2/F Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati City
Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Sunday to Thursday) and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Friday and Saturday)
(SPOT.ph) If their stylish interiors aren’t enough to pique your interest, then it might be their familiar name that would most likely make you come inside. Bench Café is from the same family of homegrown fashion line Bench, which started over 30 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a giant lifestyle brand with a salon, barbershop, and now, a restaurant, which first opened in 2018 in BGC.
Now, residents, cubicle-dwellers, and mall-goers in the Makati CBD can finally get a taste of the restaurant’s modern Filipino cuisine through their second branch at Greenbelt—the menu still offers the same, familiar flavors of home-cooked meals presented in a modern way.
In fact, Bench Café’s signature dishes reflect the sleek vibe of the restaurant, which is accentuated by monochromatic geometric floor patterns juxtaposed with tropical wallpaper prints, plus walls peppered with mirrors, neon lights, and framed statement artworks. It’s safe to say it’s unlike other conventional Filipino restaurants that are heavy on the woodwork and native details. Bench Café is the kind of place where a big group can share a family-style meal, office workers can grab a quick lunch, or solo diners can enjoy a set meal or have a leisurely merienda.
“What I wanted to do was come up with that quintessential Filipino taste profile but do it in my way. Whatever I handle, I have to personalize somehow,” shares Corporate Executive Chef of Foodee Group Concepts, Carlo Miguel.
One of his creations is the BENCH-TO set meals, which allow diners to get a little taste of everything in one order. Choose from eight kinds of meals, all come with a slew of veggies, their signature salsa, atchara, and steamed Ifugao rice. The Bangus Ala Pobre BENCH-TO (P289), for one, will remind you of bistek, or flavors you probably grew up with. It uses bangus cooked in a light but savory soy-butter-garlic marinade to complement the fish’s rich and fatty meat. You can upgrade it to Aligue Rice for just P20 for a flavor explosion that’ll amp up your usual solo lunch out.
If you’re dining with a group, you can split the appetizers, like the Tinapa Cones (P129), while waiting for the main course. Picture crispy, deep-fried, and cone-shaped lumpia wrapper filled with a robust smoked-fish mousse and topped with salsa made with salted-egg bits, onions, calamansi, and good ol’ fish sauce for that punch of umami—your palate will be pleasantly surprised after that first bite.
The Pork Belly Sinigang sa Mansanas (P320) is another surprising addition to your usual lunch order. Bench Café’s take on sinigang has just the right level of sourness—not too overpowering nor lacking, but you might detect a slightly different flavor, thanks to sweet-sour green apples.
According to Chef Carlo, “I was playing around with kamias and I found that the flavor of kamias and green apple was so complementary to each other.” The chef uses a sinigang base of puréed kamias and green apples, which they combine with your choice of protein such as bangus belly, sugpo, and beef tadyang. Incidentally, the chef mostly grew up eating the beef ribs version since Australia is known for their high-quality beef. “A lot of [the inspiration] came from my experiences watching my mom cook when she was young,” he says.
Other must-try dishes are the Beef Kaldereta (P480), a classic take on the rich and sweet-tangy tomato sauce-braised beef-brisket stew that’s finished with liver pate and cheddar cheese; Gising Gising (P195), or chopped string beans and sigarilyas stewed in a creamy coconut milk sauce and chili for a fiery note; and Pinakbet Specialty Rice (P69/solo, P139/family), which is your traditional garlic rice but stir-fried with shrimp paste to punctuate each bite, as well as ampalaya, squash, okra, and string bean bits.
Something that you might want to keep for yourself is the mouthwatering Sugpo sa Talangka (P480) with its fatty, heart-stopping aligue dressing and tangy mayo for extra depth. For sure, you’ll love every bite of grilled prawn that’s made more decadent with its creamy crab-fat mayonnaise.
A delicious partner for that is the Pancit Sisig (P179), where the al-dente stir-fried egg noodles are made bolder with minced pork cheek and veggies. Chef Carlo doesn’t just boil and fry the pork cheeks to create the sisig, but he takes time to oven-bake it for six hours so the flavors from vinegar, ginger, onions, chilies, and fish sauce would really permeate the meat.
Those craving breakfast food do not need to look further since Bench Café also has something called the Bongalmusal (P349). It’s practically a breakfast of champions with Spam, U.S. beef tapa, tocino, daing na bangus, and savory corned beef in one big plate. Served with a heaping mound of garlic rice, two sunny-side-up eggs, roasted tomatoes, and homemade atchara, the order can feed two hungry adults. And the best thing about it? It’s available all day.
But if you happen to be there for a quick snack or just dessert, the Ube Halo-Halo (P95/12oz, P149/16oz) will hit all the right spots. Instead of just plain shaved ice, this version uses ube-flavored ice (hence the deep purple color). It has the usual halo-halo suspects like garbanzos, caramelized banana, ube halaya, palm beans, nata de coco, and milky leche flan. You’ll love the smooth texture of the ice since the restaurant uses a snow ice machine similar to a bingsu ice shaver. Another sweet Filipino treat is the Mango Otap (P90/12oz, P139/16oz), where mango shaved ice and Shamrock Otap are in the limelight. The mango purée, cream, and fresh mango cubes come together in a cup of sweet, cool, and creamy mess.
Bench Café will be opening over five more branches across the Metro within the year—and while Filipino food isn’t a top-of-mind option when going out with friends, the restaurant’s cool and young vibe, not to mention their fun, new take on food we grew up eating, might just be the start of it.
Photos by Majoy Siason