This Classic Ensaymada and Chocolate Sandwich (and Other Goods from Bakerē) are Worth a Visit to the North - Lifestyle Asia

It is considered a privilege in most cultures to be invited into someone’s home, especially for a home-cooked meal. The same can certainly be said for Filipinos, as feeding guests is a favorite expression of our well-known hospitality. At Bakerē, and for part owner RJ Galang, that’s exactly what welcoming guests into the café is: an invitation into his home.

RJ Galang at Bakerē
RJ Galang at Bakerē

Having just recently opened its doors, Bakerē can be found in a building in Brixton that sits just shy of the beaten path, giving it that “hidden gem” feel that RJ confesses to liking quite a bit. The name is a play on the word bakery, with the e at the end representing the first name of RJ’s mother, Eleanor. She is the woman responsible for the delectable baked delights that have enjoyed a loyal following since 1975. It is her repertoire of recipes that are the behind the wonderful food served at Bakerē.

RJ shares, “I was about a year old when my mom started selling her baked specialties from our house in New Manila. Back then, the shop was known as Sweet Expressions.” Several years later and in 2013, the name Bakerē was conceived and it stuck.  What was initially supposed to be nothing more than an alternate pick-up location for the family’s homemade baked goods ended up becoming a full-service café that quickly became a favorite destination of those around the area and across the Pasig River.

“I joined my mother’s business about four years ago, after leaving my job in advertising. At that time, I was looking for another outlet for my creativity. My siblings and I agreed that it was time for us to take steps to make sure we kept my mom’s legacy alive. After all, we were the ones who would inherit all the recipes she had developed in so many years of baking and cooking.”

RJ shares that it wasn’t just the food, but the manner in which it was served and the traditions and stories behind each dish. In the end, he took on the responsibility not just because he had the time to do it, but also because he was very keen on preserving it all for generations to come. “Everything we serve here is what my family and I grew up eating. I wouldn’t call it comfort food, because that’s very subjective. It’s certainly our comfort food though; it’s the food we’ve all looked forward to eating, whether myself, my friends or relatives, whenever we would be at the family’s home.

“When we were designing the space, I let our decorator know that it was important that we not look like every other third-wave coffee shop out there. Bakerē has little touches that remind me of the Manila home I grew up in and the one in Butuan, where I spent my summers. It also has modern design elements I would want in my own house.” Looking around, indeed, one gets the feel of being in a home, with the warm interiors and shelves holding small stacks of books and object d’art from the family’s personal collection.

Fiercely proud of his roots, RJ made it a point to bring parts of his family’s heritage into the space, as well. There’s a table made of a wood called magkuno, or ironwood, which RJ shares is what is typically used for the thick rod or spit on which lechon roasts, because it retains heat and helps cook it from the inside. Brought in from Butuan, the thick magkuno slab rests on the iron part of an old sewing machine, which came from the New Manila house RJ grew up in.

The BXU, or Butuan lechon sandwich
The BXU, or Butuan lechon sandwich

A real star on the menu is the BXU, or Butuan lechon sandwich. “In Butuan, growing up, we had lechon all the time, even for breakfast on a couple of occasions! It is a celebration food, yes, but being gathered together as a family was, for us, enough reason for lechon to be part of a meal.” BXU is the code for Butuan’s Bancasi Airport, and the sandwich in all its simplicity lets the lechon’s distinct flavor shine through. Accompanied by a smattering of bahalina-pickled slaw to contrast the wonderfully tender and juicy pork, the lechon slices are nestled between two toasted pieces of ciabatta, which provide a nice crunch with each bite.

Ensaymada and Chocolate sandwich
Ensaymada and Chocolate sandwich

Bakerē’s specialties are her ensaymada, Food for the Gods, and more recently, the Cheese Cupcakes, or what RJ calls the “millennial ensaymada.” Boxes of ensaymada are commonly given as gifts during Christmastime because they are so special and take quite a bit of effort to make. It is no surprise that one can never have just one Bakerē ensaymada; each fluffy, buttery bun is crowned with grated queso de bola and glazed with just the right amount of sugar. Bakerē puts its own spin on traditional pairings by introducing sandwiches of Grilled Ensaymada with Ham and Grilled Ensaymada with Chocolate. Equally scrumptious to the last bite!

The tasty selection of pastas include the “mom-made” Amatriciana and Smoked Salmon Carbonara, as well as the classic version using their delicious homemade bacon. As for the sandwiches, don’t miss sampling the Egg Salad and Tuna Melt, which RJ’s mom would serve during Lent but “…never really made us feel like we were making a sacrifice, because they were so good.” The servings here are quite big, owing to the fact that guests at RJ’s house would be served that much. Even the way the food is plated is quite simple, just the way it would be done at home. RJ’s mom’s lasagna has been a long-time favorite of family and friends, and the coveted pieces are usually the corners. In appreciation of this, RJ tells us, “Here at Bakerē, we make our lasagna using a specially made mold, because everyone deserves a corner piece.”

The list of baked goodies on offer has been expanded to include white chocolate and chocolate chunk cookies, brookies, cappuccino bars, turtle bars and sticky toffee pudding. “All the baked goods still come from home. It’s still my mom and the helpers she has trained over the years who do all baking,” RJ shares. So customers can expect to get the same great-tasting products they’ve always enjoyed.

Definitely not a newbie when it comes to working at the front of the house or in the kitchen, RJ lights up as he recounts his memorable experience some years ago when he happily joined forces with cousin Miko Calo. At the time, Calo was in Manila taking a break from her job in the kitchen of 2-starred Michelin restaurant, L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon Singapore. “We work extremely well together, and I believe that Miko is, if not, one of the most underrated chefs of our time.”

Amatriciano Pasta
Amatriciano Pasta

After forming what they aptly called the Underground Supper Club, they successfully pulled off a series of sold-out dinners serving original dishes they both conceptualized and executed. Their modus operandi was simple: after posting an invitation on Instagram containing information as to the limited number of seats, the date, time and location of the event, potential diners were requested to deposit an amount to reserve their slot without having any idea of what they would be served that evening. Even the “menu” provided on the night itself was cryptic—with it simply being a list of ingredients per course.

“It was an exciting time for us, and I look forward to collaborating with Miko again. I’m thinking we could hold some of the USC dinners here at Bakerē; our kitchen is way more equipped than it needs to be.” With more good food and great dining experiences in the offing, this can only be good news. We can hardly wait.

For now though, RJ is concentrating on growing the business, all the while being hyper-conscious of maintaining the quality that has kept aficionados of his mother’s baked creations and savory dishes, coming back for more.

Text by Risa Garcia
Photography by Hub Pacheco 



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