October 13, 2022 | 00:00
Bench Café’s new menu is fun. It’s creative and bright, which makes me feel like the darker times of the pandemic are behind us. The delicious menu complements the Bench brand by offering Pinoy favorites with a contemporary twist. Still, it’s Filipino food through and through. Plus, it emphasizes individuality and is affordable, making it responsive to current economic conditions.
Cheeno Dee, COO of Foodee Global Concepts and co-founder of Kravers Canteen, which oversees all Bench Cafés, said, “We started in 2017, then expanded and built four Bench Cafés. Then the pandemic happened. We haven’t been able to build the brand enough (during the pre-pandemic period) to give it enough strength. So now we breathe new life into it, reinvent it and relaunch it.
More cafes are in the works and should open soon.
Bench Cafe is a partnership between Suyen Corporation and Foodee Global Concepts, which manages day-to-day operations and collaborates with Bench Group on aesthetics, branding and marketing. Of course, Bench is synonymous with its founder, visionary “Love Local” supporter and trailblazer Ben Chan.
Before, the Bench Café format was family-style. Now they realize that people who come in want more unique and personalized complete meal sets. The new menu is called “Bench-to”, which is a play on the Japanese bento. The basic set is at P199, which is rice with longganisa, lumpiang laing, pork adobo, dilis, and soy egg. The idea is to get the basic set and then order ulam from a selection including Bagnet Kasuy Kare Kare, Chicharon Chicken, Shrimp a la Beng, Inasal Liempo and more.
This is optional, of course. One can stick to the basic set if that is enough for dinner. An alternative is to just order from the Ulam menu and rice. Or, for people who eat a lot, like me (aka, takaw), I can build on the basic set and keep adding dishes. This flexibility in choice and price gives the diner leeway in terms of preferences and budget. I must say that the price is unbeatable, especially with such delicious dishes.
“We listened to our customers and realized what they wanted was something more personalized, fast and affordable,” says Cheeno. “So the structure of our menu makes it flexible for any type of budget and level of hunger.”
Let’s get to the fun and creative part. On the menu, there is a portion Lugaw, Soup and Pinoy Ramen. “All of our soups, we’ve turned them into lugaw versions, which basically involves adding rice. The same goes for our ramen version where we add noodles,” Cheeno explains. The soups that one can have in the Lugaw or ramen versions are Tinola, Sinigang, Suam na Mais and Bulalo. There’s even a Sisig Ramen. I had the Sinigang Lugaw while it was raining outside, and it was perfectly comforting. I still have my sinigang with rice anyway. Making a lugaw out of it is genius. Why didn’t I think of making it at home?
There are also Silogs with Crispy Beef Tapa, Lamayong Bangus, Chicken Tocino, the popular Beef Pares and Bonggalmulsal, which are all breakfast favorites combined. So yes, it’s for those who like to eat big to start the day.
Among the dishes under “Altanghap” are Pancit Guisado, Batangas Lomi, Pinoy Spaghetti, and Crispy Pancit Palabok. Then, of course, there is dessert. Offered are Turon, Bananacue and Maruya. And everyone can have a fashionable style. I find the combination of Ube Brownie Flan, Maja Blanca Crumble and Sapin Sapin Salted Egg interesting and surprisingly delicious.
My personal piece de resistance, however, is the Bench Special Halo Halo, which is available in ube or white. This modified treat is similar to bingsu, the Korean frozen dessert, where the shaved or shaved ice is already flavored. So the halo-halo is “hindi hinahalo”.
The new menu is simplified, but the dishes it contains are Filipino classics that have been innovated, improved and even glamorized. Above all, it is personalized. How is it special?
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Follow Bench Café on IG @benchcafe.ph. Bench Café locations are at BGC, mobile 09177021133; Greenbelt, mobile 09176342825; Robinsons Ermita, phone 2421483; and TriNoma Mall on the ground floor.
Follow the author on IG @toda_monique.