Celebrating its first year anniversary in the culinary heritage scene, Bench Café officially launches its long-awaited second branch, hinting of things yet to come for the brand and for the humble lutong bahay.
“Here at Bench Café, you have to leave busog,” says Eric Dee, Chief Operating Officer of Foodee Global Concepts, as we navigate our way through the selection of specially prepared tasting servings of their menu at the newly launched branch in Greenbelt 3. With a spread composed of glamorized Filipino favorites such as the Pinoy Caprese (compressed watermelon, kesong puti, and basil with cane vinegar gastrique), Tinapa Cones (homemade lumpia cones with Tinapa mousse and salsa), Longganisa Pandesal (aka a delectable update on the seaside must-munch: Chori burger), Sugpo sa Talangka (prawns grilled with crab fat mayonnaise), as well as a selection of their popular Bench/To (upscale Pinoy turo-turo experience) picks like Beef Pares, Inasal Liempo, and Bagnet Kare-Kare, it was a fiesta of flavors from start to finish.
Sitting through the menu was a treat as the stories of the restaurant’s genesis and subsequent evolution wove through, making the experience much more enriching. “It is Filipino food for the Filipino by the Filipino,” explains Eric. “It was clear from the start that we have to satisfy the customer who sees a Bench brand and immediately knows that it was made for them.” A champion of local craftsmanship, style, and now, culinary heritage, it was paramount that this effort would be purely Filipino—which also meant that it had to be rich in flavor, high in quality, but without breaking the bank. Being able to give the premium for the price point was important, as was the need for it to be substantial. By all accounts, Bench Café is a successful realization of all these intentions as it now stands a year later with a new branch and more on the way.
While the menu is distinctly Filipino with a decidedly contemporary twist, the interiors reflect the same energy with its modern-day bistro design complete with 3D illusion tiles, tropical wallpaper and complementary furnishings in a fresh green, brown and wood combination. There is even a section tucked away for more intimate gatherings book-ended by dividers that feature a panel of mismatched glass panes, which is a nod to the windows of traditional Filipino homes. Despite its affinity for an aethetic that is clearly more Millennial than heritage, the homey feel isn’t at all lost at Bench Café. With all its attention to detail, the excellent service of the staff, and the updated menu, it truly feels as if you are at home.
Happily running down the rest of the menu, it is imperative one also tries the Sisig Lettuce Cups with Calamansi Foam, combinations that include the B6 Dancing Fish, Kaldereta, Crispy Dilis, Bench Salsa, plain rice, the B8 (Lechon Kawali, Laing, Atsara, Bench Salsa, plain rice), and the B12 (Pork BBQ, Gising-Gising, Green Mango Salad, Bench Salsa, plain rice). Bench Café also features other Pinoy dining table staples such as street food, rice, silog, merienda, and kapeng barako.
The dining experience isn’t complete without a punctuation of beloved Pinoy panghimagas, or desserts. After the indulgent round of mouthwatering degustatory delights, it is time to sink your teeth in your choice of Tsoknut Ice Cream Sandwich (toasted ensaymada filled with tsoknut ice cream), the cheeky Flan B (leche flan with macapuno), or their runaway hit, the halo-halo. Unlike the crushed ice version of our youth, which would inevitably end up a swimming watered down delight, the Bench Café iteration shakes things up by opting for shaved ice so it maintains its shape and flavor all throughout, where you can happily dig through the bottom of the cup for treats such as macapuno, garbanzos, caramelized banana, leche flan, nata de coco, and cocount ice cream (White Halo-halo) or ube halaya (Ube Halo-halo). If there is still room for more treats, take in mouthfuls of the delicious ginumis (Panucha shaved ice, sago and jelly) and the turon, which you can eat on-the-go.
Doing what it does best, Bench and Foodee Global Concepts has crafted an experience that combines the best of what the country has to offer and elevates it to a standard that can compete with the best of the world. “Bench Café brings traditions from all over the islands to create flavors that are distinctively Filipino, in a style that is uniquely Bench, and that is casual but sophisticated, simple but substantial, local but global — all at good price points,” says Eric Dee. “We are proud and happy to continue to partner with Suyen Corporation in Bench Café’s expansion and bringing its unique flavors to more Filipinos as we open our second restaurant in Greenbelt 3.”
More than anything, Bench Café is a testament to the brand’s thrust of living life with flavor, perhaps in the most literal sense. But all that aside, it is an indication that now more than ever, it is high time for the lutong bahay to take its long-deserved moment in the grander scheme of the food plane, as it has long comforted and filled us at home.