The "Soup-Less" Laksa at Balestier Is Well Worth the Drive
Add this new modern Singaporean eatery to your Marikina restaurants list!
Balestier Cuisine & Drinks
14 Nicanor Roxas Street, Barangay San Roque, Marikina City
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(SPOT.ph) Co-owner and chef Mikee Rodriguez has prepared himself for the inevitable question: Why Balestier? “It’s named after Joseph Balestier—he’s an American consul who used to own a rattan plantation [in Singapore]. And we figured our food is a hodgepodge of food we like, somewhat 'East meets West.' And he’s an American in Singapore, so you could say he’s also East meets West.”
But, to be honest, it’s because he and his partner Mandy Diaz de Rivera fell in love with the food at hawker-laden Balestier Road in the city-state. “I trained there in Balestier Road for a while,” shares Mikee. “And na-enjoy ko 'yong food experience ko. So that’s why I called [our restaurant] Balestier.”
The influence extends to their space: well-lit and minimally designed with industrial influences, reminiscent of the younger and more “hipster” side of Singapore. In fact, Mikee and Mandy share that they were pretty hands-on with the interiors as well as branding for their restaurant, taking inspiration from Singaporean favorites like Tiong Bahru Bakery, Common Man Roasters, and more.
The dishes they’ve cooked up for Balestier are equally personal, a hodgepodge, as Mikee mentioned, of food the two liked. While a cursory glance of their menu may bring the word “fusion” to mind, it’s a label Mikee and Mandy try to veer away from. “For the most part, most of the stuff here is ‘okay we like this, so how do we make it Asian?’” says Mandy.
Bak Kut Teh Risotto
Take the Bak Kut Teh Risotto (P355) for example: “Favorite cuisine ko Italian,” says Mikee, “so kailangan ko maglagay ng Italian.” The result is a unique take on the traditional Chinese herbal soup: still with the strong earthy flavor of a traditional bak kut teh but combined with the rich creaminess of the risotto, with tender pork chunks and mushroom adding body and umami to the dish.
Salted Egg Wings
After having been disappointed by a lot of salted egg-flavored dishes, the Salted Egg Wings (P275) is a take on the trendy flavor that fits the duo’s exact preferences. There’s no question their salted egg sauce comes from real egg yolk, with how rich and thick it is—they use this to coat crispy-fried chicken wings, which they then toss with sliced chili and curry leaves. It’s almost like eating salted egg chips—the good kind, mind you. You’ll end up licking the sauce off your fingers.
Sometimes, Mikee plays around with traditional Singaporean dishes, adding his own fun twist to them. The Laksa Tsukemen (P375) is laksa served tsukemen-style, or with ramen noodles served separately from the broth. “I just really hate soggy noodles,” shares Mikee. The novel presentation not only keeps your ramen noodles from getting too soft, but it also lets you appreciate each component on its own—you’ll want to take in the comforting spiciness of the thick dipping broth, for one—and all together.
Mikee also keeps some of the dishes traditional: He uses the recipe from his family’s other business, Boon Tong Kee, to make their Cereal Prawns (P455), because why mess with a good thing? The result is cereal prawns the way you’re familiar with—crisp with the mild sweetness of cereal floss and some heat from chili and curry leaves—but when it’s done this excellently, you wouldn’t care for bells and whistles.
Their Hainanese Chicken (P315), too, is as no-frills as it can get, but this doesn’t stop it from being a standout. A good measure of a good Hainanese chicken is the rice, and Balestier’s meets all expectations and more: The rice bursts with rich chicken flavor, but doesn’t overpower the fork-tender meat. You’ll want to have this with all three of their sauces, made in-house: ginger, dark soya sauce, and an addicting chili paste.
Unlike, perhaps, bustling Makati or Taguig, it’s still a bit difficult to find restaurants in Marikina that push boundaries in food the way Balestier does. Mikee and Mandy share that they do dream of opening the neighborhood to more unique dining experiences—but like all passion projects, Balestier is simply about bringing forth the food they love. And with dishes this flavorful, we wouldn’t be surprised if more people fell in love with them, too.
Photos by Vincent Coscolluela