It is a rarity to experience a restaurant with depth, not just in a culinary sense, but in every aspect of the establishment. A restaurant that knows its history and showcases it. This is what I experienced when I visited Azucarera in Bacolod. With a name that means, “Sugar Bowl” in Spanish, there’s a story that this restaurant wants to share when you visit. I met with owner Bobby Magalona, and his family during my visit to know more about the story of their restaurant and to try some of their modern Spanish fare.
Rebuilding the Past
Inspired from sugar mills back in the Negros’ colonial days, Azucarera’s design is an industrial mix of metal, concrete, and bricks. This inspiration is clearly seen with its many displays of vintage photos of Bacolod with its sugar plantations and other memorabilia of the time. They even have an actual sugar press that was used back then displayed near their entrance. Rugged in its elements but modernly sleek in its execution, the restaurant’s interiors are heavy in dark colors but are lightened with lighting fixtures and bright murals that bring a balance to the deep hues. Almost museum-like in its design – an angular motif courses throughout the restaurant’s interiors. This can be seen in the straight lines of the wooden planks on the floor to the sweeping metalwork that guides the staircase to the mezzanine floor. The incorporation of industrial elements harking back to old sugar mills in Negros while keeping the vibe bright and welcoming for guests is a nice balance that makes Azucarera an already enriching experience even before you pick up their menu.
Of Tapas, Paellas, and More
Accompanying me during the entire meal, Bobby and his family eagerly explained each dish as it came out. Starting with some tapas, the Scallops con Creama is a rich start with its creamy sauce and savoriness from the sea. The scallops are cooked at the right tenderness and are packed with flavor. This dish is nicely paired with a dry white wine to really pull out that seafood flavor. Staying in the realm of seafood, we next get a crunchy serving of Calamares Fritos. A classic fried tapas, the crispy deep-fried squid rings have just the right amount of saltiness and none of the grease that is usually associated with deep-fried food. Again, the squid is cooked to a tender bite and is seasoned just right for that balanced seafood taste with a crunch.
Another dip into the flavors of the sea, their Baked Oysters al Espagnola is a definite highlight with its deeply flavored oysters and a buttery sauce that melts with the oyster meat in the mouth. Other tapas to try are the Almejas en Vino Blanco with its layered sea flavor from the white wine and clams; another is the classic Salpicao de Vaca with its juicy and tender beef chunks.
On to the carbs. Paellas are probably the deciding dish that makes or breaks a Spanish restaurant. For Azucarera’s case, we were given a doubled up experience with not only their Paella Valenciana but also their Paella Negra. The Valenciana is a medley of flavors with its generous toppings. Mixing flavors from the earth and sea, this paella is topped with chicken, shrimp, hard-boiled egg, baby crab, clams, squid, and mussels. I might be missing some others but the point stands – it’s a massive paella. Bobby notes that the seafood toppings, as well as all of the seafood on their menu, is sourced locally. Negros being naturally rich in seafood, they wanted to truly highlight Negrense flavors by using fish and shellfish caught in their shores. Toppings aside the rice underneath is not one to be overlooked. Each grain holds so much flavor from its cooking broth that the rice alone can stand even without the meaty toppings. As for the Negra, the deep black of the rice pulls you in at first glance, the toppings are more simple with this dish with just a scattering of squid, eggs, and some lemon wedges. In contrast with the Valenciana’s explicit boasting in appearance, the Negra is more subdued. Concentrating more on the rice with its deep savoriness taking center stage. The subtle flavors in the squid ink rice is amplified with the lemon which makes for a different but equal tasting experience from the Valenciana. Both paellas execute their flavor profiles differently with each offering a unique experience in taste and texture.
To go with the tapas and paellas, some meat dishes were also served to add some extra protein to our feast. A highlight from this selection is the Cordero con Patatas, which is a large serving of whole bone-in lamb shank served over sliced potatos. The lamb is cooked to a fall-off-the-bone tender with a rich savory sauce that coats every strand of meat. The juices of the lamb mixes with the gravy-like sauce that creates a deep taste with a subtle spice kick.
For their other meat dishes, I recommend the Carnes Y Pescado and Lengua de Vaca Estofado. After the meal, Bobby treated us to a pitcher of their signature Sangria as we chatted through the night, bellies full and satisfied.
A Taste of Negrense History
If there’s one word that I can use to encapsulate Azucarera, it would have to be, “Heritage.” Negros’ rich history is deeply woven into the foundations of the restaurant. Be it through the Spanish blend of their food, the championing of locally grown and caught ingredients, or the industrial callback of its design. Azucarera knows where it comes from and carries this history, interpreting it for the modern palate creating an identity that is uniquely and contemporarily Negrense.
Azucarera is located at 89 C.L. Montelibano Ave, Bacolod, 6100 C.L. Montelibano Ave, Bacolod, 6100 Negros Occidental. For reservations, contact (034) 445 2867.
Photos from Pau De Mesa