Food & Drink

Eating Out: Fantastic Filipino food at Manong’s in east Belfast

This wonderful Filipino takeaway blows away memories of the unfathomably bad pizza shop that used to occupy this Cregagh Road unit

Manong’s on the Cregagh Road Belfast.
Manong’s on the Cregagh Road, Belfast (Colm Lenaghan)
146 Cregagh Road,
BT6 9ET.
028 9623 8140

The first thing you see on coming through the door of Manong’s in Belfast is the evidence of what the place was for years, long before its current occupants arrived last October.

The mouth of a huge pizza oven greets you – ominously if you had the misfortune of trying what it churned out in years past.

I can’t attest to the quality of product from the establishment that immediately preceded Manong’s, partly because the memory of the one before that was enough to put you off for good.

A long-established pizza shop, the sort that gets called an institution thanks to the frankly unfathomable length of time it sat in the same place doing business. Unfathomable because the pizza it produced was not good. At all. So not good that the prospect of some sneaky leftovers the next day was dismissed as not even worth it. And that was before said leftovers somehow managed to turn a disconcerting shade of grey overnight.

Manong’s also serves pizza but it’s not really a pizzeria, it’s a Filipino takeaway – there are a few tables if you fancy sitting in – which has steadily expanded its menu to become one of the most interesting takeaways in the city.

Manong’s on the Cregagh Road Belfast.
Manong’s on the Cregagh Road, Belfast (Colm Lenaghan)

Pizza seems to be on the menu because you have to use that massive pizza oven in the middle of your shop for something. It’s also a comfort blanket for less adventurous orderers and it’s telling that when Manong’s opened it did so pushing its pizza and Filipino roast chicken, while offering a few less familiar dishes each day.

They’ve obviously caught on because over time those dishes have become the heart of the menu, while recently the space next door has opened as Perla’s, a cafe serving Filipino drinks and sweet snacks.

And they’ve caught on because they’re very good.

Siomai, a Filipino take on Chinese dumplings, are rammed with pork and prawn and, dunked in their little pot of chilli-flecked soy, could be mindlessly put away like a bucket of popcorn.

A piece of roasted chicken comes, like so much here, on a carpet of fragrant, slightly sticky jasmine rice, and has a gentle hit of garlic of lemongrass. There’s a light, savoury gravy which is nice enough but then there’s Manong’s own sauce, their version of Filipino staple lechon, a rich, thick sweet, sharp chicken-liver concoction which makes the whole thing not so much sing as belt out Radio Ga-Ga at Live Aid.

It’s just a shame there’s so little of it. Which there probably isn’t, it’s just that a wheeliebinful feels like the right amount of this stuff.

Beef bistek doesn’t fall apart but brings a bit of welcome chew in the meat that’s been braised with soy and citrus, while the pork sisig is a punchier number, with cubes of belly crisp-edged belly standing up to chilli heat amid onions and peppers. Like the chicken and the beef, there’s rice at the bottom of everything but the pork also benefits from what’s on top – a fried egg, whose yolk breaks and spills to add another layer to a bowl of treats.

A couple of pieces of fried boneless chicken thigh provide crackles and crunches in every crevice, and come with perhaps the most peculiarly Filipino thing on the menu. It’s essentially spaghetti bolognese, with little slices of hot dog sausages among the mince and the addition of a whack of sweetness from brown sugar and banana ketchup.

Manong’s on the Cregagh Road Belfast.
Manong’s on the Cregagh Road, Belfast (Colm Lenaghan)

The internet tells me it’s comfort food in the country, and ubiquitous at children’s birthday parties. It tastes like children’s food. I’m an adult. I shouldn’t like this. But there’s something about it. And It’s gone before I realise.

The actual desserts don’t shy away from sweetness either with a simple flan providing a pleasingly bouncy custard and turon – spring rolls stuffed with banana and drizzled with caramel – served with an avocado ice cream that produces similar scepticism as the spaghetti but hits the spot every bit as clinically.

I didn’t order a pizza although, for all I know, it’s very good as well. Getting that wrong just wouldn’t make sense in a place like Manong’s, where they get everything else so right.

The bill

Bistek £9.59

Quarter roasted chicken £8.59

Fried chicken and spaghetti £12.99

Pork sisig £8.59

Steamed pork siomai £5.99

Turon with avocado ice cream £5.99

Leche flan £4.99

Total £56.73