by Dana Smith
No Menu, No Problem
Having the privilege of growing up in an archipelago of over 7,000 islands makes it difficult to choose just one favorite island. But one truly stands out: Boracay Island, hailed by several established travel authorities as one of the most beautiful islands in the world, is definitely close to my heart.
It’s no surprise why millions come from all over the world each year to visit the island. With 7 kilometers of powdery soft white sand, bright turquoise waters, sunsets that set the sky on fire each day, and several other charming seaside coves to explore, it’s just hard not to love this island.
Boracay is the number 1 tourist destination in the Philippines. It’s a busy tourist destination with over 500 hotels of all sizes and budgets scattered throughout the island. With all the development, it can be challenging to find something that’s off-the-beaten-track on Boracay, unless you have some insider knowledge.
Luckily, last summer I was tipped off by a friend about a new Italian restaurant on the island. Called Lanterna, the restaurant was located at the back beach where only kite surfers go.
It’s a quiet area where most tourists wouldn’t usually venture to, and where most of the island’s locals live. Since I love Italian food I decided that I must make a visit to this much-talked-about local secret. But I needed the help of a friend to locate it; Lanterna was hush-hush and it seemed that people wanted it kept that way. There isn’t much information about it online.
One hot Sunday during my trip, I met with 2 friends to ride on a motorbike to finally try the Lanterna experience over lunch. Because one of my friends is a local, she knew exactly where to drive the motorbike.
While we hung on for dear life behind her, she passed through small rock-strewn alleyways while the summer sun was beating down on our head and shoulders. After a few minutes, we finally found the nondescript entrance and walked through a short passageway, a pathway of gravelly stones and a small garden led to a restaurant in bright Mediterranean colors.
Lanterna can only occupy a maximum of around 20 people in the restaurant, which is located in the balcony of a house.
Despite being there in at the peak of notoriously scorching hot Philippine summers, that day there was a lovely, refreshing breeze. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by two elder Italian men with great big smiles on their faces.
Their names are Luigi and Sandro, chefs and proprietors of Lanterna. We were the only diners that day, and it was evident that they were as excited to feed us as we were to eat their food. They spoke with the distinct Italian accents, and briefly told us about them and the restaurant.
Luigi and Sandro came from Positano and settled in Boracay Island after having traveled the world over the past several decades. Here in their restaurant they made only home-cooked traditional Italian food using recipes passed down from one generation to another.
In Lanterna, there is no menu; upon arrival the chefs advise what meals they can make out of available ingredients for the day. Such is the dining experience at Lanterna: casual atmosphere and authentic Italian but with an element of surprise. For starters, they served us a refreshingly cool tomato bruschetta; crunchy and flavorful herb-crusted mozzarella sticks, and freshly-baked warm ciabatta bread.
There was nothing fancy about the presentation; the food was all served to us in simple white dishes on native woven placemats.
The experience was all about the unexpected explosion of flavors in your mouth with each bite, not knowing what to expect but loving it all just the same. We washed the appetizers down with a glass of ice-cold white wine.
After a few minutes, a server brought out a plate of herbed ricotta cheese with balsamic sauce and olive oil, which we ate with gusto paired with the comforting, tasty ciabatta bread.
Then our main meal arrived: we each got a plate with a heaping portion of seafood pasta accented by the pink shrimp and contrasted with the fresh parsley. While they used simple ingredients, everything blended so perfectly in the mouth.
Needless to say, our bellies and hearts were full from such a warm dining experience. After the meal ended, the chefs came out to join us and offered us a shot of Limoncello each, which is a traditional Italian digestive.
The Lanterna experience is so far the simplest yet most unforgettable gastronomic experience I’ve ever had the pleasure of having in a stunning tropical island.