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A Feast of Pinoy Cooking

Celebrity couple Romnick Sarmenta and Harlene Bautista share their love for food at Salu.

Travel and food do mix together, no doubt about it. For celebrity couple Romnick Sarmenta (or Romeo Nicolas Sarmenta Tejedor in real life) and Harlene Bautista, both certifi ed travel bugs and foodies, their love for travel and food took them to a culinary adventure they never thought they’d venture into. And they summed it up in just one word: Salu.


Being actors, a good story and script are some of the most important elements in a movie. For Romnick and Harlene, Salu has its own story. Borne out of their many travels together or with their families here and abroad, the restaurant’s design was made of things that they both saw in their travels. “It’s not just about concepts like farm-to-table and stuff,” says the couple. “What we want is that ourcustomers can experience what we experienced from

other places. As they say, you can’t share what you don’t have.” Everyone will definitely notice how travel and food, which they are both passionate about, form a big part of Salu in terms of the restaurant’s conceptualization and development. For every destination, they have different experiences and learnings.

“When we went to La Trinidad in Benguet, which became one of our prime sources for produce, like veggies, the people we met there, well, it may seem a cliché, but they are genuinely hospitable. It’s an innate characteristic of Filipinos,” says Sarmenta. Bautista retorted that they prayed hard for Salu, even its name. The brainstorming led them to the Bible, talking about feasts and other gatherings. “We discussed many possible names, but we kept coming back to salo-salo. So we thought of Salu, again related to feasts, and may also loosely translate to ‘basket,’ which may also signify abundance,” she explains. “Even the logo represents the entire Filipino heritage, the three stars and then the script based on baybayin. Even the plates are hand-painted with baybayin.” This, their fi rst big food venture was conceptualized in December 2015 and was opened on June 9 this year. The planning took a while before they finally ended up with the concept. “We just prayed, and later on, we noticed that things were falling into place. Even this place where we put up Salu, it just came to us, and we really didn’t have to look for it,” he says.


The store’s design was inspired by their travels. From Singapore, they too ideas for plating and service, gathering the best practices when it comes to service.

Sarmenta related a restaurant in Paris, France, said to be the favorite of Victor Hugo; when they got there, they discovered it was a fine dining establishment and they were not dressed appropriately: “We looked like tourists and we didn’t make prior reservations. But the maître d’ was very accommodating and even offered to find us a table even without a reservation. That’s one point already,” he says. The maître d’ then took off his jacket and led them inside. “He was really caring. Once inside, we didn’t know what to order, so he gave recommendations. The attention,the service, their appreciation ll were good points.”


Salu is for the family, big groups and balikbayans, for reunions and parties, and casual diners, as well. Bautista said none of their regulars have tried the whole menu—as of last count, there are 67 items—and many have yet to be introduced; on Sundays, she said they feature items that are not on the menu. There are fusion dishes, as well, but it’s not Pinoy with a foreign dish. It’s more Pinoy and Pinoy.

“We just tweak it a bit, like pakbet soup, balbakwa, even desserts like brazo de calabaza, where squash is used instead of egg yolk, and thus making it healthier,” she explains. They look forward to foreign guests because it gives them a chance to introduce them to Filipino cuisine and culture. “That’s why we plan to talk to travel agencies so that they can recommend Salu as a dining destination whenever they have guests coming to the Philippines,” she adds. This is the reason why they procure their producefrom their source of origin: vegetables from La Trinidad, Benguet and durian from Davao City. “It might affect our operating expenses, but it’s not really costly since we buy in bulk that we can even out the costs,” he says. “For kare-kare,we use real nuts and not peanut butter, and definitely no MSG in all our dishes.”


For Romnick Sarmenta and Harlene Bautista, who both love to serach for food whenever they reach their destination, they have one advice for would-be restaurateurs: “You have to always be there. It’s not really about always checking on your people. At the end of the day, you yourself have to decide on certain things and not just the staff. I’m not belittling what my staff knows, but until the time comes that they know how to run the place without us there, we still have to be present at the restaurant. Even for us, if we meet the owner of the place, the feeling is different, and that’s what we’re applying.” The couple is praying for Salu’s future:

“We’re praying for three to five more branches, and conceptualizing other themes, then go into franchising, and hopefully, go global in places where there are Filipinos.”

Salu is located at 26B Sct. Torillo St., Quezon City. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

For reservations and inquiries, call (02) 821-1512.

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