Filipino cafe in Notting Hill brings 'merienda' to London

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Feb 02 2013 02:33 PM | Updated as of Feb 03 2013 06:32 AM

Lakwatsa opened in Notting Hill in November 2012. Image courtesy of the official website of Lakwatsa

LONDON -- A newspaper in London has dubbed Filipino merienda as "the next big thing," thanks to a new cafe lounge owned by a British-Filipina in a trendy part of the city.

Bubble tea is a popular drink served in Lakwatsa. Image courtesy of the official website of Lakwatsa

In a fashionable corner of West London, a food revolution has begun. Lakwatsa is a Filipino-inspired cafe in Notting Hill. Bitish newspaper Evening Standard is already calling it the next big thing in London.

“I feel like Filipino food, cuisine, is not on the map as I feel it should be, compared to other Southeast Asian, Far Eastern dishes and cuisines like Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, that kind of thing,” said Claire Buyson, founder of the cafe lounge.

“So I really feel that, you know, this could be the beginning of introducing Filipino food to a wider audience, she said.

Launched in November 2012, the cafe offers Filipino food served all day as merienda -- bite-size portions of old-time favourites with a modern twist.

Customers can enjoy freshly-made pan de sal, lumpiang shanghai, leche flan, and even halo-halo. Or why not try adobo rice balls, Lakwatsa's version of a classic Filipino dish.

“I think merienda could be the next big thing,” Buyson said. “We have the tapas, we have the dim sum, we have the mezze, and people are always like, ‘Let's grab tapas.’ I think they could really start saying, you know, using the word ‘merienda’ as they speak and say, ‘Let's go grab a merienda.’”

Londoners have already started to flock, from young British-Filipinos to friendly locals and trendy professionals.

“It's relaxing,” said Philip Alexander, a British customer of Lakwatsa. “It gives me a chance to get a break from my work. Come here, chill out, and have a bit of tea.”

Filipino customer Alejandro Cabrera said the cafe lounge “really shows our culture to different people, especially because where it's situated, it's in Portobello Market. You don't just get Filipinos here, you have other backgrounds here.”

From its name and menu to its stylish interior design, Lakwatsa oozes all things good from the Philippines, with photographs of cultural sites and Filipino magazines imported from Manila.

For Buyson, whose parents hail from Pampanga, Philippine heritage is an inspiration and a unique selling point.

Filipino and Pan-Asian food served as bitesized merienda. Image courtesy of the official website of Lakwatsa

“I wanted to really bring in some Filipino aspects to the lounge. Obviously being Filipino myself, and growing up in London, I felt like there wasn't many Filipino places,” she said.

“But what's great is that you get the non-Filipinos loving it too. It's funny because we get people coming in asking ‘What's halo-halo?’ in their British accent and so we explain it to them, they try it and they love it,” she said.

The new cafe also comes with today's modern comforts, from a free internet service to the latest concept of an iPad jukebox.

“They need a space that incorporates a lot of the little details that we have here like the free WiFi, the power sockets by every seat, the music, the relaxing environment, like we have the swing seat which is very unique and different. And to have all that, also to have good quality food and drinks,” Buyson said.

Lakwatsa serves merienda in London everyday, and now more than ever, Filipino food and culture may soon have its time in the spotlight.