Budgie Montoya

Following his stint at Restaurant Story, Budgie spent time at restaurants including the Hoxton Grill and Holland Park’s Flat Three, where he learnt about the importance of reducing wastage (‘the chef always preferred us trying something and failing at it rather than putting stuff straight in the bin’) and mastered various fermentation techniques. The turning point in Budgie’s career, however, came when he was given the chance to take charge of the small kitchen at Brooksby’s Walk in Clapton, and cook his own style of food. ‘The owner said that he didn’t care what I cooked, it just needed to be delicious,’ he explains. ‘I started to play around with Asian flavours and somewhere along the line I started to miss home and feel a void in terms of my connection to the Philippines, so I began asking mum for some recipes. At first, I definitely cheffed them up a bit too much and went a bit too far but that’s where everything really started.’ Budgie soon started cooking his modern Filipino food at a monthly supper club in Brooksby’s Walk and the Sarap concept was born.

Despite the success of his supper clubs, in 2017 Budgie took up the opportunity to become head chef at Foley’s in Soho, as he wanted to continue to develop as a chef whilst trying to define exactly what style of food he wanted to cook. Within a year of starting the job though, Budgie was getting restless. ‘I went back home in 2018 and my mum could see that I wasn’t happy,’ he says. ‘Being there made me realise that it was because I wanted to continue cooking Filipino food, so after that trip I took the decision to quit what I was doing and pursue Sarap full time.’ After a series of successful residencies at the likes of The Sun & 13 Cantons Budgie won the prestigious Brixton Kitchen competition (2019), giving him the chance to open Sarap permanently in Brixton Market.

When the national lockdown hit in 2020 and forced restaurants to close, Budgie decided to pivot to a more casual quick-service concept, reopening his Brixton restaurant as Sarap Baon. However, he was still determined to open a version of Sarap that was closer to his original vision – a restaurant where he could showcase his takes on classic Filipino dishes in all their glory. So, when the chance arose in 2021 to take over 10 Heddon Street and launch Sarap Filipino Bistro, he jumped at the chance, ‘having those two concepts running concurrently made me realise that they were two very different things,’ he explains ‘Sarap Baon was the food I liked to eat, but Sarap Filipino Bistro is the food I like to cook.’ Whilst Sarap Baon was ultimately forced to close in 2022 due to the impact of the pandemic, Sarap Filipino Bistro proved a hit, garnering praise from critics and the public alike.

At Sarap Filipino Bistro, Budgie’s primary aim is to showcase Filipino cuisine but he’s certainly not afraid of serving things in a way that might not have been seen before, ‘when I first started Sarap, I think I almost felt a burden to be a flag bearer for the cuisine and be authentic,’ he says, ‘but I’ve always felt that tradition shouldn’t bind us. That’s why I wanted to take all my learnings from mainly European kitchens and apply them to the flavours I know and understand, whilst also taking advantage of the UK’s amazing larder. For me, the food at Sarap is the most authentic I’ve ever cooked because it’s me on a plate; it’s my life, my experiences and my memories.’

For someone who decided to become a chef later in life than many, it’s impressive how much Budgie Montoya has already achieved. Not only is he making people feel just as happy as he did that evening at The Fat Duck in 2009 with his own food at Sarap, he’s now very much at the forefront of the UK’s Filipino dining scene.