We postponed dining out as a family for Mother’s Day to avoid the crowds. When we were finally ready to go out, I chose Torch Restaurant at the U.P. Town Center. We needed baking supplies, Wonderbake was in the same mall so I thought I made a practical choice too. But what really attracted me to Torch Restaurant was the promised international cuisine with a fusion slant. The menu had everything that my family enjoys—Japanese rolls, pizza, steak and ribs, chicken, pasta… We’re so bored with buffets already and a non-buffet menu with such a wide selection set my eyes twinkling. Well, the twinkle was gone the moment the food was served.
Of course, we didn’t expect authentic Japanese food. We were looking forward to fusion cooking. The definition of “fusion” may be as wide and as broad as anyone cares to make it but I doubt that the meaning of fusion is synonymous with badly prepared food. Look at that tempura ramen. At first glance, it’s hard to spot what’s wrong with it. But…
1. The slices of shiitake were raw.
2. The egg was overcooked (yes, with the telltale grey ring around the yolk).
3. The nori, tempura and bonito flakes had all lost their texture because they were drowned in broth.
Any cook who knows ramen knows that the toppings and garnishes are added AFTER the broth has been poured over the noodles. Apparently, the cook at Torch Restaurant was totally unaware of that. The way the tempura, nori and bonito flakes had turned soggy and mushy, it was obvious that everything had been placed inside the bowl before the broth was poured in. The Ramen God must be frowning incessantly. But, at least, the shrimps were fresh. And I couldn’t say that about the shrimps used in the Shrimp Popcorn that was served to us.
Yes, it’s tempura given a fancy name and a non-traditional dipping sauce. It was supposed to be spicy but none of knew where the spiciness lurked—it certainly wasn’t in the shrimps nor the batter nor the sauce. If those specks sprinkled on the fried battered shrimps were meant to be the spicy factor, they sure didn’t make a difference.
The worst thing? Well, if you’ve ever bought frozen shrimps in the grocery… You know, those whole shelled shrimps that appear transparent? That was how the shrimps in the Shrimp Popcorn tasted. Does that mean the shrimps are bad? Not exactly. Frozen shrimps with that transparent look have been treated with an alkali solution to given them that appearance and texture. They are much, much cheaper than fresh shrimps. If Torch Restaurant were a dive serving cheap food, the frozen shrimps might be forgivable—understandable even. But Torch isn’t cheap at all. And the cheap shrimp just isn’t commensurate with the price of the food.
Now, let’s go to the Japanese rolls. We ordered their bestsellers. With Torch boasting of seven branches all over Metro Manila, you’d think that bestselling dishes would be earth-shattering good, eh? Not the bestsellers at Torch.
Despite the appetizing appearance, the Volcano Rolls (above) were so bland. The menu says the rolls were stuffed with tempura, tamago and Japanese cucumbers but there were no distinct flavors nor textures to herald their presence. I seriously wondered if they were there at all or if they were there in spirit only.
The same is true for Torch’s Signature Rolls. In addition to the fillings in the Volcano Roll, there were supposed to be soft-shell crab and unagi. Again, if they were there, they sure hid themselves pretty well.
The salmon in the Cream Cheese Salmon Roll was visible. BARELY. Really tiny. TINY.
And the worst part? When serving the dish, the server’s palm touched the rolls. Sam looked aghast.
The common denominator among the three rolls? The attractive plating. Oh, yes, they have all the right props at Torch. The plates, the bowls, the boards… I had that distinct feeling that the owners invested heavily on props and plating techniques that make dishes look good—Instagram-worthy, in today’s lingo—to create hype. But the food at Torch was way, way below average. A diner can get lost in the pretty presentation and ignore the essence of the dishes. But plating means very little to us in my family. We go to a restaurant to eat. Instagram-worthy photos mean nothing if the palate is not satisfied.
But, maybe… Just maybe, it’s only the Japanese fusion dishes in the menu that are bad? Well… Let’s see, we ordered the Jabañero Baby Back Ribs too.
Jabañero? Obviously, a portmanteau of habanero and jalapeño. Now, why in the world would anyone name a dish after two chilies if the dish has no spicy heat at all? The sauce was oh-so-sweet and that was the only flavor in it. No heat, no contrasts, no bite, no surprises.
And when Sam reached out for the green bean on the side of the rack of ribs…
Wow, they don’t even trim the green beans at Torch.
On the way home, Speedy asked if we were ever going back to dine at Torch again. We said NO.