- The Dish: Traditional Filipino kamayan
- The Place: Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen
- The Chef: Lee Johnson and Sinead Campbell
Five years ago, Filipino cuisine was rarely seen on the UK food market, reserved primarily for homesick natives and curious foodies. Since then, coinciding with a general rise in Southeast Asian cuisine in the capital (from Thai to Malaysian), Filipino food has made strides towards being a mainstream eating out proposition.
In 2018, we saw the first Jollibee outpost spring up in London’s West End, with the Philippines-based fast food chain joined by the likes of Romelu Café, Kinilaw & Buko, Sarap and Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen as noteworthy, Philippine-orientated restaurant openings.
The latter, Bong Bong, opened late 2019, with the Filipino-born Lee Johnson and his partner Sinead Campbell taking their street food concept, BBQ Dreamz, into a permanent bricks-and-mortar location in Hackney.
Plenty of the food options at Bong Bong are inspired by recipes Johnson learned from his grandmother while growing up in the Philippines, with the restaurant this month launching a Sunday lunch offering, a traditional Filipino kamayan.
Their kamayan, which means “to eat with your hands” in Tagalog, comes in the form of a family feast-style Sunday meal, with no plates or cutlery to be seen. Instead, diners eat the food straight from sharing plates (or indeed banana leaves), encouraging a jovial, social eating scenario.
Well, everywhere, if you’re not careful, with mountains of steamed jasmine rice the foundation of the eat-with-your-hands affair.
In terms of ordering the £45-a-head kamayan feast, diners simply choose a sharable main course, which is currently a choice between the meat (soy and ginger glazed pork ribs), the fish (whole roasted tilapia) or the vegetarian (adobo glazed cauliflower).
Bong Bong’s do the rest, with 12 different side dishes arriving with the chosen main. These include vegetable spring rolls with banana ketchup, coconut creamed spinach and kale laing, atchara pickled papaya and roasted aubergine satay curry.
“I have so many memories of kamayans with my family – eating everything straight from the middle of the table creates an amazing vibe when you’re all sharing and getting messy (and a bit of rivalry for the best bits),” said co-owner Lee Johnson.
Sunday lunch is about as English as a cup of tea, with Bong Bong’s take in keeping with the growing number of different breakfast and brunch releases – albeit with a weekend spin – that utilise global ingredients and techniques.
The internationally influenced Sunday roast was a popular concept back in 2018, with Indian barbecue joint Brigadiers and age-old Caribbean spot Cottons Rum Shack & Restaurant just two examples of London-based eateries taking on the British institution.
A survey of UK diners by global intelligence platform Streetbees found that 49% of people went out for brunch more in 2019 than they did the previous year. And, over the past year or so, we’ve covered a number of different London brunch/breakfast concepts that incorporate different cuisines from around the world, with everything from Sri Lankan to Venezuelan food getting brunch renditions.
Eating with your hands does have a street food feel to it, echoing Bong Bong’s roots, with the food itself varied and vegetable heavy.
Atchara, one of the 12 side kamayan side dishes, is a popular Filipino pickle made from grated unripe papaya, with London’s growing curiosity towards all things fermented and pickled proving to something of a springboard for new and unusual options in both retail and foodservice sectors.
The adobo glazed cauliflower – which is available as both a main and a side - also catches the eye, with adobo traditionally a Filipino staple marinade of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns.