Mother Tongue is tucked away speakeasy-style in the recesses below the Templar Hotel.
The menu is focused on share plates and has an Asian backbone, with strong Filipino, Chinese, Japanese and also North American influences.
The restaurant is divided into two moody levels outfitted in tile, mirrors, and jungle-y deep jewel tones by Solid Design Creative (Baro, La Carnita).
The upper level seats 46, with various nooks and a central bar lending an intimate, homey feel.
A lower level cocktail bar is modelled after the jeepneys of the Philippines with a padded roof, mirrors styled after jeepney windows and metal rails that passengers would normally hang off of.
Duck dumplings ($12) are part of a list of small plates that also includes pan-fried dumplings ($11), house pan de sal ($1.50) and liver spread ($7). The dumplings are stuffed with confit duck and foie gras, sitting in a sauce of concentrated hen’s broth, then finished with a little spiced vinegar and chives.
Warm bitter greens ($14) are a mix of rapini and mustard greens pan-flashed with house XO sauce and lifted by some fresh lemon juice and puffed wild rice, satisfyingly soft and melty with the occasional crunch.
A longganisa “sanwit” ($12) stuffs traditional Filipino garlic pork sausage into the house pan de sal with chili mayo, shredded cabbage, soy, citrus caramelized onions and shaved manchego for a gourmet version of a fast food sandwich that makes this snack cute and comforting.
Salt Spring mussels ($24) are one of the larger plates on the menu, which, it should be noted, are not extraordinarily large. The B.C. shellfish are incredibly fresh though, flashed in a hot pan with lemongrass, chili jam, coconut milk, cream and shrimp paste.
Cilantro, fresh chili and a fragrant garlic crumble finish off the funky, bright dish that goes great with drinks.
Steak and foie fried rice ($26) is another large plate of similar substance, maybe a bit heftier. Chunks of foie are seared, the rendered fat used to flash the fried rice with corn and rapini. The chunks are incorporated into the rice for a decadent rich-on-rich effect.
As if that weren’t enough, the fried rice is then topped with tamari, sesame oil, scallions, snow peas and grilled P.E.I. flat iron steak.
La Familia ($14) is a cocktail made with house-infused ginger mezcal, the smokiness balanced by a spicy, earthy turmeric agave syrup, and rounded out with sherry, Lillet Blanc, lemon and a chili tincture. Candied ginger and lemon peel provide a garnish.
Rob Granicolo and Chef Francis Bermejo both bring expertise from their time at Bar Buca to Mother Tongue.