Two weeks ago, I suffered another gallstone attack, the most painful I’ve had since 2011. The episode four years ago almost brought me under the knife and was actually the reason why I became a vegetarian for most of the next two years. This time our family surgeon again recommended I undergo laparoscopic surgery, but eventually gave in to simply advising me to stay away from oily and fatty meals. Considering I was a few days into my vegan fasting, it didn’t take so much of an adjustment.
But for those who hear the word “vegan” and experience mental images of clumps of lettuce, stratospheric costs of organic meals and tedious lectures on the benefits of an animal-free diet, a relaxing lunch at Susi, the newest yet in an increasing number of wholesome restaurants in Metro Manila, can quickly rid them of the nagging stereotypes – except when it comes to price. Cheap certainly it isn’t, but for vegans, it’s a much welcome addition.
Susi is located at the Burgos Circle, a neighborhood of restaurants and high-end establishments in Taguig that feels so tranquil and far removed from the boisterous Bonifacio High Street, despite the latter being just a ten-minute walk away. The whole place is rustic and reminiscent of a rural inn with a cozy ambiance that wouldn’t feel out of place in Baguio or Tagaytay. The interiors stick close to an organic theme – wooden walls, a bamboo bike, sackcloth place mats, and little potted plants on the tables.
With dishes featuring intriguing names and creative use of natural plant-based items, the menu comes across with an air of playfulness. The Bandera Negra, Susi’s flavorful rendition of the Cuban black bean soup, features a tasty faux-cream cheese and the soup itself has a taste that reminds me of a spiced sausage.
The Mac & Geez is simple fare – a straightforward vegan version of the classic comfort food. It’s not exactly memorable but it should provide familiarity to those who can’t quite leave for a meatless world yet.
One of the best (and priciest) things on the menu is Mr. Phoenix, with barbecue tofu, pumpkin, tomato and kale aioli placed between two loaves of flourless bread and served with sweet potato chips. The sandwich has an impression of luxuriousness, but eating it can be actually a messy affair, with the barbecue sauce dripping from the sandwich. At any rate, it’s surprisingly addictive and filling.
Susi is still in soft opening, so many dishes are often unavailable, the staff seems overmatched and Mabanta has mentioned somewhere that the menu is subject to further adjustments. But we can feel the earnestness of the whole process here, and the calming vibe of the surroundings keep us at ease anyhow. In spite of some hassles in ordering, we can’t help but cheer the restaurant on.
There’s a trend now towards wholesome dining, though early reviews have been mixed. In particular, naysayers predict that the high price points and chi-chi impressions are turn-offs to those outside the niche and eventually be the end of such establishments. But Mabanta comes from a family of established restaurateurs (whose resume includes Mexicali, Cafe Mediterranean and Corner Tree Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant that’s a favorite among well-heeled diners) and the quality of the dishes can speak for themselves, so there’s optimism that Susi will survive past the growing pains. We certainly hope so.