DISCLAIMER: Skip this part if you want to allow my post to develop organically, but I wanted to avoid causing any unintended offense. This post basically asks the question, “What if someone was pompous and stupid enough to believe that Jollibee is supposed to be a French fine dining restaurant?” No disrespect intended toward the Big Bee – I’ve probably eaten my weight in Chicken Joy at this point, and I really hope they’ll bring their Pastillas Sundae back one of these days. I love you Sabado, pati na rin Linggo! Hintay ka lang, Jollibee, nand’yan na ako! Anyway…
I was recently enjoying a stroll through Salcedo Village when a restaurant caught my eye: a simple-looking local establishment by the name of Jollibee. (Oops, I mean Jollibeé – when you are fluent in the language of food, as I am, diacritics are a must.) As an international gastronome (or, as coarser types would have it, a “foodie”), I am always looking for new restaurants around the world that successfully capture the immortal culinary spirit of Le Cordon Bleu, so I sauntered inside hoping for a fresh new take on foie gras.
When I entered, I admit I was a bit underwhelmed by the decor; but the logo, at least, suggested a serious culinary experience: the apian mascot is clad in a toque, or chef’s hat, presumably as a profession of unwavering devotion to the secular religion of fine French dégustation.
As I looked more closely at the menu, however, I was baffled by the lack of authentic French offerings: more hamburgers and hot dogs than bouillabaisse and rouille, as it were. I sampled their so-called “Chicken Joy”, but it proved to be typically lacking in authenticity. And in spite of its name, it certainly provided none of the joy of say, devouring an ortolan drowned alive in Armagnac.
Finally, I found a couple of dishes on the menu that had at least a whiff of the Continent about them. First up were the so-called “French” fries, or pommes frites. Of course, anyone who is not embarrassingly ignorant of culinary history knows that these are, in fact, a Belgian creation, and so I will not defile a serious review of a French restaurant by giving them any serious consideration. Next up was the Champ Burger, short for champignon, or mushroom. Perhaps I was about to experience an irreverent fusion-style take on parmentier de champignons? When the dish arrived, I bit into it with a mix of disappointment and befuddlement: on the one hand, it did not succeed in evoking even the merest hint of my earlier culinary pilgrimages in Provence; on the other hand, they seem to have found a way to make mushroom taste uncannily like ground beef – a triumph of food engineering, if not necessarily of gastronomie.
The wine selection also proved woefully inadequate: more Sprite than Syrah, so to speak. My requests to speak with their resident sommelier were met only with confusion. I left soon afterward, my stomach filled with mushroom, but my heart empty of jolliness and joy.
In the end, I must begrudgingly acknowledge Jollibeé’s efforts to make haute cuisine affordable to the masses. Unfortunately, it takes more than a French name, a toque-clad mascot, Belgian-fried potatoes and a French-in-name-only mushroom burger to embody the spirit of hundreds of years of Gallic culinary tradition. If anything, the Jollibeé dining experience ends up being more Filipino-style American fast food than French fine dining – which would be perfectly fine if that’s what they had actually been aiming for!