By Sonja is the culmination of Sonja Ocampo’s decades of travel, love, and labor

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Tucked away in an unassuming corner of Makati is a place where dessert dreams come to life—literally. By Sonja is the latest resident of the part of Chino Roces that’s become popular for housing some of the best food Manila has to offer. 

The awning is decked out in a simple “By Sonja” sign that signals visitors they’re in the right place. There’s also a touch of France on the hand-painted storefront that proudly declares the shop’s sugary offerings as you enter.

@nolisoli.ph Living our best French cafe fantasy at the newly opened By Sonja at Chino Roces Ave. Extension, Makati 🇫🇷🥖👩‍🎨 #nolisoliph ♬ French scented fashionable accordion waltz(874070) – Single Origin Music

The bakery is a quaint, simply decorated space where the sweets and viennoiserie are the main attraction. The display counter is filled with cakes, bars, and other pastries of all colors, shapes, and sizes. To the right of the counter, there’s a case filled with kouign-amann and croissants both savory and sweet to keep your eyes company as you decide on your treat du jour. 

More than the visual treat, there’s a distinct rich aroma that lingers in the air. A little sniff will treat your nose to the heavenly scent of butter, sugar, and maybe even some joy. Or at least that’s what it felt like to me. 

By Sonja taking its sweet time

By Sonja’s story started long before its doors opened. Over a decade before the bakery, there was a little crepe stall in Makati inspired by her trip to Paris a few years prior. The stall was originally her brother’s school project, but passion for the craft led her to take the creative reins. 

Years went by—and so did life—but Ocampo found her way back to food in 2006 when she launched the first shop of her namesake cupcake brand, Cupcakes by Sonja. Aside from selling cupcakes to sugar-craving children (of which I once was), the brand also created custom orders for weddings and parties. 

“It’s all things that I learned even before I had [Cupcakes by Sonja]. It feels like a lifelong dream in a way; to be doing it.”

The space where the bakery stands has been with Ocampo for five years now, serving as the commissary for Cupcakes by Sonja. It only took a little push for her to decide to pursue other genres of confection. 

 

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A post shared by Cupcakes by Sonja (@cupcakesbysonja)

“I’ve been doing [Cupcakes by Sonja] for so long, but I guess there are still so many things that I’m not able to do under that brand. Creatively, there are so many things I wanted to do. My commissary has been here for five years, so it just made sense to open up a place since I’m here baking every day. So why not just call it ‘By Sonja’ and do other stuff I’ve always wanted to do?”

Ocampo jokes that it took her whole life to open up the bakery. 

“It’s all things that I learned even before I had [Cupcakes by Sonja]. It feels like a lifelong dream in a way; to be doing it,” she says. 

Kismet in the kitchen

The hand-painted signs on the facade of the bakery are one of Ocampo’s favorite things about the space. Back in Paris, one of her favorite restaurants had the prettiest hand-painted storefront signs. She said that she hoped to one day have something similar for her own store. 

She started following Etienne Renard, the person who painted the storefronts on social media, and by the time the bakery was ready to be born, she sent him a message on social media hoping she could work with him. 

“I was thinking digital work. Like he would design for me, and someone would do it here.”

 

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A post shared by Peintre en lettres (@etienne_renard)

Be it fate or just plain luck, he said he would be available to paint the sign for her in person. In another happy twist to the story, Renard also turns out to be the brother-in-law of the owner of her favorite Parisian restaurant. The one who inspired her to contact him in the first place. She even got to meet the chef when Renard brought him over to finish the sign. 

They were also the ones who gave Ocampo the final push to open the bakery, saying that they already want to post the sign made for her storefront. 

The crepes are showstoppers

Since opening, Ocampo has been stretching and kneading the bounds of her creativity by applying everything she’s seen and learned from her travels around the world. She’s taken much inspiration from her time in France, where she learned the art of crepe-making in Rennes, Brittany while being the only non-French speaker during her time there. 

Sweet crepes and savory galettes are the main event at the bakery. By Sonja only uses the highest quality ingredients—exactly the same if not similar to the ones she used back in France. For butter aficionados (like myself), the bakery uses Bordier in the crepes, which is arguably the only right choice if you want to do Brittany-style crepes justice. 

The crepe is the main event, and you'd be hard pressed to say no to the sweet treat
The crepe is the main event, and you’d be hard pressed to say no to the sweet treat

The sweet crepes come in a simple butter and sugar flavor, a Japanese-inspired yuzu and honey, and the classic salted caramel, chocolate, and chocolate and banana. The crepe itself is about the size of a plate and served warm. It’s a sweet, pillowy bite and decked out in accouterments of your choosing. 

For the banana crepe, it’s served with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream and brown butter caramel sauce. The bananas are sliced thick and gently bruleed in sugar. It’s a crepe that achieved its fullest potential. 

Even for those who don’t think they like galettes, the bakery’s version of the savory crepe will gladly change your mind. The galettes are made with 100 percent buckwheat flour, as is customary of the dish. 

Made with simple yet quality ingredients, the galette is a meal you wouldn't mind having again and again
Made with simple yet quality ingredients, the galette is a meal you wouldn’t mind having again and again

The bakery’s galette is the classic ham, egg, and cheese. It may sound a little plain, but there’s nothing more extraordinary than the classics done exceptionally well. The base of the galette is thin with the edges laced in crisped cheese. The egg remains runny, while the ham is soft and salty, bringing the whole dish to life. 

Served with a side salad, it’s a meal that shouldn’t be confined to any time of day in spite of its ingredients. 

For people in a bit of a rush (even if that rush is to just try something new), there’s the mille-pressé. It’s a French-inspired pastry with a Japanese origin made with thin sheets of caramelized pastry held together by a layer of custard filling. It’s very much like a dessert version of a sandwich. 

By Sonja: The mille-pressé comes in a cute little cardboard pouch to make it easier to consume for those on the go
The mille-pressé comes in a cute little cardboard pouch to make it easier to consume for those on the go

The bakery currently has three different flavors, which are vanilla bean custard, vanilla bean custard and strawberry, and pistachio, matcha, and chocolate. It comes in a little pouch with a cardboard support so you can easily enjoy the handheld treat. 

By Sonja also serves cupcakes from the eponymous brand, as well as interesting pastries, viennoiserie, coffee, and tea
By Sonja also serves cupcakes from the eponymous brand, as well as interesting pastries, viennoiserie, coffee, and tea

Aside from the crepes and the mille-pressé, the bakery also offers a variety of cupcakes (of course), cakes, bars, savory croissant sandwiches, and other offerings. It’s important to keep in mind that By Sonja is still technically under soft opening, so we’ll have to keep on the lookout for other surprises when the grand reveal comes. 

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