Eat this: Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen, dishing up Filipino favourites

The founders of street food outfit BBQ Dreamz came to national attention when they won My Million Pound Menu at the start of this year. Now, they’re taking their concept permanent.

4 November 2019
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  • The Gist: Bonging the drum for traditional Filipino food 
  • The Chefs: Lee Johnson and Sinead Campbell
  • Location: 460 Hackney Rd, London E2 9EG
  • Food in 5 words: Filipino feasting in casual canteen
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How did we get here?

Street food outfit BBQ Dreamz was launched in 2014 by Fillipino-born Lee Johnson and his partner Sinead Campbell. The food was inspired by recipes Johnson learned from his grandmother while growing up, which were peddled across London via Kerb markets.

But this year has been big for duo. They won My Million Pound Menu, which led to a round of pop-up restaurants, including six weeks at MeatLiquor in King’s Cross.

Now in November, they are opening up a permanent place called Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen, which is located in the heart of Bethnal Green.

What’s different about it?

While Filipino food has been rolled out onto trends list for the past few years, it’s never really gained traction in the UK. Some have tried – there’s Kinilaw & Buko, the pop-up which opened last year with a Filipino take on ceviche and ice cream, along with old timers like Romulo Café and Restaurant, who have recently revamped their menu.

Popular chain Jollibee has been fairly cautious since making its debut on British soil last year, with recent reports suggesting it is only now moving in on a second site for its Filipino fast-food offering, this one in Liverpool.

Yet Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen might be able to crack the cuisine owing to the boost in national attention after appearing on the BBC Two programme.

Drawing on its street food days, it will roll out signature dishes such as satay duck heart skewers, cooked over charcoal and topped with chicharron (a kind of pork scratching), and ‘lechon kawali,’ a deep-fried, crispy chunk of pork belly that has been marinated with vinegar and star anise for 24 hours.

On Sundays, Bong Bong’s will host a kamayan: a Filipino-style family feast made for sharing. As is common in the Philippines, banana leaves line the tables rather than plates, which are then topped with mountains of steamed rice, ladles of taro leaves and coconut milk, piles of lemongrass prawn, pork and ginger skewers, along with other dishes from the day’s menu. Kamayan means ‘to eat with your hands’ in Tagalog, and diners are encouraged to skip the cutlery and get stuck in.

“Opening Bong Bong’s is huge for us; it feels like an evolution from BBQ Dreamz, with a more ambitious and adventurous menu,” said Johnson. “I have such brilliant childhood memories from Manila, where we’d have riotous, celebratory dinners with the entire family. We’re looking forward to recreating them in Bethnal Green with our kamayan.”

You’ve got to try…

One of the new additions called La Paz Batchoi, affectionately named Filipino pho, a noodle broth with pork and liver, garnished with peanuts and spring onions. The dish hails from La Paz, the region where Johnson’s mother was born.

Sparkie also likes…

Adobo chicken, which is poached in a traditional soy sauce, garlic and bay stew, before being crumbed and fried. Forget tomato – this comes with banana ketchup.

Go if…

You want to dig into dishes from a relatively unknown cuisine.

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