Filipino pop-up series Barangay launched in 2021 with a joyful extravaganza. The eight-course degustation series from chef Fhred Batalona turned into a full cultural fiesta, featuring drag, burlesque, choral performances and even a fashion show.

By contrast Palay, the chef’s new pop-up offering that launched in April this year, is an understated – though no less celebratory – affair.

“Pop-ups are so valuable because they allow me to tread lightly; it’s a space where I can be more creatively active and experiment with my ideas,” Batalona tells Broadsheet.

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Set in the classically European-style restaurant Epocha, Angie Giannakodakis and Guy Holder’s Carlton spot, Palay captures Batalona’s culinary skill and exuberance in either four or seven courses – with a range of colourful cocktails and mocktails to match.

Chef Fhred Batalona. Photography: Courtesy of Palay

“It may look modern, but I do want to clarify it’s not fusion. There’s no need to fuse our food,” Batalona says. “In preparing these meals, I make sure all the components are there. I want people to truly taste the Filipino aspect of it.”

His reverence for Filipino food shows up in the pop-up’s name – palay means “unhusked rice” and the logo is written in Baybayin, a Philippine script – and in its menu, which plays with recognisable flavours and techniques in a delightfully unexpected way. The kingfish crudo with Yarra Valley salmon caviar, for instance, subverts the traditional kinilaw (acid-cured fish) by the addition of garlic oil and adobo sauce. Palay’s pumpkin two ways with coconut prawn sauce is a riff on two dishes: traditional ginataang gulay (stew made with coconut milk) and bicol express (a stew made with chillies, shrimp paste, coconut milk and pork). White chocolate combines with ube (purple yam) in a dacquoise-like dessert called sylvanas made by Batalona and chef Marc Lim.

Pandesal. Photography: Courtesy of Palay

But the chef says he takes the most pride in serving house-made pandesal, the small, soft bread roll usually eaten in the Philippines at breakfast or as a snack between meals.

“When I first got to Australia, I couldn’t find pandesal anywhere. I missed the smell of it in the morning, so I just had to learn how to make it,” he says. “It may not be the most creative dish, but with bread there’s nowhere to hide.”

In place of the standard margarine, Palay’s luxe version comes with a side of the chef’s vegan take on pate, made using mushrooms.

Matched drinks include a Nestea-inspired carbonated lemon iced tea mocktail made using house-made tea, lemon cordial and soda; a boozy pandan drink made with green absinthe and coconut; and a melon samalamig, a type of chiller made with rockmelon and calamansi juice.

Sylvanas. Photography: Courtesy of Palay

The next two Palay pop-ups are on Wednesday June 12, to line up with Philippines Independence Day, and Tuesday June 25. Batalona hopes to one day establish his Palay offering as a standalone venue and join the growing number of Filipino venues nationwide including Askal in Melbourne, Lola’s Filipino Diner in Perth and Tita Carinderia in Sydney.

“Historically there hasn’t been much representation of Filipino food in the Aussie mainstream, so it makes me happy to see – not just in Melbourne, but all over the country – more and more Filipino places opening up,” says Batalona. “It’s important to me that people understand the way we eat is not a passing trend.”

Palay pop-ups can be booked via