Author Archives: Boy Mestizo

The London Filipino Food Scene

So it’s been a while since I’ve done something like this. I mean, blogging… is it like riding a bicycle? I sure hope so!

A lot has changed since my last restaurant review in September 2014 – and I’m not really talking about my personal life here (as interesting as that is). Back then, I posted about Kalesa, a little neighbourhood Filipino restaurant in Battersea that had showed a lot of promise in a city still relatively lacking in decent Filipino food options.

Well, Kalesa is unfortunately closed now, despite my ringing endorsement. Was it the quiet location? Was it a lack of marketing? Was it the general public’s unfamiliarity with Filipino food and lack of awareness of what’s out there? We can speculate for the reasons, and remark on how Filipino food has not really “made it” since I last wrote about the scene here in London (‘The Future of Filipino Food in London?’)

But there have been other changes within the London Filipino food scene that far outshine the closure of one restaurant – changes that continue to make me tremble in excited anticipation that, yes, Filipino food will one day make it.

Since December 2013, it has been slow in coming: I still remember finding out in dribs and drabs about new Filipino foodies and then going out and finding them, in order to see who they were, what they did and why. Connections were made, food was shared and friendships developed. One by one, more appeared, offering their own take on Filipino food. More connections were made, more food was shared and even more friendships developed.

Filipino - Foodies Collective1

Filipino Foodies unite! Thanks to Filipino Kitchen, Roni Bandong and Kitchie Umali for the photos (and to everyone else for the memories!)

So now, we have what I like to call a new, primarily younger generation of Filipino foodies; Filipino foodies spearheading a dynamic movement to make themselves and their food known, not just to their friends and families, but to the wider public. The New Wave of British Filipino Food. This generation is hungry for success and confident that it has what it takes to make their mark on the gastronomic front.

The best part about this generation though is the collaborative streak that runs straight through it. We all recognise that a revolution in terms of Filipino food is not created by one person alone; we need everyone in the wider scene, new AND old, to continue to develop and offer the huge variety of choice that will make people take notice.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s safe to say that there is now a Filipino food scene in London. You want to be a part of it? Come check us all out below.

 

Market Stalls

 

BBQ Dreamz

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The Mega Box from BBQ Dreamz – crispy pork belly and chicken satay on rice, all combined into a box of joy

Lee and Sinead are making it big – they’re in with the Kerb crowd and getting all sorts of plaudits and gigs all over the place. And deservedly so: their crispy baboy wrap is a scrumptiously tasty concoction mixing excellently grilled pork belly with pan-Asian salad flavours. And if you like offal, you should check out their lemongrass ox heart skewers.

Follow them on Twitter to find out where they’re trading; they’re also usually in the School Yard of Broadway Market on Saturdays.

https://twitter.com/bbqdreamz

 

FiliShack

Filipino - FiliShack

FiliShack’s delightful chicken inasal on rice. Photo courtesy of FiliShack Twitter

 

Plucky Justice and his brother have set up shop outside Peckham Library to bring their absolutely delicious Filipino take on the burrito to south London: instead of the usual Mexican fare, the FiliShack burrito packs garlic fried rice and chicken inasal – oh, that chicken! That perfectly grilled inasal! – and are just delightful.

Follow them on Twitter to find out where they’re trading; you can usually find them in Peckham Tuesday-Saturday.

https://twitter.com/filishack

 

Kusina Nova

Filipino - Kusina Nova

Beef pares from Kusina Nova. Photo courtesy of Kusina Nova website

Although I’ve only caught wind of these guys recently, apparently they’ve been making their mark on Venn Street Market down in Clapham since 2013. Signature dishes include ‘twisted’ chicken adobo and beef pares.

Follow them on Twitter and check their website for their latest news; otherwise, find them at Venn Street Market on Saturdays.

http://kusinanova.wix.com/kusinanova

 

Pinoy’s Kitchen

Filipino - Pinoy's Kitchen

Pinoy’s Kitchen’s heart-warming arroz caldo. Photo courtesy of Pinoy’s Kitchen Twitter

Kristina has been rocking it down in Brixton and here, there and everywhere with her traditional fare that is hearty and delicious.

Follow her on Twitter for the latest Pinoy’s Kitchen news and whereabouts.

https://twitter.com/pinoyskitchen

 

 

Pop-Ups and Residencies

 

Maynila

“Where Filipino food lives in London”. Roni and Charl have embarked on the admirable goal of giving a platform for Filipino chefs to flex their culinary muscles and show off what they love best about the cuisine. Past events have included hosting Rex Le Happy Chef, putting on a hearty and delicious kamayan feast and throwing an ambitious and stunningly creative Christmas-themed Noche Buena dinner, laying out on the table the classically-trained talents of chef Tim dela Cruz of Caravan (and MasterChef fame). Ever wondered what a deconstructed buko pandan cheesecake looks like? Just ask Tim!

Check their website for their latest events.

Filipino - Noche Buena

Chef Tim dela Cruz’s Noche Buena delights – seabass kinilaw, salted duck egg salad, chicken relleno, deconstructed buko pandan cheesecake

https://maynila.co.uk/

 

Le Happy Chef and Luzon

Certainly one to watch – Rex de Guzman is a bright young thing seeking to bring contemporary Filipino food to the London restaurant scene. In his spare time, he has been putting on pop-ups and honing his skill. Whilst all of his dishes have their special little flairs that make them stand out, for me his stand-out dishes are his deliciously savoury and punchy sisig terrine and his delectably smooth and decadent leche flan.

Filipino - LeHappy Chef

Chicken adobo with coconut milk from Le Happy Chef. Photo courtesy of Le Happy Chef website and Maynila

Rex has just returned from an epic culinary tour the Philippines (you can follow his adventures on his blog), so now he and Luzon are planning further pop-ups as well as intending to establish a permanent restaurant by the end of the year.

http://www.lehappychef.co.uk/

Luzon, 07521 320 718 http://www.luzon.co.uk/

 

Supper Clubs

 

The Adobros

Filipino - Adobros

Some Adobros favourites: chicken adobo wings, laing lumpia, beef short rib kare kare, sans rival and arandobo

The one and only New Cross Filipino supper club! Since September 2013, my brother and I have been hosting supper clubs and pop-ups that provide a dining experience that we feel captures the best of the Filipino food culture we grew up with: the warm welcome, the social sharing and the festive feasting. Some of our well-received dishes include tuna kinilaw, chicken adobo arancini (arandobo), bistek tagalog wraps, laing lumpia, beef short-rib kare kare, pork belly adobo, sans rival, mango cake and calamansi posset. Sign up to the mailing list via the website in order to hear the latest news first.

http://theadobros.com/

 

Flipside Kitchen

Carla is an aspiring home cook, originally from Manila but finding herself now in north London. Whilst she scopes out the possibility of setting up a supper club, she’s making Filipino dishes like chicken adobo for home delivery via DishNextDoor – and receiving very good praise as a result.

Alas, for now DishNextDoor only operates in the N16, N15, E8 and E5 postcodes at the moment… so for the rest of us unlucky sods who live elsewhere, it looks like we’ll just have to wait until Carla launches her supper club, potentially in May.

Check out her Twitter for announcements as to when she has new dishes on offer; otherwise, keep an eye on her DishNextDoor profile.

https://twitter.com/FlipsideKitchen

 

Kusina ni Lola

These guys got off to a good start, hosting some well-received pop-ups in both Liverpool and London – but have taken a break for their first child. Looking forward to their comeback!

https://www.facebook.com/kusinanilola

 

Masarap Supper Club

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Masarap’s tocilog taco, kare kare slider and sisig fries

Considering that Filipino food could be seen as the first true ‘fusion’ cuisine, it makes sense that Filipino fusion would eventually hit London. Rachelle and friends have now run a handful of well-received pop-ups via Grub Club, serving fusion dishes such as adobo tacos, kare kare sliders and sisig fries. Very much looking forward to seeing what these guys get up to in the new year.

https://www.facebook.com/Masarap-342039539330847/timeline/

 

Pepe’s Kitchen

One of the earliest members of the New Wave of British Filipino Food, Mae started Pepe’s Kitchen in honour of her father, and has sought to do him and Filipino food proud with her monthly supper clubs, pop-ups, catering and cooking classes. I hear that her barako coffee ice cream has been making waves, and punters have been enjoying her exploration of some of the more regional dishes like pancit molo, humba and tyula itum. Proper home-cooking for the soul, all dished out in the extremely welcome setting of her home in Marylebone.

Filipino - Pepe's Kitchen

I sea food, I eat it! Photo courtesy of Pepe’s Kitchen website

Sign up to her mailing list and follow her on Twitter in order to hear her latest news.

http://pepes-kitchen.co.uk/home/

 

 

Restaurants and Cafés

 

Benso Café

Filipino - Benso Cafe

Filipino Foodies unite! Thanks to Filipino Kitchen, Roni Bandong and Kitchie Umali for the photos (and to everyone else for the memories!)

Whilst the menu is reminiscent of the many little caffs that dot this fair country (cooked breakfasts, omelettes, jacket potatoes, panini etc.), further digging will find that under this rather typical exterior beats a very Filipino heart.

Having recently celebrated their first birthday, Benso Café seems to be doing a good job of dishing out the Filipino classics (with, I believe, a flavour of Kapampangan) to local Edgwarites.

If you do make it here, please do let me know how it is!

145 Deans Lane, HA8 9NY (nearest Tube Edgware), 07960 179 482 https://www.facebook.com/bensocafelondon/

 

Cirilo

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Crispy pata at Cirilo’s

A family-run restaurant near Tower Hill. Although it started life as a pan-Asian restaurant, as co-owner Juliet explained, it was because they felt the market wasn’t right for Filipino food back then. But now, they have really embraced their roots and the menu is now dominated by the classics, which they have tried to give their own twists. Check them out for their crispy pata, one of their Specials of the Day – it was pretty stellar when I had it!

4 Cable Street, E1 8JG (nearest Tube Tower Gateway/Tower Hill), 020 7702 2299 http://cirilonoodlebar.co.uk/

 

Josephine’s

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Lunch at Josephine’s… just for the two of us

Central London’s only permanent Filipino restaurant continues to potter along, one of the unchanging (and dated) fixtures on Charlotte Street. It can be a bit hit-and-miss, but from personal experience their crispy pata and lechon kawali were well-executed.

4 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LP (nearest Tube Goodge Street/Tottenham Court Road), 020 7580 6551 http://www.josephinesrestaurant.co.uk/

 

Kamayan sa Earl’s Court

Filipino - Kamayan sa Earl's Court

A kamayan spread in Earl’s Court. Photo courtesy of Kamayan sa Earl’s Court website

Formerly known as Sunrise Café (see my review here), ever since Lutong Pinoy (see below) rebranded and revamped itself, these guys decided to up their game and rename, rebrand and revamp themselves. Haven’t had a chance to go there since the change though. They’ve also gone ahead and opened up a new branch in Kilburn.

12 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR (nearest Tube Earl’s Court), 020 7373 3840 http://www.kamayansaearlscourt.co.uk/

227 Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JG (nearest Tube Kilburn/Brondesbury), 020 3689 4727 https://www.facebook.com/kamayansakilburn

 

Lakwatsa

The chilled bubble tea lounge that made the Evening Standard sit up and announce that ‘meriendas are the new tapas’ back in 2013. Offers a smattering of – you guessed it – merienda snacks ranging from the pan-Asian to the decidedly Filipino. Check out my review here.

UPDATE: Lakwatsa has now unfortunately closed! They say they are still around for parties and events; let’s hope they keep doing what they need to do to keep doing the thing they do.

7 Blenheim Crescent, W11 2EE (nearest Tube Ladbroke Grove), 07900 266 080 http://www.lakwatsa.co.uk/

 

Lola Sisay

What was once Kabayan has now re-opened as Lola Sisay. Filipino food still lives on in east London! The menu covers breakfast staples such as the classic -silogs, and hearty favourites such as crispy pata, afritada and kare kare are well-represented. Let me know if you’ve been here!

12 Walton Road, E13 9BP (nearest Tube Upton Park) http://www.lolasisay.com/

 

Lutong Pinoy

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The mighty Boy-Itlog meal at Lutong Pinoy: lechon kawali, lumpiang shanghai AND tocino

One of the Earl’s Court stalwarts. I first tried this some nine years ago; since then, they have rebranded and revamped themselves under the direction of Marc, the scion of the next generation of the family. Now known for their kamayan evenings, they’re taking steps to make themselves known and heard around town as one of the places to go for traditional Filipino food. Their silog meals are also worth a shout – the Boy-Itlog meal certainly hit all the right spots!

10 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR (nearest Tube Earl’s Court), 020 7244 0007 http://www.lutongpinoyuk.com/

 

Muni Coffee

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Enjoying a coffee and a delightful brownie in Muni Coffee

A Filipino coffee shop whose goal is to revive interest in quality and ethically-sourced Filipino coffee, one cup at a time (to think that the Philippines was once one of the biggest producers of coffee in the world…!). They’ve only just recently opened up their cute little premise on the Fulham Road, in a rather handsome location next to a Daunt bookstore (was this planned??).

The black Americano, made from their single origin coffee was delectable; the brownies, amazingly moist; the rest of the food menu, devilishly tempting (adobo toasties, tocilog for breakfast, pandan cheesecake, turon, polvoron and others). What more could you want from a coffee shop?

Well, the ability to buy their coffee online, of course!

166 Fulham Road, SW10 9PR (nearest Tube South Kensington) 07428 693 114 http://www.municoffee.com/

 

Nayong Pilipino

What was once known as Kusinaang Munti has undergone a rebrand into its current incarnation, but from what I can see it still retains its old neighbourhood canteen / carinderia ethos and feel, targeted primarily at the local Filipino community. They do a Sunday buffet for £9.99.

913 Garratt Lane, SW17 0LT (nearest Tube Tooting Broadway), 020 8672 4363

 

Nilo’s

Word has trickled down out of Kilburn of a decent Filipino restaurant that goes by the name of Nilo’s. I am yet to make it up there, but I am eager to give their traditional Filipino offerings a good go.

11 Willesden Lane, NW6 7RB (nearest Tube Kilburn/Brondesbury), 020 7625 1118 https://www.facebook.com/Nilos-Restaurant-427641133948259/timeline/

 

Romulo Café

This one is actually quite an exciting one – Romulo Café is a well-established chain of refined home-cooking back in Manila that is now taking its first steps into Europe. They have just opened their doors on Kensington High Street after a very busy soft opening, so get down there now!

Filipino - Romulo Cafe

Feasting at Romulo Café in Manila

I absolutely loved these guys when I visited them in Manila back in October 2013, where I savoured their signature dishes like chicken relleno, boneless crispy pata binagoongan and beef kaldereta with keso de bola.

Whilst the London menu is a slimmed down version of the Manila one and the presentation and ingredients does differ slightly (well, we are in the UK after all), you can still get that chicken relleno, that crispy pata and an absolutely delightful halo-halo, amongst a whole range of other delights. Well done to young Chef Lorenzo, who travelled out to Manila to learn the secrets of the Romulo family.

343 Kensington High Street, W8 6NW (nearest Tube High Street Kensington/Kensington Olympia), 020 3141 6390 http://www.romulocafe.co.uk/

 

Sunrise Jacket Potato and Oriental Food

This is an odd one, in that it appears to have started life as a shopping mall jacket potato stall, but has now morphed into a jacket potato, pan-European, pan-Asian AND Filipino vendor.

A staple of Filipinos in Romford, Sunrise can fix you up with adobo, bopis, sisig, lechon paksiw and other cheap delights.

Unit 103, Romford Shopping Hall, RM1 3AB (nearest station Romford), 07805 818 586 https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g580427-d5815718-Reviews-Sunrise_Jacket_Potato_and_Oriental_Food-Romford_Greater_London_England.html

 

Tapsilogan sa Tooting Express

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Tapsilogan sa Tooting Express

A recent discovery in Tooting Market, this hole-in-the-wall kitchen specialises in the –silog breakfast dishes. At £3.50 for a plate of tapsilog that was actually rather more-ish, it’s hard to resist snacking at this south London secret.

Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High Street, SW17 0SN (nearest Tube Tooting Broadway)

 

 

Other

 

Barako Bean

The Philippines used to be well-known for coffee, and for one coffee in particular – barako. Roughly translating as ‘stud’, barako is the local variant of Liberica coffee, an exceedingly rare breed that has long been outshone by the easier-to-cultivate Arabica and Robusta beans.

Filipino - Barako Bean

The Barako Bean hamper. Photo courtesy of Barako Bean website

Jovan and Omar were therefore pleasantly surprised to stumble across barako in Batangas, where it is prevalent, never having heard of it before. Keen to share their new-found love of this bean, they now import it and roast it here – all for home delivery. And, with the arrival of Romulo Café in London, Barako Bean have been given the opportunity to expand their wholesale operations, supplying Romulo with its very own supply of barako.

Check out their website for their latest deals.

http://barakobean.com/

 

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Any Filipino restaurants / market stalls / pop-ups / supper clubs that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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Currently listening to: Coheed and Cambria – You Got Spirit, Kid [TOTES AMAZING I’M SO EXCITED FOR THE NEW ALBUM YOU NEED TO CHECK THIS SONG OUT YES YES]

Categories: Filipino, Pop-Up, Supper Club | Tags: , | 5 Comments

On food culture and the ‘authenticity’ of food

internet

Whilst browsing Facebook during lunchbreak, I happened across an article that had been shared by some fellow Filipino foodies. It was a short promotional article in Afar Magazine, detailing Aashi Vel of Traveling Spoon’s trip to the Philippines and the subsequent expansion of her business there. In essence, Traveling Spoon offers unique culinary experiences in a select number of countries, whereby travellers can connect with home cooks and eat in their homes.

“Discover an authentic culinary experience with the best home cooks around the world”

Sounds pretty cool, no? So it was interesting to see what she thought of the Philippines’ culinary scene.

Alas, it becomes quite clear from the article that she very nearly did not have a good time of it at all. She was only rescued by two of the hosts now signed up to Traveling Spoon, who cooked for and fed her their family dishes. Because of this experience, she came to the conclusion that, to quote the article, “to get a real taste of Filipino food that truly reflects its history, you have to step inside a local home… [because] It’s still difficult to find restaurants that serve ‘authentic’ Filipino cuisine in the Philippines”. This, in her mind, makes Traveling Spoon’s mission in the Philippines crucial, because they are all about offering people ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ food experiences.

As someone who’s always enjoyed his food journeys around the Philippines and is really excited by the restaurant scene in Manila, this bold statement comes across as a bit iffy. I felt a bit puzzled about the article and left it alone, but the more I thought about it, the more my puzzlement turned into a mild sense of indignation. How can someone, an outsider, who seems to be still growing in their understanding of Filipino food, cast such generalised and damning judgement upon the entire restaurant scene of a nation of 7,107 islands and 100 million people?

And so I started writing my thoughts down, and compiling them into an essay of sorts. Want to have a read? Just click on the link!

Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Riding Shotgun: Catching up over Filipino at Kalesa

Copyright of Kalesa. Sourced from Kalesa website

Copyright of Kalesa. Sourced from Kalesa website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 59 Lavender Hill, SW11 5QN

Area: Battersea

Nearest Station: Clapham Junction/Clapham Common

Tel.: 020 3417 5639

Website: http://www.kalesa.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Comfort food, Casual dining, Taste of home, Introduction to new cuisines

You know how I am with my Filipino food. Always banging on and on about it, telling people how good it is, how it’s overlooked gabba gabba hey.

But without somewhere proper to actually take people to so that they can try the real deal, that doesn’t involve me having to cook it all (though The Adobros are pretty good BOOOM), it all becomes a bit problematic to convince the good people of London of the merits of Filipino food… we have a bit of a dearth of good Filipino restaurants in town.

And so here steps up Kalesa to give it all a good shot. Some friends had been here for a breakfast last year, and whilst we all know that Filipino breakfasts are automatically the Breakfasts of Champions and hence amazing (see shamelessly self-promoting photo below), these friends had relayed to me that Kalesa’s version was actually pretty decent.

Enlisting the help of two good friends of mine – an Irish couple who, though not being massively experienced in the ways of world food, are certainly game to try anything – I finally got myself into gear and made it down one fine and balmy August evening and made the long trek to the far end of Lavender Hill from Clapham Junction.

Even though from the outside, the place is nothing special (it’s got that very neighbourhood-café-on-the-cheap feel about it, with added tropical decorations), once through the door the welcome was extremely warm, if a little shy. The guys here are evidently doing their bit to show off the good side of Filipinos and the Philippines – apart from the Filipino hospitality, there are photos and brochures (courtesy of the Department of Tourism) all over the place displaying enticing scenes of white beaches, verdant hillsides, exotic wildlife, fresh produce… oh, to be in the Philippines right now!

But we are in the Battersea/Clapham borderlands, on the drab Lavender Hill. Will Kalesa’s food be able to transport us to the tropics?

Laing: First up on the menu is laing. A dish from the Bicol region, it is typically taro leaves stewed with garlic and chilli in coconut milk. As an aside, I’ve always wondered why chillies never took as big a hold in the Philippines as elsewhere in Asia – after all, chilli was ‘discovered’ by the Spanish in Mexico, and the Manila-Acapulco Galleon was the primary trade route between the Americas and Asia… I digress. Back to Kalesa, and their take on a Bicolano favourite. It was creamy, sweet, savoury and just the right level of spice; additionally, the taro leaves were of the right consistency – think creamed spinach. I was pretty happy with what we had, and so were my friends.

Laing and pakbet - so dainty!

Laing and pakbet – so dainty!

Pakbet: Pakbet, or in its longer form, pinakbet (which I am told is itself a shortened version of the Ilocano word, pinakebbet, meaning shriveled), is a vegetable sauté/stew, often including bitter melon (ampalaya) and flavoured with fermented shrimp paste (bagoong). Still interested? You should be. Again, the vegetables were the right texture, retaining some bite despite being stewed and steeped for some time, and the bagoong provided enough savouriness without being overpowering. And again, it was a hit with my friends, despite their having had no prior idea of what fermented shrimp paste should look, smell or taste like. Perhaps what helped was the liberal smattering of crispy pork belly (lechon kawali), which we ordered as an addition to the pakbet. Before you ask, pork and shrimp is actually a well-established food combination in the Philippines (you will see pork binagoongan i.e. pork cooked in bagoong on many a menu out there), and it’s a brilliant one. The lechon kawali was excellently crispy, providing a good and meaty texture to the stew in all the right ways.

Sizzling Pork Sisig: Ahh, sisig. How do we get the world to love you? After all, people readily eat ox cheek, they have crispy pig ears… so it’s really not that much of a leap to consider eating pig head, is it? Sisig is finely diced pig head – jowls, ears, snout and all – that is cooked with citrus, garlic and chilli, and often served very crispy on a sizzling platter. It is an unapologetic dish, packed full of flavour and texture. Kalesa had it all: the zing of the lemon, the piquancy of the chilli, the savoury depth of the pork, the crispy fried bits and the chewiness of the cartilage. Mix it all in with plain steamed rice, and what you have is good ol’ comfort food. However, I do prefer my sisig to be crispier (Kalesa falls short here), as I can understand how the cartilage can throw some people (myself included) off, but let me tell you: my friends LOVED it. Absolutely LOVED it. It was, in my friend’s softly-spoken and compellingly comforting Belfast brogue, “the best dish of the night”. I think that says it all, really.

Giving the sizzling pig head a good mix-mix

Giving the sizzling pig head a good mix-mix

Leche Flan: My friends may have spoken prematurely, for the leche flan of Kalesa was a brilliant way to end our gastronomic journey through the Philippines, which had so far taken in Bicol, Ilocos and Pampanga. For the uninitiated, leche flan is the Filipino take on Spanish crème caramels, except significantly richer – what, why wouldn’t you use condensed milk instead of regular milk or cream?? Kalesa’s version sat very prettily on its plate, the top that perfect caramelised amber colour and the rest a creamy yellow. Once that spoon went in, you could feel the dense creaminess of the flan, which just melted away in your mouth. It was delightful. It was rich. It was good.

Leche flan. Decadence!

Leche flan. Decadence!

 

And so we left Kalesa on good terms with the place; I felt pretty pleased with the restaurant’s efforts to provide a good introduction to the dishes (the menu descriptions read very well, and even indicate which part of the Philippines the dishes come from), and my friends were glad that I had brought a potential new ‘local’ to their attention.

 

VERDICT – A good place. With a cheery neighbourhood vibe and, most importantly, hearty and fulfilling dishes that are actually well-executed, Kalesa has propelled itself to the top of my list of Filipino restaurants to eat out at in London. Shame it’s not the best-located place; it is, however, definitely worth the visit.

Currently listening to: Protest the Hero – Mist

Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Prost! Berlin Hustles Harder: Part One

Boy Mestizo’s food (and drink) adventures in Berlin

 

When people ask me how my recent trip to Berlin was, I recount the moment when my friend, having just had a digestive post-lunch nap in Kollwitzplatz, opened her bleary eyes, propped herself up on her elbows in the grass, looked up at the blazingly blue sky, and said thus:

“Mark, I want to live in Berlin now. It’s like London, but less insanely busy. Mark, can I live here now, please?? I can get a tech job, learn enough German to get by, have a dog… Mark, let’s all move to Berlin!”

One could therefore draw the conclusion that we may have had a good time out there (just).

Before we had gone, though, a friend of ours had mentioned that unless we loved house music, we’d hate Berlin; another had called it the Shoreditch of Germany, contrasting it against the Kensington & Chelsea of Germany (Munich, of course).

But what we were finding was that there was a lot of variety and a lot of different characters all across the city – from the smart and preppy Friedrichstadt to the leafy and wealthy calmness of Charlottenburg, to the grime and edginess of Friedrichshain, there was a lot going on everywhere. It was, as my travelling companion had very boldly stated, like a quieter and less hectic London.

The eclecticism was reflected in the food and drink we enjoyed whilst out there – although we stuck primarily to the German classics, the delivery and packaging made all the difference. So, let us begin with this non-comprehensive guide of good eats and fine drinks in Berlin.

 

Dom Curry

Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin

The first food to pass our lips in Berlin was, of course, that firm Berliner favourite: the currywurst.

Dom Curry: feeling a bit wurst for wear after our flight...!

Dom Curry: feeling a bit wurst for wear after our flight…!

Our choice of Dom Curry, a simple fast food stall in Gendarmenmarkt, was based purely on the fact that it was the nearest snack stall to our flat. However, it was a very serviceable purveyor, probably a bit different from the others in that they also offer a whole range of different mustards (with my banana mustard being pleasingly sweet) to go with their standard wurst and their Brandenburger speciality wursts. So far, so okay – but let us not forget to mention their fries, which were delightfully crunchy and textured, if perhaps a little over-salted.

Welcome to Gendarmenmarkt

Welcome to Gendarmenmarkt

However, the real clincher for your visit to Dom Curry would be the fact that you can enjoy your currywurst whilst sipping a beer and admiring the views of the beautiful French and German cathedrals that frame Gendarmenmarkt, one of the key highlights of Friedrichstadt.

 

Capital Beach Bar

Ludwig-Erhardt-Ufer, 10557 Berlin

Having been frustrated in our efforts to visit the Reichstag (not knowing that we needed to make a booking to visit the dome, silly us…), we decided to aimlessly stroll through the adjoining gardens towards the river. There, to our pleasant surprise, we found the Capital Beach – a pathway and embankment by the River Spree that had been jam-packed with bars, food stalls and deckchairs.

Beer, deckchairs and sunshine. Perfection

Beer, deckchairs and sunshine. Perfection

One of Berlin’s urban ‘beaches’, Capital Beach is open just for the summer, so as far as we were concerned our visit was very timely. It just so happened that it was Beer O’Clock as well, so of course we had to settle ourselves down on some of the deckchairs on the grassy bank sloping towards the river.

Prost!

Bottoms up!

Here I had my first taste of Schöfferhoffer hefeweizen, a Frankfurter wheat beer: crisp, fresh, ever-so-slightly citrusy; it was the perfect beer for a warm summer’s day.

It may not be much of a beach, but when you have deckchairs, sunshine and beer involved, you’ll feel exactly like you’re on the French Riviera (maybe). Catch it while you can – prost!

 

Friedrichs 106

Friedrichstraβe 106, 10117 Berlin, +49 30 40520594, http://www.friedrichs106.de/

Feeling rather cheery after our beers at the Capital Beach, we took a stroll along the River Spree, enjoying the cool evening sun and breeze and taking in the modern sights. We talked of life, we talked of love, we talked of the future – but as we passed more and more riverside eateries, with the smells of grilled meat wafting their ways towards us, our conversation eventually turned to food. Finding ourselves by the Friedrichstraβe bridge, we felt that Friedrichs 106 looked like a decent enough option for that night’s dinner.

Certainly not Alte Berlin

Certainly not Alte Berlin

It’s an attractive traditional Viennese restaurant perched right by the bridge, with nice views towards the northern end of Museuminsel. With deep booths, a long classical bar and some uniformed garçons et demoiselles, Friedrichs 106 offers up a taste of a proper continental bistro – not quite the Berlin we were led to believe existed.

Bendy. Sourced from Friedrichs 106 website!

Bendy. Sourced from Friedrichs 106 website!

Grabbing a table on the terrace, we warmed ourselves with a couple of glasses of German rotwein and watched the sun go down. It was a pleasant and genteel atmosphere, aided by our merry temperaments – but it most definitely helpful that the food was pretty good too.

Geschmortes Jungbullenbäckchen auf Sellerie-Salz-Karamell mit Bergkäseknödel und rotem Mangold... translate that!

Geschmortes Jungbullenbäckchen
auf Sellerie-Salz-Karamell mit Bergkäseknödel
und rotem Mangold… translate that!

My friend’s flammkuchen was crunchy and lavished with toppings, whilst my braised ox cheek was so tender and moist, and doused in an extremely savoury and rich celery-salt-caramel sauce, a surprisingly good combination. Coming with a soft and substantial Bergkäseknodel (mountain cheese dumpling) and a smattering of red chard, my ox cheek was a definite winner of a dinner. A delightful meal overall.

 

Blechbilderbar

Simon-Dach-Straβe 35, 10245 Berlin, +49 30 2913863

Transport yourself away from the pretty cobblestones of Friedrichstadt, all the way across the Spree, Museuminsel and Alte Berlin, and you find yourself in the graffiti-strewn pavements of Friedrichshain, where we must have counted nearly ten dreadlocked men and women playing either guitars or accordions by actual barrel fires.

“What’s happening here?”

“This… this is counterculture in action”

We were here to meet my old friend for a drink, and had been directed to Blechbilderbar on Simon-Dach-Straβe. Having been previously told by her that this was one of the places to go out in Berlin, when we finally got there I was finding it hard to picture her as the type to hang out with the overly-bearded hippies – my mum had once commented, in a very complimentary fashion, that she dressed like a very classy grandmother – and was sort of wishing that I hadn’t overdressed myself.

But that was the nice thing about Berlin – it was so achingly hip and avant garde, but no one seemed to care about it. It was all so effortless and… non-judgemental.

However, I do reserve my judgement about a German alcoholic concoction that another friend had led me to believe would be mind-blowing – the Diesel or, as we would probably see it, perfectly good beer ruined with Coke. Nah, actually, it wasn’t that bad, but it was weird.

Beer and bricks. Photo courtesy of Tiana Kai's blog http://blog.tianakai.com/2013/04/berlin-to-dos/#.U7yAnrHCcqd

Beer and bricks. Photo courtesy of Tiana Kai’s blog

The other cocktails, of which there were perhaps a few too many, conversely were rather well-put together – and strong. And, from what I remember, rather cheap. So, whilst my travel buddy was being a cheap date and finding herself drowsy and a bit drunk, I was able to take in a bit of the bar’s setting: exposed brickwork everywhere, shabby chic furniture, pictures within frames within other frames, random art pieces hanging around, chalk sprawled across the walls… yup, this was a place with character.

It was a good night cap, and a great way to end our first action-packed and alcohol-fuelled day in Berlin. And, rather nicely, the last-minute visit to Blechbilderbar did help me to fulfil my prophecy from the night before:

I may have a somewhat... skewed idea of what Berlin is like

I may have a somewhat… skewed idea of what Berlin is like

Wunderbar!

Currently listening to: Smoke or Fire – Irish Handcuffs

Categories: Beer, Cocktail Bar, German | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from the Old Country: Don Papa, a Filipino Rum

Back in October last year, my brother and I found ourselves chilling out in Manila, catching up with our old friend Art, who’d left London a couple of years ago. Whilst reminiscing over past good times and playing with one of my favourite cats ever (hello Fanta!), Art popped into the kitchen for a moment, re-emerging with a squat bottle filled with a rich, red-brown liquid.

There we go, I've done it - I've finally put a cat picture up on the internetz

There we go, I’ve done it – I’ve finally put a cat picture up on the internetz

“Dude, have you met Don Papa yet?”

My eyes lit up with excitement: I’d heard of this Don Papa previously on the Twitter grapevine, and now I had the opportunity to meet him in the flesh. Oh, I was giddy.

As a bit of background, Don Papa was one of the noms de guerre of Papa Isio, a revolutionary who fought against both the Spanish and the Americans during the tumultuous and ultimately unsuccessful Filipino wars of independence. Like many revolutionary leaders of the time, he came to a rather unfortunate end at the hands of the American conquerors.

But, for our purposes, Don Papa is also the name of the Philippines’ first premium small batch rum, made in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon on Negros Island. Given that the Philippines is awash with sugar and there are a large numbers of rums swilling around the country (including a good favourite of mine and staple of The Adobros Supper Club when we have it, Tanduay), this is rather surprising.

Mount Kanlaon towers above the sugar fields of Negros

Mount Kanlaon towers above the sugar fields of Negros

According to their blurb, Don Papa is aged in oak barrels for a good seven years before it’s blended and distributed, which means that this brainchild of Englishman Stephen Carroll has been a long time in the making.

And you can certainly tell that it makes a difference. Being used to the simple and cheap pleasures of Tanduay (best enjoyed with Coke or ginger beer, with a twist of calamansi), I really wasn’t ready for the much richer and more developed flavours brought to the table by the Don.

As soon as you pop that cork open and take a sniff, you are hit with smooth and delectable hints of vanilla. This velvety flavour really comes out when you have Don Papa on the rocks – something that I, as a relatively uncultured rum drinker, would never have done before. But, when added to Coke, you have a most amazing alcoholic vanilla Coke combination, all without the horrid cloyingness of actual Vanilla Coke. That night was a good one!

Welcoming Don Papa to our humble abode in London

Welcoming Don Papa to our humble abode in London

My brother and I were so enamoured of the Don that we just had to take a bottle back home with us. But every time we enjoyed a drop, it was always done so with a bittersweet feeling deep within: without a place to buy Don Papa in London, our joy would be ephemeral, like tears in the rain. Such sad times and disappointment awaited us…

************

Some months later, again word trickled along the Twitter grapevine concerning Don Papa, namely that this rum would finally be coming to London, with a glitzy launch lined up in May. This was très exciting…!

Say hello to the Don

Say hello to the Don

So, after getting our invites through the post, we made our way to Trailer Happiness on Portobello Road, the home of the Notting Hill Rum Club and hence the perfect place to be the unofficial UK HQ of the Don. Upon descending the steps into the darkened and moody cellar, we were introduced to Stephen, who welcomed us heartily and directed us straight to the bar where three different cocktails utilising Don Papa awaited us. Straight to the point!

And so, how does one enjoy Don Papa? In many ways, eh! The three on the night are below:

Don Papa Old-Fashioned

Don Papa Old-Fashioned

Don Papa Old-Fashioned

Venus Sour

Venus Sour

Venus Sour

Don Papa Julep

Don Papa Julep

Don Papa Julep

I think the Old-Fashioned was the best of the bunch, and as it was free flow all night (who thought that’d be good on a Tuesday night!?), we were certainly able to enjoy a large number of fine cocktails crafted by the talented bartenders at Trailer Happiness, who all seemed to be really enjoying themselves (see here about my views on becoming a bartender).

All in all, it was a fun-and-booze-filled night that gave the Don a grand welcome to this country. Judging from the fact that all of the goodie bags had been rifled through for the small giveaway bottles (whoever you are, I AM COMING FOR YOU), I think that the crowd of foodies, drinkies, industry types, trade professionals and everyone else very much enjoyed drinking Don Papa in its many incarnations. Or, at the very least, everyone just got really hammered.

All of this makes me very happy. As a promoter of all good things Filipino, I am DAMN excited by the idea that a product of such quality and character is gracing the UK and showing off a great side of the Philippines. I really want to see this Filipino product become a best-seller in this country and would happily develop cirrhosis if that would help the cause.

And so, if you want to actually boost the Don’s standing in this country without my having to resort to liver damage, I believe that you can buy it in Harvey Nichols, The Whisky Exchange and elsewhere. And, if you are being extra nice, you can send me a little commission payment too, you know, for the referral. Because we’re all friends here, right?

 

Currently listening to: Taken by Cars – December 2 Chapter VII

Categories: Cocktail Bar, Filipino | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment