The First BENCH CAFE Opens Today!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The BENCH Flagship Store in BGC

My love for world renowned brand BENCH encompasses the celebrities in their roster, the fragrances I love and fashion they put out on the runway. They’re practically everywhere now and it’s a good thing. Just a couple weeks ago, they’ve gone and got good looking Brooklyn Beckham in the country for a couple days so he could meet and greet his fans plus a book signing event where thousands of people actually attended.

Suyen Corporation is also bringing in food brands left and right, making this island nation no stranger to international cuisine, world class food on the Filipino table, among of which are Paul (the boulangerie), Pablo Cheesecake, St. Marc Cafe, Maisen (my favorite Katsu place!), even yummy heartwarming Marugame Udon which opened a couple months ago. Now they’re ramping up local brand BENCH in the mix putting up another feather to Ben Chan’s hat with this new brand called BENCH CAFE. This is with partnership to long time restaurateur, mogul and owner of FooDee Global Concepts - COO Eric Dee (who's a very nice chap, so passionate too by the way!). I’ll take you around their flagship store in BGC which I visited ahead of everyone last Sunday, thanks to their lovely people who invited me for dinner. :)

The Bench Flagship Store operates from 10AM-11PM more or less and this is the same schedule which they plan to follow for the store (according to the person waiting tables) but they plan to actually still serve food as long as there's still people who want  their food. The concept is simple, to make Filipino food more upscale (like a glamorized Turo Turo style dining). When I looked at the menu, there wasn't much item on it which cost an arm and a leg, probably so that they can serve food within the Php 250-450 range. That I think would make this a whole lot different from the restaurants in this vicinity, I bet they wanted to change the food landscape in BGC.   

This first BENCH CAFE is located at second floor of the Bench Flagship Store. It's at the corner of Lane O and 9th Avenue in BGC, you won't get lost when you're there. The signage, the Bench store paraphernalia stands out so if you miss this place it's your fault. Yes the store is still open while you plan to dine in so even while you're waiting for your food to arrive you can shop at the store which is connected to this place via a door on the left side or the stairs. I mean who doesn't love shopping? You'll see this and the whole menu downstairs, trust me, you won't get intimidated with the prices.

The menu is pretty varied. It's like your usual favorite Filipino dishes but done with modern techniques. I'll show you later what I'm talking about, but in a nutshell you'll never run out of favorites here because it's like home. Expats or Tourists visiting Manila may have a better way of adapting to food if you take your first shot of Filipino food here. Dishes are done impeccably with European/American/French/Spanish influences but still is first and foremost Filipino.

This is their bar, where most of your coffee and drinks will be prepared.

When you go in the store, just go up the stairs and ask to be seated. As far as service goes, they are still on their toes. There's a person manning reception, they'll tell you if the place is full (I'm sure it will be full once they open their doors).

This is one of the tables at the left side of the bar, this would be good for those who would want a little privacy. The furniture is reminiscent of American 70's design, like pre Motown but with wood all throughout which we would identify as Filipino.

There's a long bunk chair stretched on the right side of the bar and that door on the end connects to the second floor of the Bench Store. This part is very modern art deco.

It's a mix as you can see, but still clean looking. It's not too cluttered, white brick walls and wood trims, you'll feel it's fresh as soon as you step in the cafe.

Printed table mats for dining customers. Please don't stay too long unless you're going to eat.

The Food

This one is served in threes.

To start off things, I had the TINAPA CONE which is a mousse of Tinapang Bangus (Smoked Milkfish) with Filipino Salsa (tomatoes and onions) set in a crunchy lumpia cone (like a super thin flour tortilla wrap). This is a tad salty, but you'll love how you get a crunchy exterior mixed with that salty-fishy cream and fresh tomatoes mixed, like a breakfast item which you can order the whole day. I could imagine this being served like an hors d'oeuvre for a party, it felt like that.

This is the BENCHANTED ICED TEA, who's flavor profile is more on the sweet tangy, but lemon grassy style. Since you are dealing with pretty heavy flavors, this would work well in between bites.

This is their SISIG. On a normal day and restaurant this would be just pork mask, grilled, charred and chopped then served in a sizzling plate. The difference here is that you they do it with pork mask and belly, then topped with the calamansi foam where you get it to be mixed with the whole thing so it turns out to be a little tangy and savory.

It wasn't hot so I made the initiative to chop up the Siling Labuyo and mix it up, but there's a separate mousse on a plate that needed to be also mixed in.

This creamy concoction might look normal,  but no. I asked and they told me it's UTAK AIOLI. Sisig is usually served with mayo, but in provinces like Nueva Ecija (where I tasted a similar one) they actually have a secret ingredient. As the name suggests, it's actually pork brain, which makes the consistency creamy as you mix it in while it's hot.

They serve it with Pork Crackling on the side.

Then when you mix it all up, you put it on a bed of romaine lettuce and chomp it all up! It's oily, but it's fresh, those contrasts for me makes it even interesting. This would be a perfect beer match. Which reminds me, they have cocktails and wine in the bar which are pretty cheap.

For those who would want to have coffee, theirs is pretty special. This is the PANDAN LATIK. As the name suggests, it's a latte cup of coffee lined with sweet coconut cream syrup which has been dried for an hour making it sweet and sticky on the mouth of your cup. You'll get that combination of flavors as soon as your mouth touches the rim of the cup. I thought it wouldn't work, but honestly it's super good. I'd have seconds if I'm working here.

This is the BENCH/TO which is a play on the Japanese bento. It's a set of well designed meals (there are 12 varieties) which you can order indicated with a number. You just point and choose. Remember the Turo turo concept (point and point)? Among the choices, I opted to try like #12 which they call INASAL NA LIEMPO. Now you can't compare this with the one served in that fast food joint because it ain't chicken. For Keto lovers,this would be a nice plate to have.

They marinated this well, the vinegar permeates inside the pork's skin and meat so when they grill this thing, it becomes a dreamy chunk of fat that you won't be able to put down once you slice into it.

Included in the set is this small bowl of GISING GISING which is the champion of all champions that evening. I love how they didn't hold back on how hot it should be. I love this a lot that I requested it to be served a la carte and in huge batches next time because it deserves it's own spotlight. It's super good!

Two things, the ATCHARA and FILIPINO SALSA (chopped tomatoes, onions, spring onions and cilantro on soy sauce) was the perfect thing to cut the oiliness of the pork dish. Make sure you prepare that perfect bite each time you eat this BENCH/TO!

I couldn't eat the rice because of Keto, but you can opt for the Garlic Rice if you want to indulge with it on your cheat day. Remember to NEVER deprive yourself!

Imagine me drooling while I watched this on my camera LOL. Ooh I can see some of you are drooling!

To end the meal, they suggested two desserts for me to try. This is the UBE HALO HALO but it's done like a Korean Bingsu. The shaved ice was a giveaway, but it's done in an ube base. That purple yam flavor mixed in with slivers of Macapuno, sweetened Garbanzo Beans, Bananas, Leche Flan, more Ube, Nata De Coco and thick Ube Ice Cream. How can you not have one? This is no rocket science, you'll definitely love this.

For those who are watching their sugar intake, take a vacation leave because this is their signature FLAN B. Your old school leche flan just had an upgrade and got filled with strips of yummy macapuno in between. You'll feel a glimpse of coconuts, it becomes part of the mix so you don't feel or taste that it's sweet at all, it's just right.

Oh and this is totally unrelated but I saw famous Youtuber Mikey Bustos. Now thinking about it, taking a photo of him is creepy and a little stalkerish. But honestly, I was just across the table so I snapped LOL! I bet you'll see a LOT of celebrities at the BENCH CAFE pretty soon, and the best thing is they're giving away something special for the first 100 customers today!

Special coupons will be issued to dine in customers who will be the first 10 (1 Year, 1 BENCH/TO per week), next 20 will have (6 Months, 1 BENCH/TO per week), next 30 will have (3 Months worth at 1 BENCH/TO per week), last 40 guests will have 1 complimentary BENCH/TO. Now you know how to get the biggest prize of them all, try the food, be proud it's Filipino, take time to love the cuisine, the coffee because we deserve the small comforts that BENCH CAFE can give. Indulge in what they have to offer at Bench's Flagship Store at BGC. 

It only happens today, January 25. You'll probably have to line up early, but don't worry because the food's not just good... it's divine!

Trust me on the Latik Latte and the BENCH/TO #12. The INASAL NA LIEMPO and that darn heavenly GISING GISING had me still craving for it at this hour. It's 3AM and it still haunts me.  

Thank you Mr. Eric Dee for explaining the dishes, it was awesome to experience BENCH CAFE, I'll be back!


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