Driving up to the Golden Cowrie is somewhat surreal. With its two storey gleaming ‘newness’ and eye popping signage you could be mistaken to think you are in a major city somewhere. It is even more surreal when contrasted with the surrounding squalor of the area which is mostly home of tire fitters (opposite Tire Queen), laundries and motor bike repair shops.
The Golden Cowrie brand will be well known to most Filipinos and even those expatriates who have travelled around the many islands of the Republic.
The chain boasts eight outlets and has obviously built a substantial reputation as only after a few weeks of being opened the restaurant was bursting at the seams the night we visited (a Sunday). By the way the restaurant can seat 250 patrons!
On entering the modern eatery it was instantly obvious that the chain’s reputation has resonated well with the young well to do Boholano set as the packed restaurant boasted an average age of patrons that could not have topped the mid twenties. This young patronage bodes well for the dinning scene in Bohol and should be an object lesson for other budding restauranteurs who are willing to invest in decent infrastructure and quality staff.
Unfortunately a gleaming exterior/interior and copious staff are not the only ingredients that makes a restaurant a real and special dining experience. The Golden Cowrie is at heart a franchise and as such suffers from the ‘formulaic’ burdens of a chain. The food is uninspiring, mass produced and will do little to enhance the reputation of ‘Filipino Native Cuisine’ which is the restaurant’s marketing ethos.
The menu is extensive and ranges across the full spectrum of Filipino favourites and it shouldn’t be hard for the fussiest eater to find something that is to their liking. On the night in question our party ordered a small serving of grilled back ribs, sizzling gambas, bicol express and scallops in the shell. The ribs were well cooked however inconsistent with some being perfectly moist but some portions quite dry. The sizzling gambas was not sizzling and was more like an omelette than a sizzling prawn dish. The prawns themselves were the mass frozen type which is quite a shame when you consider that fresh prawns are readily available from the prawn farms and wet markets dotted around the province. The scallops were heavily overcooked to the extent that at one point I thought they may have been the reproduction scallops (made from stingray flaps) that you sometimes find in cheap chinese fare. The prawns were once again the down side of a franchise trying to ensure that your experience is ‘cookie cut’ irrespective which restaurant you visit.
The other ‘native’ dish we tried was the bicol express which our Pinoy guest assured us was a poor imitation of what the actual dish should be like. This version was a somewhat stodgy amalgam of beans, pork and chilli.
Other aspects of the meal were the ever attentive rice filler upper who ensured you were never ‘rice less’ serving from a nifty drum like apparatus and a spoon made of a half coconut shell. A nice touch was that the meal is served on a platter that sports a banana leaf instead of ubiquitous plate. Frankly the banana leaf plate was the most native part of the meal.
Ok so the food was ok but nothing to rave about. Will the restaurant be successful? You bet!
Will it make a memorable dining experience? Certainly not for a discerning diner but for someone looking for a quick fill up in a nice clean environment, sure.
The Golden Cowrie is a significant step up from McDonalds and a ‘coming of age’ addition to the eating scene in Bohol. If you are looking for a comparison think Gerry’s Grill with a face lift.