Restaurants / Bars

Try This: Blocleaf Café Juggles Japanese-Influenced Design with Distinctly Filipino Flavors

November 2, 2017

Stepping into Blocleaf Café evokes the experience of being in the coffee shops of the Land of the Rising Sun, with wooden tables and panels of clean-cut edges lined up in perfect symmetry with one another. Occasional splashes of color come via potted plants lining a number of the café’s corners, breathing life into the predominantly zen oasis. A clear glass window allows natural light into their premises, and though small, the café manages to feel spacious thanks to its minimalist structure and way of incorporating elements found in nature.

L: Fellow owner Vince Africa is said to have been into taking care of plants lately, thus wanting to incorporate them into the Blocleaf design. | R: Order up from the Blocleaf counter.

“We’re heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics,” reveals co-owner Reymart Cerin. Hailing from a design background along with the three other co-owners (who also own a design studio called The Public School Manila), he shares that their design process generally takes after the minimalist but functional design the said country is known for. Surprisingly however, Blocleaf was originally intended not as a café, but as a furniture line: “We wanted to introduce furniture with plants incorporated into the furniture pieces [themselves] . . . [so as the name ‘Bloc–leaf’ implies] you’d have wooden blocks and leaves.” The café component was only meant to be a complement to the original idea where they would display and test prototypes of their furniture designs, but as a friend who worked for Hop Inn presented them with the opportunity to open a coffee shop along the hotel’s premises, they decided to take the offer—a decision which, given their current following and presence of repeat customers, looks to have paid off.

The clear glass panel lets the sunlight into Blocleaf’s premises.

Na-inspire kami (‘we got inspired’) with [the likes of] Café Kitsune [and] the way they incorporate their brand into their coffeeshop . . . it’s actually complementary to the brand itself, especially if you’re introducing a lifestyle also.”

You’ll find many global influences around the café, including the addition of a sizable collection of magazines from different parts of the world, as well as occasional offerings of tea blends from other countries (“we try to bring [tea] back from travels,” shares Cerin). But make no mistake: Blocleaf also aims to showcase the Philippines’ best in other ways, sourcing components locally where possible. Specialty coffee comes via Kalsada Coffee, who delivers freshly-roasted beans, primarily from Benguet, on a weekly basis. “Instead of buying coffee from the farmers, they actually support their ways of living, the way they farm, everything [in the whole] process . . . so we wanted to support their cause,” explains Cerin. On the short but ample menu you’ll find items with distinctly Filipino touches to them, such as pasta with longganisa and tuyo. Elsewhere, Blocleaf keeps the experience “intimate” by sourcing other parts from their own close friends: cakes and pastries via a friend whose mom bakes especially for the café, and even the tissues and napkins from close friends who do the printing. “The type of culture we want here in the café [is one where] . . . everything is personal.”

While the distinct ambience of Blocleaf is no doubt already worth a trip in itself, you’ll also find stellar gems on the menu worthy of their own time in the spotlight. Here are our picks:

Tuyo Puttanesca

“Since we’re located in Malate, we wanted to highlight local flavors,” shares Cerin. “But we didn’t want to oversell it,” he continues, explaining that they meant to incorporate Filipino elements in ways that felt more natural than forced. In the case of this dish, our own tuyo takes the place of the classic Italian sauce’s more traditional use of anchovies. “We highlight tuyo, but it doesn’t have to taste like tuyo,” remarks Cerin. The resulting sauce takes on a welcome chunkiness with the dried fish’s subtle umami weaving through the tomato-based sauce’s always-comforting profile. Served on al dente fusilli whose inner nooks and edges help capture every last bit of sauce, this simple but satisfying dish successfully portrays Mediterranean and Filipino flavors in equal harmony.

Mocha

Past the picture-perfect latte art crowning its deep, dark brown body, Blocleaf’s take on the classic chocolate-coffee beverage is anything but ordinary. You get the expected bittersweet creaminess—but also, a pronounced robustness that gives it a more distinctive rustic character compared to other versions. “It has tablea in it,” reveals Cerin. Sourced from Davao and Bohol, the Filipino cacao-based ingredient makes for a rougher, burlier edge that works well with the spicy, slightly fruity profile of its Kalsada Coffee base.


Blocleaf Café

A café in Malate heralded for its stellar interiors, offering specialty brews from Kalsada Coffee and other dishes with Filipino elements.

ADDRESS: Ground Floor, Hop Inn Hotel, 1850 M.H. Del Pilar Street, Malate, Manila
VISIT: 8AM-9PM Sundays to Thursdays / 8AM-10PM Fridays and Saturdays
SPEND: PHP 100-150 for coffee or other beverages; PHP 150-250 for pastries and light meals
FOLLOW: FacebookInstagram

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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