We remember being in high school, getting three buses and a train from one suburb of London to travel to another just to visit a food hall which felt like an alternate universe called Oriental City. The food hall and shop complex was a crippled time machine stuck in the 90's but we loved it. It felt strangely comforting and despite the dated interior the food was good, and the atmosphere warm and somehow familiar. Back then, among the small shops, Sega arcade, the supermarket, the Japanese tableware store and the Sanrio boutique there was little Filipino presence, the food hall offered largely Chinese, Korean and Japanese foods and Filipino produce could only be found on a small shelf in the supermarket. Oriental City closed its doors in 2008, but the memories remained.
Earlier this year, a new complex on the same site bearing the same concept opened its doors, Bang Bang Oriental, and we were beyond excited to hear that the new food hall would be home to a stall called Manila Kitchen - finally Filipino food would have a culinary home in the Asian neighbourhood. Manila Kitchen is the sister company of the long established Lutong Pinoy Restaurant in Earl's Court, Lutong Pinoy is a small family run restaurant which has been serving up food to homesick Filipinos and curious Londoners for 21 years. While Lutong Pinoy is the home of home-style Filipino food, Manila Kitchen is bringing something new to the table. Aimed at the younger generation and their palates the food served here has a modern food truck feel. The menu is contemporary and fresh and brings a delicious fusion to Filipino cuisine. We love Marc's vision to establish a home for Filipino cuisine alongside its Asian neighbours and to appeal to the UK born and bred Filipinos and non Filipinos alike. Here at Native Province we share the same notion and vision, and what better way to do so than through the universal language of food. Manila Kitchen is doing exactly that. It has filled us with such pride to see a piece of our roots and our culture finally in the spotlight. We caught up with Marc to find out more about this exciting new venture and the vision and story behind it. Read the interview below.
How did Manila Kitchen come about?
When Bang Bang Oriental opened they had a unit available and we saw this as an opportunity to branch out from Lutong Pinoy and open a sister company. We also saw it as an opportunity to showcase Filipino cuisine and make it more mainstream. Filipino food in general, when compared to other Asian cuisines is the least known. Our aim is to make Filipino food more accessible and to make more people aware of Filipino culture and food. Filipino food is very diverse and we wanted to say we are Filipino, we can cook!
What's the most popular dish at Manila Kitchen?
The most popular dish is the Filipino Brunch, the Boy Baboy and our Beef Kare Kare. But we also had a vision where we would branch out from the traditional Filipino food and present a more modern menu so we could cater to non Filipino palates or the younger UK born and bred Filipinos. We introduced dishes such as the Filipino Burger, the Tocino Cheese Fries and the Ube Cake with Custard in order to offer something different.
How has the reception been?
It has gone down really really well, better than we expected. We have a lot of the Filipino community supporting us, they take pride in the fact that Manila Kitchen is stepping up and representing Filipino food amongst other Asian foods. We also get a lot of non Filipino customers who are intrigued about what Filipino food and culture is and they really enjoy it. It's great to have such positive feedback. This is what's great about Bang Bang Oriental, you have so many options to sample different cuisines from all over Asia, and the fact that we can serve and cater Filipino food to the people really gives us a lot of pride and pleasure.
Why do you think the Filipino Brunch has been so popular?
To be honest it's the ingredients and the mixture of everything. The tocino pork which you would have during breakfast and lechon kawali which you would have during lunch so merging the two together really works. Plus the fried egg, rice and salad. It works.
What’s your favourite Filipino dish?
It has to be the Filipino BBQ with a side of sinigang...and the beef kare kare...I could go on and on!
What memories come to mind when you eat Filipino food?
Alongside the Philippines itself, I would say Luton Pinoy Filipino Restaurant. My family and I have built that from the start 21 years ago. It has always been in my environment and I have always been surrounded by the Filipino food industry.
What’s the difference between Lutong Pinoy and Manila Kitchen?
I would say Lutong Pinoy is more of a traditional Filipino restaurant whereas with Manila Kitchen we are going for a more contemporary route to try and make Filipino food more appealing and accessible to the masses. We want to target all generations but more especially the younger generation. Being born and bred in the UK myself, I wanted Manila Kitchen to be more accessible to them and offer them a more diverse palate, where they can enjoy their Filipino favourites with a modern twist. With both Manila Kitchen and Lutong Pinoy we want to encourage people to dine together as a family. Our restaurants are our home, our go to place for comfort food and we want to encourage everyone to join in.
Being a born and bred Londoner, has that made you more Filipino or less Filipino?
I am proud of my culture, I am proud of my roots and I am proud to be Filipino. It's embedded in me! Growing up surrounded by Filipino food and knowing the language...I am Pinoy and I am proud of where I come from. I am proud of what I have become and this is the result of my roots and the values my parents instilled in me growing up.