21 Restaurant, Bacolod City

Ask someone who has been to Bacolod were to eat when visiting the city and you will get a long list of restaurants to try, all of them serving a range of cuisine from the requisite chicken inasal to the fresh seafood that the seaside city is known for.

Different people have different tastes, but if you were to draw a Venn diagram of all the restaurants suggested, you will find a select few in the middle, where all opinions intersect. One of those restaurants will be 21 Restaurant, or simply, 21. And if you were to ask the same people to recommend dishes to try in 21 and drew a Venn diagram of that, the middle will contain bachoy and off to the side, fresh lumpia.

I was in Bacolod for a few days, not enough time to try all of the restaurants on my list, which was very long and took up quite a bit of luggage space–so much so that the airline requested that I check it in–but seeing as 21 was in the middle of my Venn diargam, I had to try it.

It’s easy to get to, being located along Lacson St., the City’s main thoroughfare. It isn’t a snack house anymore, but a sophisticated dining establishment filled with well-dressed diners who spoke in low tones. The menu was impressive, serving local, Asian and Western cuisine. My eyes lingered on the Thai Tilapia, then on the Tenderloin Steak. But I held my ground and ordered what I had specifically come here to order; the dish that made 21 famous: 21’s Original Batchoy.

21's Original Batchoy - One of the best you will ever have.

The Batchoy was served warm, the egg freshly cracked into the hot broth, broken white swaying like seaweed. The broth is a combination of hearty and sweet, but sweet in a way that only pork can be. The broth somehow complemented the noodles, the broth’s meaty sweetness and the noodles’ salty, faintly iron taste morphing into something different. Something that went beyond your regular batchoy. I understood how such a simple dish could turn a snack house into a snazzy restaurant. Here it is again, in close up:

Lookit that sweet, meaty goodness!

I also had the Fresh Lumpia, spring roll wrapper covering a mix of julienned heart of palm and bits of pork, garlic and spring onion and mixed with a creamy sauce. In other words, lumpiang ubod.

21 Restaurant's Fresh Lumpia

The lumpia is sold per piece, and is tiny, but excellent. It doesn’t taste like the lumpiang ubod that I am used to, which can be heavy, especially when eaten with sauce (and I tend to eat it with a lot of sauce). The lumpia is light, in a refreshing sort of way, its tiny size filling in the bits of hunger the batchoy didn’t cover, leaving me satisfied, but not overly full.

21 is a must-visit when in Bacolod City. I know I’m going back the next time I visit, though I don’t know if I can keep from ordering the same thing again.

21 Restaurant
21st Lacson St.,
Bacolod City, Negros Occidental

+63 34 4334096
+63 34 4353852

Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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