Is Carlo's BGC really ‘approachable'?

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Carlo's BGC
At Carlo's BGC, expect flavorful New Haven-Italian fare. Photo by Samantha Ong

With local yet luxe interiors and a selection of flavorful New Haven-Italian food, we think it just might be


At Carlo’s BGC, The Script’s “For the First Time” plays over the restaurant radio. The playlist features 2010s alternative hits, with classic Fall Out Boy bangers and the occasional Dashboard Confessional ballad, echoing the peak of the emo music era.

There’s a hint of irony in the music selection. When I ask owner Carlo Alvarez about it, he explains that the playlists are intentional and transition to R&B, hip-hop, and house music later on in the evenings for a more laid-back vibe. The eclectic mix also reflects in the patrons who sport a variety of styles, from office attire to athleisure.

Carlo's restaurant
Inside Carlo’s BGC. Photo by Scott A. Woodward

The stylish yet casual restaurant aims to make upscale dining more accessible to Filipinos with a certain blasé attitude, taking things lightly

Alvarez’s namesake restaurant is his third project together with his long-time collaborators at Wagyu Studio and Izakaya Geronimo: co-founder Lui Clavano, marketing manager Sam Aquino, and supervisor Alfonso Pedrosa.

READ: A BGC izakaya that takes you from dinner and drinks to the dance floor? Yes please

“Our group in particular focuses on a category we label as ‘sophisticated casual dining’—making the Filipino market more casual and more comfortable with being able to eat in nice places,” says Alvarez. “I’m actually charging not too far off to something like Chili’s, you know? I just want people to feel and know that they also have the right to enjoy a nice meal.”


So what exactly is New Haven pizza?

Carlo’s head chef Morris Manalo, who previously worked at Manila House, now brings his expertise here. When I mention that the pizza reminds me of New York pies, Alvarez corrects me.

New York-style pizza uses a deck oven and veers away from charred crust. Instead, their pizza is New Haven-style, which is from Connecticut, where they use wood-fired brick ovens with direct fire hitting the bread that tends to char more and makes the pizza very well-done.

Carlo's restaurant
A spread with 18-inch pizza, calamari, squash blossom fritto, and various pastas. Photo by Samantha Ong

Alvarez chooses personal style over tradition for his food. “I wouldn’t say we’re New American-Italian. We definitely serve slightly innovative things that aren’t 100 percent classically done. Then some things will be done in the classical way, just because I think there’s no better way of doing things for some dishes,” he says.

“I don’t necessarily think Neapolitan is something that Filipinos love 100 percent. We love American-style pizza and pasta more than the more traditional Italian stuff. Our culture is hot dogs and spaghetti with sugar. I mean, these are mortal sins in Italian culture. So I think naturally we lean towards the left field, which is American-based Italian dishes. That’s how I decided the positioning of our food program. Like our carbonara is cream, bacon, and mushrooms. There’s nothing genuinely Italian about it. I’m not saying I hate it. I love it, I grew up with the Filipino taste, so I’m just trying to lean towards more of that familiarity.”

Carlo's bgc pizza
Carlo’s Pizza. Photo by Samantha Ong

Alvarez, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo and has experience working at a restaurant in Japan, infuses these subtle influences into the menu, such as hojicha refreshments. At present, he spends half of his year in Japan, the other half in the Philippines.

READ: Meet the Melbourne restaurant fostering fun and flair in fine dining


A deeper dive into Carlo’s BGC’s food

Pizza is a highlight at Carlo’s, with customizable options like half-and-half toppings. For example, you can order half a pepperoni pizza and half mushroom and sausage, with prices adjusted accordingly. A full 18” pizza averages around P1,000, making a half pizza about P500, which is suitable for two people or more, depending on your hunger levels. Sharing dishes like the P700 Caesar salad, P550 calamari, or P800 scampi pasta makes dining here reasonable, especially with the generous appetizer portions and palm-sized pizza slices.

Other popular choices include Carlo’s spicy vodka pizza with pesto mixed in with the cheese, and vodka sauce. The nduja and cherry tomatoes pizza features the unique Italian nduja sausage while The Bourdain seems to reference the culinary icon with slices of mortadella, an ingredient Bourdain popularized with his five-ingredient mortadella sandwich.

Carlo's restaurant
Caesar salad and other appetizers. Photo by Samantha Ong

Beyond pizza, the menu features unique pasta dishes like agnolotti—pillowy pasta pockets stuffed with squash and bathed in a decadent brown butter sage sauce. Classic pasta dishes feature twists, such as pesto pasta with burrata and vongole with bottarga (a pouch of cured fish roe).

“The food behind Carlo’s—I wanted it to be very approachable for people. Familiar, comforting. I didn’t want to do anything highfalutin or intimidating. I wanted people to completely understand it just by looking at it,” says Alvarez.


Since the soft opening last May, Carlo’s has expanded its menu to include breakfasts like pancakes, croque madame, and eggs Benedict, pairing well with coffees like the Italian Orange and Restricted Coconut—an espresso and four kinds of milk.


Decor that’s both luxe and local

Outside Carlo’s BGC, there’s a pizza counter for quick pickups. Inside, the decor, designed in collaboration with Filipino, Hong Kong-based designer JJ Acuña, showcases the quality of locally made furniture.

Carlo's BGC
The Carlo’s pickup counter. Photo by Scott A. Woodward

“All the furniture is made locally—from the service tables to the chair you’re on. I wanted to break the stigma that we can’t do things nicely and well-done locally, it’s just not going to come as cheap.”

Gesturing to the curved booth tables, he says, “In other restaurants, these booth tables may have sharp edges, which actually reduce the amount of seating, so from a business standpoint, it makes sense as well. So this is only possible because it’s completely bespoke, and it pays off in the long run.”

Carlo Alvarez
Carlo Alvarez and designer JJ Acuña. Photo by Scott A. Woodward

Acuña worked closely with Alvarez and his team, giving the restaurant “a real Italian flair” through the color palettes that are “very Milan… a lot of different colors that blend well together.” The middle area showcases a wabi-sabi-type wallpaper and Noguchi lamps made of washi paper, connecting to Alvarez’s Japanese affinities.

“I hope that designers can learn from people that are exposed as JJ, who’s predominantly working in a super competitive city like Hong Kong. If you want to wake up into a global platform, you have to step up in terms of the nitty-gritty, small details. That’s the thing that people least notice. But it’s also the thing that makes everything work.”

Carlo's BGC
The curved booth seating and an artwork by Mr. Star City. Photo by Scott A. Woodward

The art displayed in the space also makes everything click. Deeper into the restaurant in a dining area called “The Conversation Room,” you can find a painting called “Conversation” by London-based artist Brian Calvin. Another artwork is by Nicasio Fernandez, a Puerto Rican artist based in New York. Then, a favorite of mine, a piece by Mr. Star City or David White, who made waves earlier this year at Art Fair Philippines. 

READ: Big bless! Mr. Star City brings fresh energy to Manila

The verdict? Despite the upscale interior materials and quality food offerings, the value for food at Carlo’s is surprisingly comparable to casual dining chains, especially as he draws parallels to other restaurants. With shareable portions, a prime location, and a focus on quality, this new restaurant in BGC delivers a sense of sophistication that’s both affordable and accessible while elevating dining into something casually cool.

Carlo’s is located at the Asian Century Center, Taguig, Metro Manila. 

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