Chef JP Anglo poses in his new restaurant Kafe Batwan. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA -- Chef JP Anglo has a new restaurant – and it’s not another branch of his fast-growing Sarsa chain.
Although the popular chef-judge on “MasterChef Pinoy Edition” had just opened the latest branch of Sarsa at Legaspi Village in Makati, this did not stop him from quietly unveiling his latest restaurant concept -- Kafe Batwan at Rockwell Center, also in Makati.
Taking over the spot of Bistecca at Joya Tower, Kafe Batwan is Anglo’s modern Filipino interpretation of the café concept, an all-day restaurant that serves breakfast to dinner, with coffee and snacks in between, and even some craft cocktails.
“Even when we opened Sarsa, we always wanted to do something like this pero we just had to concentrate on the Sarsas first,” Anglo, better known as Chef Jayps to TV viewers, said during a press preview on its second day of operations last Thursday.
When the space in Rockwell became available, he knew it was perfect for his vision of a Filipino café, with its curb location, high ceiling, al fresco section and even loft seating for those who want a bit more privacy.
Kafe Batwan takes over the spot of Bistecca in Rockwell. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Although Kafe Batwan already accepts guests, it is still on a very soft opening stage. In fact, the floor-to-ceiling glass walls are still covered with a dark screen, which will remain up for a couple of weeks.
“We had two tables on our first day and kinakabahan kami,” Anglo admitted.
With Sarsa, which now has three branches, Anglo broke new ground for regional Filipino cuisine. But the chef, who describes his culinary style as young and playful, also confessed that he is rather constricted by Sarsa’s Negrense menu.
That is certainly not the case with Kafe Batwan, which he considers his culinary “playground,” where he can create his “own contemporary and playful renditions of Filipino café food in a stylish and relaxed environment.”
But as suggested by its name – batwan is a fruit native to the Visayas and commonly used as a souring ingredient in Negrense dishes like the kansi – there is still a pronounced bent towards Anglo’s home province.
Chicken inasal was used as stuffing for a Pinoy burrito. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Apart from the inclusion of chicken inasal on the menu – a request, he said, from Rockwell’s management – he also repurposed Bacolod classics, like the inasal burrito (served with pumpkin salsa and fresh green chili sauce) and the kansi corned beef, which is listed as breakfast fare and served with scrambled egg and garlic coconut rice.
So how does he differentiate a Sarsa dish from a Kafe Batwan offering?
Anglo admitted that his sister, Tracie Anglo Dizon, and her husband, make suggestions. After all, Dizon, described by her brother as a “café person,” isn’t just the chef’s sister as she is also credited as a co-founder of the Sarsa Group.
“Every time I do something, they’d always say like, ‘oh this is more of like a Sarsa’ or ‘this can go to the café.’ At one point, they made me stop making dishes because it all went to Sarsa and we need stuff for the café,” Anglo said.
Madrid Fusion Super Batchoy was created for the recent food event. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
One dish that was made with the café in mind is the Madrid Fusion Super Batchoy, which Anglo first presented during the recent Madrid Fusion event in Manila.
Even when he was still at Sarsa, Anglo was quite vocal of his desire to upgrade batchoy into a Filipino version of ramen – and the one at Kafe Batwan is his first attempt at that. The soup stock took 12 hours to flavor and he uses Kurobota pork for the charsiu, soft-boiled egg and tuna skin to provide the crunch.
“The batchoy, we really tweaked it up a bit when we were doing the Madrid Fusion,” he said. “And I remember what I told you -- and it’s on our wall – but Sarsa was never the venue for that because we were constrained with the price.”
But there is more to Kafe Batwan than upscale Negrense food. The range of offerings here is a lot wider from homemade granola from La Union served with muscovado syrup and carabao’s milk and champorado with gourmet tuyo to crispy tawilis and tuna skin chicharon.
Sometimes the playfulness is quite subtle – like the use of garlic coconut rice instead of the typical sinangag or replacing pumpkin with kalabasa to create a bisque, or using San Miguel Beer for the batter used in the Pinoy fish and chips.
But Anglo also lets loose, like when he deconstructed the arroz caldo.
Arroz Caldo Parcel gives a unique spin to this Pinoy merienda staple. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The ingredients like the dilis, spring onions, fried garlic and chicken strips are presented separately ala nasi lemak, while the rice is presented wrapped in leaf like the machang and the rice soup is served in a small bowl. Get a little bit of everything on your spoon, eat it then follow it up with the soup, and enjoy as all the flavors come together inside your mouth.
There is an obvious Southeast Asian touch in many of the dishes at Kafe Batwan, notably the sambal which is used in the Grilled Kurobota Belly and the Batchoy Beef Ribs, giving these meat dishes a hint of heat.
The Grilled Kurobota Belly comes with sambal beans. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Once again, Anglo shows that he is the master of the sarsa or sauce, in two of the best – and most underrated dishes – at the preview. The guinamos curry and sambal beans that accompanied the baked lapu-lapu certainly elevated this dish and made it more interesting not just visually but in the symphony of tastes.
The underrated Sauteed Prawns was a hit at the preview. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Even better was the sautéed prawns which come with a mixed bean sauce (mostly the lowly monggo), a hint of chocolate, and sambal spices, generally inspired by the chili con carne, that gave the dish a depth of flavor that is both Pinoy and global at the same time. (By all means, order rice if you so desire.)
Of course, what is a café without coffee and some sweets? Unlike Sarsa, Kafe Batwan serves several coffee options although the dessert list, as of the moment, is quite limited. There’s the turon served with a Chocnut sauce; and the budbud, a suman-like treat popular in Dumaguete but served in a skillet with some ube butter and pandan coffee cream.
Sizzling budbud is one of only two desserts on the menu. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Asked about this, Anglo gamely admitted that he is not a dessert guy.
“I’m so bad with desserts,” he said, citing that he used to serve only Mango Jubilee. “That’s the only dessert that I can do really well and I have it in all my restaurants.”
“But I have a few in mind. Hindi ko lang na-meet ‘yung deadline,” he quickly added.
It’s not just desserts that Anglo is developing. He said expect the menu of Kafe Batwan to continuously improve.
“’Yung menu ditto, it’s always changing, always evolving,” he promised.
This is after all his playground.
122 Joya Lofts & Towers
Rockwell, Makati City