MANILA -- Café Mabini, the breakfast collaboration of Itchyworms bassist Kelvin Yu and chef Kalel Chan, is now open for dine-in.
The breakfast place occupies a corner of Francesco’s in San Juan. The space was a café that was open for coffee and light snacks during Francesco’s off-hours.
Francesco’s is the pet project of Kelvin’s father, Felix Yu, who was instrumental in making the restaurant a hidden gem for Italian food in the metro.
“My dad was big breakfast person. Having breakfast at Francesco’s was his idea,” recalls Kelvin.
The pre-Café Mabini menu was consistent with the European branding of the main restaurant with Continental breakfast with breads and sausages. However, this was not received well as customers looked for more Filipino fare.
When the pandemic happened, the Yus took the opportunity to pivot to a more Filipino menu. It was the elder Yu who brought in Chan whom he had worked with on a mall-based Filipino buffet concept now closed because of the pandemic business environment.
“Kalel, you are the missing link,” Chan fondly remembers Yu telling him when he was brought in to the Café Mabini team.
During the lockdown, R&D continued on what the restaurant was going to be from concept, to building the team, to the menu. The elder Yu himself worked on Café Mabini until he passed away early 2021.
As work progressed, Café Mabini became their way to honor the elder Yu. Chan started with a small menu and tweaked the offerings. Prior to opening, the Café Mabini team was already cooking up food for delivery and takeout, occasionally entertaining the curious walk-in customer.
Now that it’s open, they’ve set up an al fresco area with plans for dedicated parking for bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.
To say that Café Mabini is a purely Filipino breakfast place doesn’t do it justice. There are little touches that add flair from around Asia as Chan is known to mix-and-match ingredients, sides, and flavors to come up with satisfying plates.
Take the Squashcaldo to start. Café Mabini’s version of arroz caldo has some sweetness added by squash loaded with eggs topped with fried onion. Adding ginger sauce, kecap manis (thick soy sauce), and chili sauce makes this feel like a variation on Hainanese chicken.
The silogs have some interesting twists. Instead of atchara, Chan adds a lightly pickled green mango salad similar to the Thai som tam to his breakfast plates alongside a tomato with malunggay pesto. Freestyle eggs are an added draw to any of the silogs. Guests have the option of having the eggs cooked anyway they want: sunny-side, scrambled, over-easy, or even poached.
In a nod to the immediate San Juan and Greenhills Chinoy community, Chan tweaked his adobo to include fattier, more collagen-rich cuts of pork used in Chinese dishes almost similar to pata tim.
Guests can order just the mains of the silogs. Shown here is the Spanish dulong in paprika and olive oil. It’s similar to Spanish sardines but takes the additional saltiness and umami of the small local fish.
Cafe Mabini takes pride in making a lot of the ingredients in house. They make their own Spam (called Spam-bini) glazed with sugar for their Spamsilog.
They also make their own tapa and corned beef used in their silogs and the fully loaded Tapa Cheesesteak and Ruben Sandwiches.
On a healthy note, the menu has meat-free options too. This is the Coconut Chia Bowl. It may look small compared to the silogs but the fiber-rich chia makes for a filling meal in itself. This may vary as Café Mabini will use whatever fruits are in season for. This one was made with dragon fruit, mango, banana, and kesong puti.
The unique offerings extend to the drinks. While the bar has coffee and espresso for the morning caffeine fix, Café Mabini has an assortment of unique drinks. Chill out with the Mango Sago Pomelo, Sago’t Gulaman with panocha (palm sugar), and the Ube Buko Pandan Shake. The drink to check out is the Tableya Peanut Butter S’more, really thick hot chocolate made with Philippine tableya with torched marshmallows.
Stop by the cake chiller to check out Chan’s cakes. On the rotation are the salted egg and macapuno cheesecake, Milo Impossible cake, avocado sans rival, and the Calamansi Tres Leches.
Cafe Mabini is located at 863 A. Mabini St., San Juan and is open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.. Check out @CafeMabini on Facebook or Instagram for the complete menu and delivery options.