ON two recent visits to Cinta-J, we were subject to the full range of eccentricity the place offers. The first was a Saturday evening and it was almost empty. Service was quick and the food gave no cause for complaint, except for the crab, whose freshness was open to debate. The second was a Friday evening and the restaurant was heaving. At 7.00pm we could not get a table, so we returned at 7.30pm. Inside it still resembled a boxing arena without any fight to watch. A table of 45 had been booked by Filipino sailors from a US naval ship. It was another half hour before the maitre d' could sneak us to a table, surrounded by men playing cards and a handful of multi-cultural office parties. At Cinta-J, the benefits of the Formica table become immediately apparent. Jugs of San Miguel ($98) were going down like lemonade at a teetotaller's ball. The live music started later. The waiter took our order, but 40 minutes later nothing except a beer and an iced lemon tea had arrived. We mentioned the oversight and still nothing materialised. The third waiter we collared was horrified, admitted he had forgotten to hand in our order to the kitchen and offered a free San Miguel as compensation. This kind of treatment is not unusual at Cinta-J. Nor is it unusual at Cinta, the original restaurant, just around the corner. Both offer Filipino food and both do so with a touch of the mananas. The menu at Cinta-J features authentic Filipino dishes and the staff feature authentic Filipino tardiness. If anything, this adds to the dubious charm of the place. Anyone who goes there expecting to witness scenes of stunning efficiency and all-round obsequiousness will be disappointed. All Cinta-J has to offer is interesting cuisine and an atmosphere, by accident or design, that is half Luk Yu Teahouse, half Manila bordello and always relaxed and easy going. If the food comes quickly, so much the better. If it doesn't, you can pass the time getting drunk on the cheap, which is what many customers seem to do. The overall effect is of a quiet dinner at home, but with 200 other people for company. Cinta-J is boisterous, it is noisy, there are times when you think it needs to be bigger if everyone is going to fit in. Most of those who eat there are Filipinos. It is therefore a safe bet, you might assume, that the food is on a par with anything you will find in the Philippines. It is, but before you start, it is worth doing some homework. Filipino cuisine is berated as one of the least successful in Asia, perhaps because traditionally, it has depended as much upon the fat as it has upon the meat. But those who berate it have never taken time to eat much of it. At Cinta-J the menu is extensive, eclectic and intimidating. There will be many dishes you have not heard of before, never mind eaten. Bopis ($52), for example, is a native classic, but a turn-off for Westerners. Its main ingredient is pigs' entrails, cooked in white vinegar. Most of the dishes are of an everyday sort. In the Philippines there is not much difference between the midday meal and the evening meal. In fact, more emphasis is often given to what you eat for lunch. At a formal luncheon or supper, soups are served as a starter, but for ordinary family meals soup appears at the table as a substantial meat or fish dish with broth. There is no distinction between soup and main course. Sinigang is a hot and sour soup - similar to Thai tom yum - made with almost anything you want to make it with. The most essential herb is tamarind and it should also contain tomatoes, onion, sitaw (string beans) and camote (root potato). You can order it with large chunks of beef ($80) or with bangus ($80), the popular milkfish that is often deep-fried for breakfast and served with a dip of garlic and white vinegar. Most of the bangus at Cinta-J is boneless. Fried it is $100 and cooked in vinegar and garlic it is $68. There are many other fish dishes. Crab is always available, but its price depends on the time of year. Filipinos prefer it whole and stewed in coconut milk, but you can also order it de-shelled, seasoned and fried with egg, One of the most standard and dependable Filipino dishes is adobo ($52) for chicken, pork or a mixture of both. Easy to prepare, it is harder to prepare well. White vinegar is used in quantity and it is important that after the vinegar has been added, you do not stir the dish until it has begun to boil. The other ingredients are garlic, pepper, salt, bay leaf, soya sauce, water - and sugar if you want to take some of the tang away from the vinegar. At Cinta-J the adobo is best eaten with mounds of steaming hot rice, which is free and keeps on being proffered until you can stomach no more. Garlic rice, which is even better, is $18, as is rice cooked in coconut milk. On a conventional menu lumpia, the Filipino equivalent of the spring roll, would be a starter. Lumpia Shanghai contains bean-sprouts and shrimps, but you can make them with almost anything, from papaya and peanuts to coconut hearts (ubod ). Filipino food is tangy, because of the white vinegar, but rarely hot in the way that Indian or Thai food is hot. The exception is the Bicol Express, which they do will with sauteed vegetables, pork, shrimp, coconut milk and chili. There are some curries (kare-kare ), but they are more Indonesian than Filipino, like fishhead curry ($110) or beancurd curry ($44). There is a significant Indonesian section to the menu, notably satay, which ranges from $43 for chicken to $75 for prawn. Oseng-oseng bungis (sauteed French beans with shrimp paste and chili) is $80. The menu goes on and on. My favourites are the adobo, which I order every time, and the sinigang. Fried tapa - beef cooked to a crisp and served, yet again, with a dip of white vinegar and garlic - is excellent. You can get a whole fried chicken for $110 and noodles with seafood or chicken for $58 or $48. Desserts show marked traces of Spanish influence. The flan is a variation on the creme caramel and is sometimes good and sometimes not much above average. Hala-halo (literally mix-mix) is a collection of sweet fruits in coconut milk with ice-cream. A meal at Cinta-J need cost no more than $200 a head, including beer, which is the original San Miguel, imported in a bottle. You can also get refreshing calamansi juice made from small, sour, Filipino limes. Cinta-J Restaurant And Lounge, Shop G-4, Malaysia Building, 69 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai. Tel: 2529 6622 or 2529 4211. Open 11.00am-5.00am, seven days a week. The other Cinta is on the first and second floors of the Shing Yip Building in Fenwick Street. It opens for lunch from 1.00am until 3.00pm and for dinner from 6.00pm until 2.00am.