It’s fair to say that Filipino food is still very much a Great Unknown for Londoners and the British in general. This is both a curse and a blessing – a curse in that people are always a bit wary of the unknown, and will always need reassurance to get them to try out Filipino food; but a blessing in that we still have that ‘wow’ factor, that there’s still a niche to fill and that it still provides an adventure for the average person. It is still an ‘exciting’ cuisine.
Certainly, this seems to be what I’ve learnt from my experience of running The Adobros supper club with my brother. “So give me the low down on Filipino food” is probably one of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them about The Adobros – followed by “Have you had any weird people come along yet?” For the curious, here is our brief explanation on Filipino food, and no, all of our guests so far have been lovely.
This relative obscurity has been perpetuated by the general lack of Filipino food available in London, and the UK in general. A cursory glance at www.london-eating.co.uk reveals, non-comprehensively, only 8 recorded Filipino restaurants (compared to 88 Vietnamese) in all of London which, considering that the 2011 census recorded an estimated 44,199 Filipino-born residents in London (a good 39% of all Southeast Asian-born residents) – and who knows how many hundreds of thousands more UK-born of Filipino descent – is pretty poor.
But I do have the feeling that we are on the cusp of some big change in terms of visibility and availability. Earlier this year, Lakwatsa managed to get some prime coverage in an Evening Standard article that trumpeted the impending success of ‘meriendas’ over tapas, showing Londoners one aspect of good Filipino eating. I’ve also seen a few more Filipino restaurants opening up of late: Kalesa in Clapham Junction; Cirilo east of Tower Hill; and Kabayan in Upton Park – I am still yet to try all of these new ventures. Let’s also not forget that latest hero of the Filipino community, Joseph Apostol, who bantered with will.i.am about Filipino food on The Voice.
Additionally, we’ve also seen a select few supper clubs popping up that are or have offered Filipino food in more intimate and familiar settings: the Kamayan Supper Club I ran earlier this year with Mae of Pepe’s Kitchen; Pepe’s Kitchen’s regular dinners and pop-ups; Kusina ni Lola’s one-off in Tooting (and hopefully more dates soon in both Liverpool and London); and of course our very own Adobros supper clubs – all of these have, as far as I’ve seen, been very well-received by a wide range of people. If all of these efforts are maintained and added to, who knows where Filipino food can go?
Perhaps we got a glimpse of this at the recent Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner that took place in the upstairs portion of Salvador & Amanda in Holborn. Initiated by Mae of Pepe’s Kitchen, the event eventually came to encompass the efforts of 6 passionate groups of chefs who whipped up a cracking eight-course meal for 40 people, primarily showcasing the tasty goodness of Filipino food – all in support of survivors of one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history.
Showing some real inventiveness and flair, and more importantly calmness-under-fire in the kitchen (for many of us it was the first time working in a professional kitchen and cooking for so many people!), this merry crew managed to prove themselves as worthy chefs of Filipino cuisine… and more than a few confirmed for themselves that a commercial venture may now be more than just a fantastical dream. And, rather interestingly, one of our diners let slip that he was in the process of setting up a Filipino food truck that will tour London’s finest street and farmers’ markets (gonna keep my eyes peeled for this one!).
A perennial problem of Filipinos overseas that has been oft-discussed is that there seems to be an inherent sense of inferiority about our own food– it has not been shaped and influenced by an imperial or royal court cuisine as with many other Asian nations, and it was most definitely not favoured by the Spanish and American colonisers. But why this sense of shame? I have seen a clear-cut demand for Filipino food – booked-out supper clubs, packed and lively pop-ups, flyers snapped up by curious passers-by, that glint in peoples’ eyes when their interest is piqued; these are not the indicators of something shameful. People are genuinely interested; the people want something new to eat!
And so perhaps, just perhaps – and I say this without any intentions of arrogance – those of us who cooked up such a feast at the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner, along with our more established restaurateur kababayans, can be part of the new wave of foodies bringing Filipino food to Londoners all over town. After all, it’s already happening in the USA.
That’s what’s key – we need a critical mass of options available to get more exposure. There’s a whole merry band of us who are willing to provide those choices. Now it’s just up to you – are you willing to step up to the plate?
Come along and eat with us. I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it.
Some recommendations on trying Filipino food:
Bintang – primarily a pan-Asian restaurant, Bintang has enough Filipino flourishes such as Filipino BBQ Sundays as well as a smattering of Filipino dishes on offer. Additionally, Omar has been very supportive of budding Filipino chefs and took part in the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner
93 Kentish Town Road, NW1 8NY (nearest Tube Camden Town/Camden Road), 020 7267 2197 http://bintangrestaurant.co.uk/
Cirilo – a new place near Tower Hill that nearly strays down the path of pan-Asian but brings itself back onto the path of righteousness with a wide range of Filipino specials. Happy to hear if anyone’s been there – do tell me!
4 Cable Street, E1 8JG (nearest Tube Tower Gateway/Tower Hill), 020 7702 2299 http://cirilonoodlebar.co.uk/
Josephine’s – Central London’s only Filipino restaurant. It can be a bit hit-and-miss, and it certainly feels a bit dated for Charlotte Street, but daaamn their Crispy Pata and lechon kawali are good
4 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LP (nearest Tube Goodge Street/Tottenham Court Road), 020 7580 6551 http://www.josephinesrestaurant.co.uk/
Kabayan – these guys have got the East London and West Ham fans markets covered – maybe one day I’ll make it out there, but also happy to hear from anyone if it’s worth the journey!
12 Walton Road, E13 9BP (nearest Tube Upton Park), http://www.filipinorestaurant.co/
Kalesa – Clapham Junction’s finest (and only) Filipino restaurant. Some friends went here for brunch and reported back that the Filipino breakfast (meat, fried egg, rice and pickle) was delightful – a big plus in my books!
59 Lavender Hill, SW11 5QN (nearest station Clapham Junction/Clapham Common), 020 3417 5639 http://www.kalesa.co.uk/
Lakwatsa – a fun and chilled lounge where you pick up bubble tea and snacks, it’s a modern take on Filipino food for the youngsters and other cool peeps. Check out my review here
7 Blenheim Crescent, W11 2EE (nearest Tube Ladbroke Grove), 07900 266 080 http://www.lakwatsa.co.uk/
Port of Manila – my embassy friends maintain that for smart Filipino dining, Port of Manila is the place to go to in London. It’s all the way in Hammersmith, but as the saying goes, the harder you work (or travel) for food, the better it tastes!
129-131 Brackenbury Road, W6 0BQ (nearest Tube Hammersmith/Ravenscourt Park), 020 8741 2099 http://www.portofmanila.co.uk/
Sunrise Café – of the options in Earl’s Court’s Little Manila, this is the best one of the bunch. The food is lovely, but it could do with some improvement in, well, everything else, as seen from my review here
12 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR (nearest Tube Earl’s Court), 020 7373 3840
Supper Clubs and Pop-ups
The Adobros – mine and my brother’s supper club (a little bit of a hidden agenda here!), serving up hefty feasts from the comfort of our New Cross pad
New Cross area http://theadobros.com/
Kusina ni Lola – judging from the positive reviews about her Tooting pop-up, this girl’s onto something. If you’re up in Liverpool, do give her a look-see!
Liverpool and London https://www.facebook.com/kusinanilola
MERienda – The lovely Maryanne’s imminent business venture, mixing up Colombian and Filipino flavours and recipes. Her empanadas at the charity pop-up dinner were exquisite, all crunchy crust and chunky filling. Keep an eye out for her!
Pepe’s Kitchen – my good friend Mae’s catering company. A talented and passionate lady, she does cooking classes, pop-up dinners and supper clubs. She did a lechon dinner once – I think that says enough! Visit her upcoming pop-up at the Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho (the pub helpfully reviewed here)
Marylebone area http://pepes-kitchen.co.uk/
Honorary mention for cooking such cracking Filipino dishes during the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Pop-up Dinner goes to James Jennings (saltfish laing was his thing) and Federico of Fooderico (some of the best lumpia I’ve had)