As Manila continues its journey to becoming an important culinary destination in Asia, we see a staggering amount of restaurants popping up all over the metro—from the north to the south—taking advantage of this movement. Some take the path that aligns with the rest of the world’s dining meccas, making use of novel techniques to bring innovative fare. Meanwhile, others choose to keep it simple—staying true to what is tried and tested, and banking on the diner’s taste for the familiar.
Nono’s at U.P. Town Center in Katipunan does not aim to make huge waves. As a restaurant that traces its inspiration from honest-to-goodness home cooked meals, the mission is simple: cook food that brings back happy memories.
For Chef Baba, everything has to tell a story. From the way the place is designed to the individual dishes being served, she lovingly recalls the inspiration for each element.
“When we talked to our designers [Space Encounters], we fed them first so they can get an idea of what we’re trying to do.” From that point, the team came up with the concept of a renovated palm desert mid-century modern home for the interior design. Each area of the restaurant resembles a part of the house. The baking area is the nearest to the kitchen, with the lounge area in the middle, and the expansive dining area rounding up the space. Soon, the garden area will take shape right outside. The carefully planned space comes to life through the use of pastel colours that provide a cheerful yet homey atmosphere.
Initially known for her sweet-tooth haven Classic Confections, Chef Baba puts the same idea into practice at Nono’s: creating dishes that are designed to comfort and not intimidate. Most of these have stories that hark back to her past. “For example, the Mini Pepito Sandwiches. I remembered eating these small steak sandwiches with my lolo in the restaurant near his office, and I thought we have to have it in the menu.”
Another item of interest is the spaghetti Bolognese, “The sauce is actually a recipe of my yaya who’s been with us for over 30 years. It was our go-to dish growing up. When we didn’t like the food, there’s always a big batch waiting for us in the freezer.”
The menu presents a wealth of choices—from all-day breakfast, starters, salads, soups, mains, pastas, sandwiches, and big plates—making up a complete, hearty meal. It also shows off the chef’s penchant for playing with textures.
To start, Chef Baba brings out the fried truffle cheese wontons, which taste as sinful as it looks. It’s her crafty take on cheese sticks, only shaped into pillows and drizzled with honey and truffle oil, and sprinkled with chopped walnuts that give a subtle crunch but don’t interfere with the overall taste. Next up, the Farmer’s Corn Chowder Soup arrives on the table, and in one spoonful it brings together a wonderful mix of chunky and creamy.
Just before the Oriental shrimp salad comes out, Chef Baba notes that it is reminiscent of her favourite Chinese takeout dish back when she was studying culinary arts in San Francisco. As we get a taste, we muse about our love for the lightness of the shrimp and the slight tang coming from the citrus dressing.
For the main event, we’re treated to three mouth-watering favourites: roasted USDA beef belly, mac n’ cheese, and Nono’s Homestyle Fried Chicken. The beef is slow-cooked to perfection—tender and flavourful. Meanwhile, the mac n’ cheese is served with a twist. Instead of the usual elbow macaroni, Chef Baba uses shell pasta, which scoops and entraps the cheese sauce into its core. Then, the fried chicken is served Southern style— mildly spicy, crispy yet juicy—best with honey and gravy.
Finally, the story of Nono’s comes full circle once the eponymous Chocolate Oblivion cake makes its way to the table. At first glance the slice looks like it’s packed tight, too rich for our taste. However, as the fork slices through the layers, it’s clear that the cake is lighter than it looks. The reason for this is, as Chef Baba explains, the chocolate soufflé base that’s holding up the layers of whipped chocolate cream. The outer coating of walnut praline gives just the right amount of sweetness.