Drive down Tomas Morato Avenue and you’ll find the usual fast food and pizza chains, ihaw-ihaw spots, unlimited samgyeopsal, alongside landmarks like Alba, Mario’s, Alfredo’s, Annabel’s (yes, they’re all still there!). But further down the avenue, at the corner of Scout Delgado, you may just miss the sign for Sourdough Café, a one-year-old restaurant that seems to buck the trend. Upstairs, there is the Glass Wine Lounge with its small but impressive collection of vintages. Together, they are two sides of the same coin—a flavorful touch of Europe in Quezon City.
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What came first? The bread or the wine? According to chef-owner Alvin Ong, the original plan was never to open two different establishments. It just turned out that way as it combines Ong’s passions—wine and bread—in one place. The initial idea was to have a two-level wine lounge, but Ong felt that he needed to offer something more. So in August 2019, Sourdough Café was born, selling sourdough loaves baked daily from the tiny onsite bakery. The “moodier” wine lounge was placed upstairs, serving dinner only and, of course, displaying chillers filled with Old and New World wines.
While Ong is a classically trained chef, he stresses that he never really got into baking, even jokingly admitting he failed one of his baking tests in culinary school. But he fell in love with European-style breads, and as a hobby, took to learning how to make sourdough at home, obsessing over flours, temperatures, fermentation, and eventually developing his almost year-old starter, nicknamed “Mother,” that is at the heart of his sourdough production.
Sourdough is a term for breads that are naturally leavened or use a naturally made dough “starter” rather than yeast. French style sourdough, called pain de levain, tends to have a thick crust, spongy crumb, and tangy-sweet flavor (Larousse Gastronomique, English edition, 2009). The longer the bread is left to ferment before baking, the deeper and more tangy are the flavors.
At Sourdough Café, Ong offers a 12-hour and a fairly intense 40-hour sourdough with what he describes as a “more developed lactic flavor” and “Yakult-like sourness” that sourdough aficionados hanker for. Just note that the 40-hour boules usually run out by the morning, so it’s best to reserve the day before.
While the sourdough is quite popular and tends to run out before the end of the day, the café also sells sourdough pandesal, called Pandesour, as well as French rolls baked with potato flakes for a heftier texture. On weekends, Ong has the time to get creative, combining sourdough with rye, filling the bread with chocolate, dried cranberries and walnuts, among other flavorings.
Taking off from the French sourdough, the café menu is filled with French, Italian, and Spanish specialties, created by Ong together with Executive Chef Ryan Vergara. There is pizza-like flatbread with homemade tomato sauce and other toppings, fresh made pastas, sourdough sandwiches, and heavier stews.
A standout would have to be the Wagyu Osso Bucco using fork-tender Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef braised in tomatoes, red wine, and herbs—good for sharing and a great deal at less than P900. Ong is adamant about using quality ingredients and no shortcuts.
Another runaway hit at Sourdough Café has to be the “ugly delicious”-looking Basque Burnt Cheesecake. Ong saw the trend with bakeshops in the Makati area, and thought to bring the dessert to Quezon City. You can order it whole (call the day before) or enjoy it by the slice.
While the Sourdough Café is bright and cheerful, the Glass Wine Lounge upstairs is a study in contrast with its muted gray, beige, and black tones, exuding a more intimate, nighttime vibe. It’s here where wine aficionados, novices and experts alike, can enjoy a glass or bottle from the lounge’s collection. There is a wine chiller just for sparkling wines, with pricey French Champagnes on order. The rest of the collection is eclectic, spanning Old and New World labels, whether Alsatian Riesling, Argentinian Malbec, Bordeaux red, Italian sangiovese, and so on. A big plus is the large selection of wines available by the glass, thanks to the lounge’s Coravin wine preservation opener that can pour a wine without removing the cork. The lounge offers wine flights and wine cocktails as well.
Those who are a bit more serious about their wines can check out the glass-enclosed walk-in chiller which houses the pricier labels, most of them French Bordeaux, that can go for up to P20,000 a bottle. And for those who prefer gins, the lounge has a select menu of boutique gins from around the world.
Ong is proud of the fact that the wine lounge offers labels that are exclusive to the café and wine lounge, as he usually tries to buy out the stock of his suppliers. The café also acts as a wine store displaying bottles that customers can buy to take home.
Both Sourdough Café and Glass Wine Lounge offer pica pica platters of imported cheeses and cold cuts to complement the wines. Also, anything from the café menu downstairs can be ordered upstairs. And because we’re in Quezon City, there is an “unli” wine option with unlimited pours of red and white at P589 downstairs, and P1,299 for more premium wines upstairs. But Ong admits that many of his customers end up ordering by the glass, despite the higher price, as a great way to taste and explore different wines.
While people may wonder at the “split personality” of this bakeshop-café-wine lounge, for some strange reason, it makes sense amidst the mix of establishments in this corner of Quezon City. The morning folks come for the bread, the titas and titos stop by for a relaxed lunch, and the younger ones indulge in wine and G&T’s with pica pica or dinner upstairs.
JSB Building, 104 Tomas Morato Avenue corner Scout Delgado, Quezon City, (02) 8525-WINE, (0917) 185-WINE
Photos by Jar Concengco