifacio High Street Central, 7th Ave, Taguig
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