Where I hang out, and what I eat there.
More than restaurants, it’s cafés that I feel a deep affinity to. I’m enraptured by the smells of coffee, the by-now-familiar sounds of the espresso machine, the touch of the cool hardness of the mismatched tables, and the sight of similarly over-stretched souls seeking a caffeinated time-out. Cafés are my lodestars, illuminating a path to renewed and re-charged creativity. And I can’t think of anything more comforting to clasp to my chest than a cup of coffee while deliberating yet another slice of sweet.
Here then, are my favorite cafés. This is a post I’m hesitant to write because these places are all very special – and pleasurably secret – for me. But they make me happy. And if you’re familiar with me at all by now, you know that happy, especially when it comes to food places, is something I have to share.
The Room Upstairs
More than any other place on this list, this is the one I’m most reluctant to reveal. I wrote about this place some years ago, and since then, it’s gone through a recent refurbish.
There’s almost too much to amuse the eye here in this hip space owned by interior designer Pinky Peralta and her husband, Ari. Their concept to meld food and furniture takes flight in their avant-garde playground where design-meets-coffee, the home accents evocative of eclectic styles embracing functionality. Every visit yields something new and I’m constantly bewitched by the ever-changing models of oversized lamps, mismatched tables, and the retro chaise longues.
This is the uber-stylish environment of this unique coffee shop: The Room Upstairs Café where there’s nothing like sipping and supping in a sanctuary so pleasing to eye and palate. It’s all about choosing a table first. That round two-seater in the corner illuminated brightly or the expansive wooden table banked up with Victorian-style banquettes?
This café has a dining menu albeit limited, but I’ve never eaten a full meal here. The Peraltas have made a conscious decision to keep the food locally-sourced, items that include salads, assorted sandwiches, bruschetta, and pastas.
The coffee at The Room Upstairs is – like the furniture – something to talk about. Barako and Alamid beans are used in beverage preparations like Americano, Latte, and Cappuccino but it’s best brewed black. The coffee is brewed in a French press that extracts a substantial, powerful cup conveying a strong, heavy body with a slight astringency.
Coffee like this is wonderful with the sweets displayed so temptingly at the counter. Various biscotti, some dipped in chocolate, some plain are arranged to entice in a wide-mouthed jar. Cakes such as Mochaccino and Cherry Cheesecake gleam from behind the glass, it’s as if they’re winking and enticing. There’s a Decadent Chocolate Cake but I’m especially fond of two things. First, the Linzer Tart. An Austrian specialty, this is a slightly-spiced nut crust filled with strawberry (classically, it should be raspberry) jam. The dough used in the crust is then utilized once more to form a lattice top crust. It’s pretty and pleasing with a subtle hint of allspice. Secondly, the mini lemon-glazed hearts are cookies that are big enough for a big bite. Buttery and brittle, their lemon flavor is zippy and adds an extra fillip of flavor to the coffee I wash it down with.
The Room Upstairs
2nd Floor LRI Business Plaza,
210 N. Garcia St., Bel Air, Makati
Chocolate Kiss Café
What I love more than the name of this café is its Dayap Chiffon Cake (P80). A louder whisper in weight than its more ethereal counterparts, there’s an understated caramel ripple that runs through the middle of its citrus crumb. Dayap, whose acidity and more refined aroma makes it the more genteel sister of the calamansi imbues its character into this cake with a flourish of zingy intimacy sealed with swirls of marshmallow icing. Before I know it, the entire slice is gone.
Chocolate Kiss Café made its name on its Devils’ Food Cake – lofty and mighty with mounds of sticky icing as well as its Hainanese Chicken Rice and Hickory Smoked Spareribs. All good yes, but I prefer the Fish Kiev (P240), medium-sized croquettes whose crusty exteriors cradle flakes of fish in a creamy sauce. It’s a dish whose flavors are so demonstrably fluent and seamless that I almost forget about the side of mashed potatoes it comes with.
- Chicken Kiev with Mashed Potatoes
Ah, let me tell you about Chocolate Kiss’s mashed potatoes. I daresay that these are the best that can be found in Manila. Evidently made from real potatoes – as copious lumps and tongue will attest to on first taste – these are sparingly salted and delicately peppered, with the faintest fire from smashed garlic. Possessing a consistency that’s neither too dry or wet – frankly, they’re almost spongy, they’re perfect pillows for sopping up excessive amounts of gravy. These mashed potatoes are superlative – pass up the rice just this time for this.
At Chocolate Kiss, I also enthusiastically recommend the Sour Cream Cheesecake (P105; enough tang for pucker, and cream to make me sigh), and instead of the Devil’s Food Cake, go for the Classic Chocolate Cake (P98), the fudge frosting of which is imminently more satisfying. I’ll also say here that I prefer the A. Roces Avenue branch because it’s less harried and gives off a better vibe.
Chocolate Kiss Café
G/F + 2/F Ang Bahay ng Alumni, R. Magsaysay St., UP Diliman, Quezon City
(02) 433.3782 / 434.7430
Open Daily, 7am-10pm
91 A. Roces Ave., Quezon City
Open Mon-Sat, 11am-10pm
Related Post: Chocolate Kiss Café (post circa 2005)
I’ve never stopped coming back here since I first wrote about it last December. I like it so much that I even had my birthday breakfast here and it’s my early morning go-to place when meeting friends for brekkie.
The torsade au chocolat tortures me every time I come here, its spirals of chocolate and flaky pastry are as ravishing as the triangle aux amandes (almond triangle) or the chausson au pommes (apple turnover). The coffee here is assuredly exceptional. I should know, because my good friend, Robert Francisco of Boyds Coffee takes care of that. When the pull of savory is more persistent than the sweet (a rare reality, this) I’m inclined to the croque monsieur.
Lately however, there’s one thing that sounds the siren song of sweet for me, and that’s the Nutella Beignet. I’ll admit that I love Nutella in all obscene ways imaginable and more than what is deemed acceptable. How can I not? And Paris Délice isn’t helping any. The beignet, which is really more of a doughnut than the traditional yeast pastry, looks harmless enough. It’s a doughnut…
…at least until I bite into it. Okay, if my first bite is tentative, there’s nothing there but bread. But bite bigger I will and dig deeper I shall, and I’m rewarded with a rush of richness, a chocolate flow that scintillates on tongue and gleams in the morning light. Nutella’s don’t-stop-‘til-you-get-enough quotient is derived from its characteristic hazelnut nuances tapping seductively on the arched back that is chocolate. This beignet, I still maintain that it’s a doughnut, speaks to the erotic heights that a Nutella-induced craving can attain. I don’t bother sharing this one with anyone. With something this good, my appetite will mount until it’s satisfied.
Paris Délice always maintains a semblance of quiet and efficiency even at the height of lunch and dinner service. Afternoons are relaxing, when the only sound heard is the tap-tapping of digits on keyboards. Wi-Fi is a plus for those who want it but I’m not the type to lug my laptop around. What I do like to do in the afternoon here is to sip a cup of their hot chocolate. Native tsokolate with a French accent, the restaurant has eschewed the usual paper cup and now serves it in a proper ceramic cup, all frothy and dashing with a dollop of steamed milk. Never too sweet, it sears with its heat then cools with its chocolate edge.
#1 Juno Street corner Makati Avenue, Makati (on the side of and adjoining Jollibee)
Dine-in and take-out.
Open Mon-Sun 7am-10pm.
- Sweet Bella’s 1st floor
Sweet Bella Café
This is my latest café favorite. It’s the newest baby of pastry chef Cristina Santiago-Rivera, my friend and one of the bakers at DCF’s 6th Anniversary Party. It was last December when Cristina told me that she’d opened up her place but she asked me to “… please, please don’t come over yet…” until she had everything in perfect order. I couldn’t promise because really, nothing can keep me away from a good café, especially one that’s run by a pastry chef of Cristina’s caliber.
- Sweet Bella’s 2nd floor
Sweet Bella Café is plush and lush set in rich tones of deep violet and her trademark pink and cocoa-brown boxes. Time just stands still here, it does. It’s easy to see why I spend hours here with friends engaging in supposedly intellectual dialectic about which of Cristina’s cakes are the best.
I’m astonished and absolutely pleased to see that the café carries a select line of TWG teas from the famed boutique in Singapore. They’re all good but my favorite is the Silver Moon, a green tea blend highlighted with a berry-vanilla bouquet. This isn’t your mother’s teabag for look, each one is made from 100% cotton and is hand sewn. A luxe beverage, and one of the few times I’ll eschew coffee for tea.
You can see and read about Cristina’s creations here and here, so I won’t get into those. But what I’ll tell you about is one of her newest imaginings, something called Heaven. I call it a mighty-miniature size since it’s bigger than her usual for-one portions. The softest of chiffon cakes – really, nothing but a diaphanous layer – is the base for an exquisitely crafted caramel mousse. It’s a cream and cooked sugar combination that leaves the barest of sweet trails on the tongue – is it sugar? Is it even sweet? But it’s caramel, yes it is. At the very heart of this cake is a hazelnut-chocolate croquant, a union that keeps satiety and boredom at bay. Its crispness commingles and collides with the caramel, their harmony is righteous and pure. The coating of this cake is fragile, cocoa butter and coloring that’s been sprayed on the cake. It cracks under the weight of my lustful stare, but I use my fork too.
The best part about Heaven is the chocolate orb atop it. Initially, it looks out of place and man, it’s hard to saw through. But don’t make that mistake. Since my fingers are my default utensil, I pick up the sizable disc and bite. Upon impact, the most indulgent of salted caramel sallies forth, released from its chocolate cover. It spills over my lips and mouth, giving new meaning to the term, “licking my lips in pleasure.” Truly, its taste is too good, it feels almost illicit.
No wonder it’s called Heaven.
Sweet Bella Cafe
Rizal Drive, Global City, Taguig
844.0680 / 392.7571 / 0928-502.5027