Will Mahusay’s new Filipino restaurant, Mesa, is an exercise in creative budgeting. But, as you’d expect from the founder of Newtown’s now-closed Sydney Cebu Lechon, the portions are generous and the food is comforting and your visit is affordable.

“I know affordable is a subjective term, but I tried to make everything $19 for a main dish,” Mahusay tells Broadsheet. “To charge those prices isn’t complicated, you just have to create a menu that’s very streamlined. You choose pillar produce items – capsicum, Chinese cabbage, garlic, scallions for example. You can be clever and make two to three dishes from those items and that helps with stock and inventory control.”

Take to the weekend-only Rooty Hill dinner spot for pancit, a vegetable-focused noodle dish made with rice or egg noodles. The Filipino version of chop suey is made with vegetables sauteed in a veggie broth. There are meatier dishes like beef nilaga soup and five-spice brisket beef pares, plus juicy marinated barbeque pork skewers. And, in limited quantities, the three-hour roasted Cebu lechon Mahusay is known for.

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Filipino cooking champions zero waste, and sisig waves the offal flag with pork mask, ears and belly, and chicken liver. At Mesa, the cubed pork is wok-fried until crispy rather than served the traditional way on a hot plate.

Working with just a handful of produce items means prep time is lower. And, because he runs front of house himself, Mahusay doesn’t need many staff. Getting creative and drawing on relationships with the Filipino community, he’s struck a deal to optimise rent: until 2.30pm, the space is occupied by TNB, an outstanding cafe brewing a house roast. Then, on Saturday and Sunday evenings, Mahusay takes over the 38-seater with Mesa.

Mahusay, who also owns the Sydney Cebu Lechon catering business plus a karenderia (casual roadside eatery) in Blacktown, acknowledges he’s opening a new business in tough times.

“It means we have to be creative. If a person is cornered in a high-pressure situation, I think it’s human nature to ask, ‘how can we survive?’ That’s when the creative ideas start to form. The key is to make changes before the hard times start. For me, I thought, ‘why should I wait until I’m uncomfortable?’ If I operate differently now, I can make a new business work and save myself trouble in the future.”

1 Rooty Hill Road South, Rooty Hill
Inside TNB Cafe

Sat & Sun 5pm–8.30pm