Bench Cafe—or why fashion is into food, and food is the fashion
In Tokyo’s Ginza district, you can eat and drink in places such as Maison Hermes Le Cafe, Bulgari Il Ristorante, Chanel’s Beige Alain Ducasse Tokyo, Alfred Dunhill, and Furla.
In Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, you’ll find Ralph’s Coffee by Ralph Lauren, The Blue Box Cafe by Tiffany & Co., Emporio Armani Caffè.
There’s Gucci Osteria in Florence, Italy, which opened a few weeks ago; coffee shops by fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Innisfree in China; and Agnes b Cafe by the French brand Agnès b in Causeway, Hong Kong.
As today’s lifestyle is driven more by selfies and social media, food is no longer judged by its taste alone, but also by the design aesthetics of the restaurant. And what better way to create a new and exciting destination than by establishing brand cafes where food experiences are curated by fashion brands themselves?
Leading the way on the local front is Bench Cafe, opening today at the 2/F Bench Flagship Store, 9th Avenue corner Lane O in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
Bench Cafe is under the expert guidance of Manila’s top multibrand food group, FooDee Global Concepts, and kitchen-manned by celebrity chef Carlo Miguel.
“For our 30th anniversary, we decided it was high time to open a true Bench flagship store, a multidimensional, multisensory experience that would express every facet of the brand. Something to make you feel that you’re not just entering a store, you’re entering the Bench universe,” said Ben Chan, chair and founder of Bench and Suyen Corp.
If you love local, you’ll love it here.
“We serve glamorized turo-turo. It’s kanin, two ulam, gulay, and you can upgrade with a sabaw or special rice. It’s a complete meal served on a tray,” said Eric Dee, COO of FooDee Global Concepts.
The food is not prepared like your typical Filipino fare. The Sisig Lettuce Cup—crispy sisig served in a lettuce cup—has calamansi foam instead of the actual calamansi.
Miguel, who studied molecular gastronomy way before it became trendy in the Philippines, opted for the calamansi foam to give it a modern twist.
The sisig is deconstructed, as are most of the items on the menu—it makes for a better platter presentation, Dee said—and comes with its own utak (pig’s brain) aioli.
Restaurants normally scrimp on the utak and serve sisig with mayonnaise, a cheaper alternative. Bench Cafe opted to include this bit of luxury into an appetizer that costs P220.
Instead of boiling the ingredients in one pot, Miguel mixed them with a specially made flavored liquid in a big pan, put all the meat inside, sealed it and cooked it in the oven for six hours. This way the meat slow-roasts in its own juices and becomes tender.
“The flavor stays in the meat that you’re still going to cook with. I like to apply some European technique, pot roast or slow roast, where you use minimal liquid so you don’t get the flavors going out of the meat and not be able to use it again,” Miguel said.
To come up with this technique, Miguel had to study the history of Filipino food. He learned that Pinoy cuisine evolved to suit the culture—dishes were created to feed a lot of people in a short time the cheapest way. That’s why many Filipino recipes call for putting everything in a pot, adding water and boiling it up.
The Western-trained chef had to devise a new way of cooking Filipino food but without sacrificing flavor and aroma. His sous-vide salpicao is made from tender rib fingers. He doesn’t just chop up his meat and throw them in the pan. His barbecue pork belly is likewise sous-vide for 24 hours.
Miguel offers his Filipino version of Caesar salad called Binagoongan Caesar—romaine lettuce with bacon and croutons in a creamy bagoong and queso de bola dressing. The bagoong sauce replaced the anchovy, and parmesan was changed to queso de bola. The notes are still Caesar, but the flavor and culture are now different.
“This is not fusion. This is Filipino food,” said Dee. “Ninety percent of the ingredients are sourced locally. We also consulted with Liquido Maestro in sourcing, that’s why our beans are locally sourced and specifically roasted for us, our latik from a local farmer, our pandan from a local farmer. We just beautified everything.”
In Crispy Dinuguan, pork (innards and mask) is fried separately so the meat retains its golden brown look. The cooked pork will sit on dinuguan (pork blood) sauce slathered on the plate. You still get the crispy pork and crispy tripe, served with Bench’s own salted egg puto made from scratch.
Bench Cafe is about the joys of eating simple Filipino dishes in a retro, 1950s American diner ambiance. There are padded leather couches, bright drop lights, wall posters, reflecting bronze mirrors and a cabinet that showcases cooking apparatus.
The interiors, designed by architect Miguel Pastor, evoke a modern-day diner inspired by bahay na bato.
“I chose the classic Malaga cement tiles, paneled wood wainscoting, grid-lined ceilings and brick walls to warm up the place,” Pastor said. “My take was to combine both moods and create a new environment. I brought back the original Bench green color as a takeoff point to create a new color palette, marrying it with mauve leather seats, metallic gold lamps and cream-colored raw bricks.”
Pastor used gunmetal frames in varying shades of Venetian green glass to serve as dividers between spaces and window screens.
“When I was given the lead by the team, the chef was passionate about how he described the ingredients that make his flying fish, adobo, sisig different from the usual fare. Mr. [Ben] Chan thought that the best way to show this was to create images in the form of art photography that reveals exactly this,” Pastor said.
All product lines
The Bench flagship store has all product lines in one store, plus a Bench Design Studio, a Bench Barbershop, a Bench Fix Salon, and now a Bench Cafe.
There will also be a Bench Cafe halo-halo bar on the ground floor, where Miguel’s already popular halo-halo creations—ube, white and classic—will be served, as well as locally brewed coffee, Flan B (Bench Cafe’s own version of the leche flan), tsoknut ice cream sandwich, special beverages such as Pandan Latik, Ube Tangled Latte, Luzon Double Mocha, Mindanao Hot Choco Latte and Otap Sesame Tsoknut.
Bench Cafe will soon open in other Bench stores and as a standalone restaurant.
“The Bench Flagship store is an expression of our taste—our taste in clothing, interiors, architecture, music, scents, our whole aesthetic. In it, you will find what we consider interesting and beautiful,” Chan said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.