“We’re not a native restaurant,” she said with a smile, no second thoughts. I was intrigued by her answer. How can a restaurant with all the local flavors of Albay—laing, sili, gata, pili nuts—not be a native restaurant? “Our number one market is still the locals. And we know they won’t come here to look for the gulay-gulay (vegetables) they eat everyday. So, we have continental food.”
OK, I get it. The concept is fusion: homegrown ingredients given a twist—not just any kind of twist out of random experimenting, but one decided by the meticulous taste buds of a true food lover: Didette.
It was a few days before Christmas when I met Didette. It was out of curiosity that I showed up. Her cafe has become word of mouth among local and foreign tourists, while I who was born and raised in the province have no single clue what it’s like.
Small Talk, I learned, opened almost two decades ago. It’s tucked in a quiet village in the Old Albay District, and there’s no other branch elsewhere. When you walk in, you’re welcomed to a 1950’s house beautifully adorned with paintings and old photos–of Mt Mayon, of pre-World War Legazpi City, of portraits that bring back distant memories. A proud certificate hangs right above the door, a recognition for being one of Albay’s best restaurants. Another certificate bears the TripAdvisor logo and reads “2013 Certificate of Excellence, Best Restaurant in Legazpi”. Wow. I was in for some good meal!
Will you open in the malls? No, she replied quickly. Ayaw ko sa mall. And the whole family doesn’t like it, she said. But they’re playing on the idea of putting up a new branch in the future. With the same signature feel of home.
“My love for eating helps,” she confessed. Taste is not enough; good food must make someone happy. Like crepes. It makes her happy, so the menu has crepes. In fact, she made a lot of crepes when the restaurant was just starting.
Ironically, the hit and famous Pasta Mayon—a ravioli dish with laing, cream cheese, and red sauce artistically presented like an erupting volcano–doesn’t make her happy. Not anymore. It used to. After her pasta maker gave up on her and she stopped making Pasta Mayon, she found herself unhappy with the dish. There’s something missing, it’s at the tip of her tongue, but she doesn’t know exactly what it is. That’s why poor Pasta Mayon hasn’t made a comeback in the menu for one and a half long years. Whether it will see the kitchen again, no one knows for sure but Didette’s taste buds.
WHAT TO ORDER
In its early years, Small Talk Café did not serve local food. Everything was continental. “What’s not in Legazpi, I bring it here. I even used Starbucks coffee for some of the recipes,” shares Didette. But, as more tourists arrived in the province and looked for unique Albay cuisine, it hit them. They had to put local into the scene.
The result? Oh, look.
Pinangat pasta quickly became a rockstar. Who knew that pinangat, a native dish of laing (taro leaves) cooked in generous amount coconut milk, will work as pasta sauce. And who knew it would put the cafe on Legazpi’s culinary map. From that time, Didette took the challenge of creating more dishes that feature the local flavors of the province, from laing to Bicol Express, pili nuts, Guinobatan longganisa, and red hot siling labuyo. Until now, she plays in the kitchen, hoping to discover the next food that will make her truly happy.
Here’s what we tried when we dined at Small Talk:
HOW TO GET THERE
From the airport, take the Airport Road and then turn right on Washington Drive up to Governor Locsin. Go straight and turn right on R. Rosario, and then take a left turn on Rizal Street. Take a right turn when you reach Aurora Street. If taking the public transport, hire a tricycle from downtown Legazpi (P50-60, about 20 minutes).
Small Talk Cafe
051 Doña Aurora Street
Old Albay District, Legazpi, Albay
Facebook: Small Talk Cafe
Contact: (052) 480-1393
Open 11AM-10 PM