In the span of just a few years, it seems like everyone in Manila has become a “foodie.” Filipinos have always had a love for food, but in this day and age, where sharing your food on Instagram or blogging about your meal has become ubiquitous, there is now an entirely different food scene. Restaurateurs have taken advantage of this, with new places opening almost every week, mostly cut from the cloth of what is trending worldwide—third-wave coffee, Pan-Asian for example. Here’s a cheat sheet on a few of this year’s trends in Manila, and where you should be heading to get them.
1. Going Local
It was back in 2013 when Andrew Zimmern declared Filipino food the next big thing. It isn’t just about the flavors, but about our intriguing produce as well—calamansi for example, has graced the menus of Jason Atherton’s restaurants among others. Back home we have a renewed local movement, an attempt to shine the spotlight on local farmers, and the many edibles that are native to our shores.
Black Sheep and The Gallery at Vask are using these ingredients in upscale degustations (for example, Chef Chele Gonzalez’s binulo with the mountain-grown kalibangbang), while Purple Yam’s menu is Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s ode to the many discoveries they’ve made on trips around the islands (like curds made with dayap). More farms are putting up retail stores around the metro, such as Down to Earth, and Ritual’s admirable dedication has resulted in native carabao’s butter, and more.
2. South America
Until recently, the only Latin American cuisine that was making it’s mark in Manila came from Mexico. Yes, the food is awesome, but it’s only a gateway to all the complexity Latin American flavors can really have. Finally, there have been a crop of places serving up more than just standard Tex-Mex fare, from new Argentinian import La Cabrera, to the casual fast food of Brasas.
There’s Señor Pollo by the guys behind El Chupacabra, a joint that specializes in roast and fried Latin chicken; Gaucho, whose take on Argentinian might even be better than the imports, and Sofrito, a Puerto Rican cantina underneath a barbershop, with a laidback, authentic vibe.
3. Chocolate on Chocolate
Let me get this straight: chocolate has always been a thing. Recently however, the trend has taken one of our simplest treasures into even more indulgent heights: by packing it on layer after layer. Cocoa connoisseurs know that every type of chocolate has a different flavor and complexity to them, so pairing a bittersweet bar with waxy cocoa butter can produce mind-blowing results.
The best version would have to be The Bowery’s 7-Layer Cake, which I waxed lyrical about over a month ago. They’ve also got indulgent versions in Rambla and Todd English, none of which measure up to that of The Bowery.
Everyone is talking about organic, but the trends of juicing and healthy eating have become so popular that whole restaurants have opened up devoted to the stuff. There’s still a struggle to reunite good flavor with the healthy lifestyle, but there is hope yet with a rumored restaurant fronted by Bianca Mabanta and Ramon Antonio that might prove meat-eaters wrong.
Healthy and Tasty
Healthy Juju Eats is a simple salad takeaway place that mimics the salad bars in London, with endless options and prices that are friendlier than the other healthy lifestyle-driven joints out there. Earth Kitchen might be a drive away for Makati dwellers, but some of their dishes are worth the mileage.
5. Craft Cocktails
Before the trend of craft cocktails, some of the country’s best bartenders remained inaccessible and behind restaurant or hotel bars. Now, they are front and center, and changing the way we drink on a night out. In this space: craft beer and the eve growing crop of home brewers.
Take a Swig
There’s a lot of cocktail bars out there but Curator’s libations remain the best of the lot, even though some are put off by the list of rules. Black Pig and Finders Keepers’ moody atmosphere are perfect companions to a night out.
6. In-house Pastries
Forget the stale bread basket: it has now become almost customary to serve excellent pastries—homemade ones at that—to your customers. Now burgers aren’t complete with brioche or buns according to the chefs recipe, or baos made by hand.
Wildflour’s pastry board remains unbeatable, but Cuit Kauffman of the group behind Nolita makes some excellent ones as well, like a stunning brioche and the best bagels in town.
7. Third-wave Coffee
Goodbye Starbucks: the Filipino coffee drinker has now become incredibly discerning with their choice of brew. No longer satisfied with just a frappucino or latte, the third-wave coffee movement is now growing stronger than ever, keeping citizens well-caffeinated.
The Curator, Yardstick, EDSA BDG, Toby’s Estate, and Magnum Opus still hold the market share for excellent coffee, but newcomers Local Edition and Habitual Coffee are now gaining a steady neighborhood following.
8. Hipster Aesthetic
This is the design takeover of the modern restaurateur world, leaving posh dining rooms and gastropubs in the wake. Look for exposed beams, dark wood, moody lighting, stark and sparse accents that are offset with a mural, wall hanging or two.
9. International Franchises
Maybe it has something to do with our fondness for all things imported, but the Manila food scene is now permeated with franchises from countries across the globe. There’s Tim Ho Wan, Teddy’s Burgers, Caliburger, and more, with even a handful of celebrity chefs in the mix.
Linguini Fini from Hong Kong with an ambitious nose-to-tail menu is opening in a few weeks, from the Moment Group. Ippudo, Din Tai Fung, Wolfgang Steakhouse and Nobu are all set to open their doors very soon, while rumours of Panda Express and Shake Shack remain persistent.
10. The Degustation Menu
This is the new era of fine dining in Manila—previously only present in French or Continental restaurants in hotels, many young and new chefs are using the degustation to express themselves and their aesthetic, giving a whole new meaning to the tasting menu.
Bruce Ricketts has brought his fine cooking from BF to BGC, with Mecha Uma, which has him taking the omakase to a new level. There is also The Gallery at Vask, Black Sheep, and The Goose Station churning out degustations in the city.