For those who crave for Binondo favorites but can’t go all the way there

The Raintree Hospitality Group sure knows Filipino food.

For instance, the restaurant Kabila—beside M Café at Ayala Museum complex in Makati— offered homegrown cuisine in a more sophisticated way, such as fresh lumpia wrapped in an egg net, lengua estofado in a hot stone bowl, and turon half-wrapped like a gift in a banana leaf.

Much thought went into the presentation of the dishes, to appeal to foreigners who frequent the area.

Simple Lang at the Ayala Triangle Gardens, Makati, had the yuppies and working crowd in mind, with playful, reasonably priced dishes.

Beef pares came as bibimbap, gising-gising was flavored with Thai green curry, palabok was crispy, and sinigang was hearty with crispy bagnet and watermelon wedges.

Unfortunately, both restaurants have folded up.

Friends & Family, which opened in 2018, took over the space occupied by Stella Wood Fired Bistro. Its Birthday Spaghetti is the same prominent pasta from celebrations of yesteryears, complete with ketchup sauce and hotdog-marshmallow on a stick.

The Pancit Palabok is inspired by corporate chef Kalel Chan’s titas who used to sell it at the old Kalentong Market. Their version had crispy caul fat trimmings and crumbled tofu in annatto oil as toppings, while Chan’s has dried squid and six-minute boiled egg.

The dinuguan is flavored with lemongrass and, as dining habits go, served with puto. The sinigang has lechon and is red due to the generous addition of tomatoes, the way owner Martin Wisniewski’s grandmother used to cook it.

Binondo in BGC

Seized by a sudden craving for maki mi and realizing its inaccessibility, Chan came up with a menu that smacks of Chinatown. “It’s personal. These are things I like to eat,” he says. “They’re not easy to find. Sometimes I need to go all the way to Banaue in Quezon City or Binondo in Manila. That’s why I included Chinoy food on the menu.”

There’s maki mi, thick and silky-sweet soy soup with egg whites and fried pork, paired with Sunshine hot sauce and kiampung rice topped with Chinese sausage, pickled mustard greens and peanuts.

All-time favorites such as sweet and sour pork, lumpiang Shanghai, and chop suey are also on the list, with fragrant beef pares, camaron rebusado and pork humba claypot.

For dessert, the options are mango sago, almond jelly and a variety of buchi.

This week, Friends & Family becomes the latest addition to the roster of brands at The Corner Market, the bustling food hall at Podium Mall, Ortigas.

“We get mostly office workers dining out for lunch on weekdays, then families on weekends. Friends & Family has something for everyone. And being the only Filipino food concept in the mix, it fills a void,” says Linfred Yap, managing partner at the Relish Group, which operates the hall. “The Birthday Spaghetti brings me back to my childhood days.”

Chan has come up with lauriat combos (set meals) that come with pancit and bowl of sinigang broth. The meat and veggie pairings appease daily cravings—fried bangus and tinapa monggo, chicken barbecue and adobong kangkong, lechon sinigang and fried lumpiang togue.

The sizzling plates also come in generous portions. There’s crispy pork sisig with sisig rice, beef pares with tapa fried rice, and pork Bicol Express with bagoong rice. The Mr. Jones favorite, US beef garlic tapa, makes a comeback, and there’s the cheesy sisig rice which is exclusively available in the food hall.

Chan noticed the lack of merienda selections at The Corner Market. so he added arroz caldo, tokwa’t baboy, sizzling spaghetti plate (another exclusive), and ube champorado.

—CONTRIBUTED

Friends & Family Restaurant, Bonifacio High Street Central, Taguig City; tel. 0917-8917053

Friends & Family Express, The Corner Market, 2/F, The Podium, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong; tel. 0927-0227721