2/243 Franklin St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
As a very under-represented cuisine in Melbourne, Filipino food has always been a shiny curio to me. Based on my very limited knowledge, I know that Filipino cuisine is a very diverse one, taking its influences from a hodge-podge of countries in both the east and the west. And unlike Chris’ sister, I don’t have the good fortune of dating a Filipino bloke, so I have to do all my research in the field, and hope that what I’m eating is the real deal.
Out of the limited options available for Filipino food in Melbourne, GJ’s Grill is by far the most lauded. It’s on the quiet outskirts of the CBD and pretty hard to find, but you’ll notice that most visitors walk down the alleyway purposefully, likely led by their noses.
GJ’s is a very straightforward sort of place; I’d almost be tempted to call it a mom-and-pop kitchen and take-away. The menu focuses on the more mainstream, grilled meat-based dishes of Filipino cuisine, and the evidence can be smelt in the air. The service is minimal – you order at the counter, and there might be a bit of a wait depending on how long the take-away line is, but no one seems to mind.
My sister/dining buddy for the day wanted the Lechon on Rice ($12.5) with an extra Pork Skewer ($4.5). The lechon, aka crispy skin pork, was as good as it gets. Chopped into bite-sized pieces, the roasted pork belly was fatty and succulent, topped with a long ribbon of flawless crackling, and served on a glistening mound of garlic rice. Thank goodness there was a small plate of peppery pickled papaya to cleanse the palate between bites.
But believe it or not, the skewer was even better. Not only was the pork tender and smoky, it was glazed with a sweet, sticky sauce that carried a hint of tanginess that really brought out the flavour of the meat. My sister proclaimed ecstatically that the skewer gave her life (kids these days).
The ¼ Chicken on Rice ($10.5) looked a lot more humble in comparison, but it’s still very much worth your time. The chicken was juicy and tender under the crispy skin, which had been rendered of all fat, then flavoured with a tangy spice rub and smoke from the grill. As delicious as this was though, I will quietly admit that it has nothing on the pork… though it is definitely much lighter and healthier in comparison!
Although my intention had been to try out the more standard roast meat offerings, I couldn’t help but notice some of the more exotic dishes on the menu, such as the salmon head soup (sinigang) and the crispy pata (deep fried pork trotters). And despite knowing that this is far from health food, I can’t help but already feel drawn back to GJ’s Grill and its smoky, seductive flavours.
Rating: 13.5/20 – pig-out.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.