This November, Lee Johnson and Sinead Campbell, founders of BBQ Dreamz, will open Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen in the heart of Bethnal Green. The duo’s latest creation brings together a host of Filipino favourites in a buzzing, vibrant space, with South Asian cocktails and beers, as well as a weekly Sunday kamayan, a traditional communal feast.
It is the first permanent site from Lee and Sinead, who won My Million Pound Menu with BBQ Dreamz, their Filipino street food truck, earlier this year. The pair have been praised for bringing Filipino food into the spotlight, with signature dishes such as satay duck heart skewers, cooked over charcoal and ‘Lechon Kawali’, a crispy chunk of pork belly, marinated with vinegar and star anise for 24 hours, before deep frying. At Bong Bong’s, they will rotate their classics with new additions, including La Paz Batchoi, affectionately named ‘Filipino Phô’, a noodle broth with pork and liver, garnished with peanuts and spring onions, hailing from La Paz, the region where Lee’s mother was born; and Adobo chicken, which is poached in a traditional soy sauce, garlic and bay stew before being crumbed and fried, and served with a banana ketchup.
On Sundays, Bong Bong’s will host a kamayan, a Filipino-style family feast, made for sharing. As is common in the Philippines, banana leaves line the tables rather than plates, which are then topped with mountains of steamed rice, ladlesful of taro and coconut milk Laing, piles of lemongrass prawn, pork and ginger skewers and plenty more from the day’s menu. Kamayan means ‘to eat with your hands’ in Tagalog, and diners are encouraged to skip the cutlery and get stuck in.
With an emphasis on small-batch Filipino producers, Lee and Sinead have created a cocktail menu including Don Papa sugar cane rum, which they use in their Dark & Stormy, and Tarsier Boracay Gin, made with South-East Asian botanicals, which blends with lime and soda in their Calamansi Collins.
Interiors are designed in-house, evoking the homely pastiche of tropical styles and upcycled materials of the Filipino restaurants which inspired Bong Bong’s. The restaurant is split into a dining room and outdoor terrace, both teeming with tropical flora, colourful lamps and bamboo candlesticks, against a backdrop of green wood panelling and splashes of pink.
“Opening Bong Bong’s is huge for us; it feels like an evolution from BBQ Dreamz, with a more ambitious and adventurous menu. I have such brilliant childhood memories from Manila, where we’d have riotous, celebratory dinners with the entire family. We’re looking forward to recreating them in Bethnal Green with our kamayan,” says Lee. “We’re so excited to bring the rituals of Filipino dining to Bethnal Green – we’ve spruced up our new home to feel like a proper Filipino canteen, with a mishmash of plates, glasses and lamps which we’ve collected over the years,” adds Sinead.
Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen soft launch begins on Thursday 7th November, with 50% off food. They open fully for dinner on Thursday 14th, and for lunch on Monday 18th.
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