In the Philippines, merienda is a light snack that’s just as important as any other meal. Usually consumed once in the morning and another in the afternoon, they’re meant to satisfy carvings before lunch and dinner.
Merienda fare isn’t showcased much in Filipino restaurants abroad or in the Philippines, which is why Coconuts Manila was excited to try the newly opened Manam Cafe in SM Megamall’s Fashion Hall.
We visited it over the All Saint’s Day holiday and ordered a sampling of its cafe-exclusive menu that consists of minatamis (sweets), tinapay (bread), and kakanin (delicacies made of glutinous rice).
Like Manam’s main branches, the cafe’s interiors are decked in modern minimalist details: white paneled walls, black-framed mirrors, and Filipino pop art.
Their menu, which includes cafe-exclusive items and a condensed version of the main restaurant’s offerings, has a similar approach to Filipino food: classic flavors with a modern twist. We found, though, that this style works for some but not all dishes.
The best of the bunch has got to be the Calamansi Tart (PHP220/US$4.15), a Filipino take on lime pie. Theirs has just the right amount of the native citrus fruit calamansi, which flavors both the creamy center and the crumbly crust. The tart is lightly brûléed, which adds sweetness and crisp to the filling that would’ve otherwise been too sour.
We paired ours with a cappuccino (PHP110/US$2.07). It was good — not too acidic and not too creamy — but it left us wanting more. For a restaurant that highlights modern twists, the six-item beverage menu is quite standard and plain.
Their sandwiches made with the Filipino bread ensaymada were also quite good.
We liked the Chorizo Ensaymada ‘Wich (PHP320/US$6.03) because of how it blends sweet and savory flavors from the ensaymada, chorizo patty, fried egg, and arugula. It’s a good breakfast (or brunch) burger that’s hearty but not overwhelmingly so. The sandwich comes with a side of crispy house-made root chips that’s also both sweet and salty.
However, their ensaymada falls flat. Looking more like a dinner roll, it lacks the airy layers and flakes that are typical of the brioche-like bread.
This works fine with the chorizo sandwich but not as well with the Three Cheese Ensaymada ‘Wich (PHP200/US$3.77), probably because it has fewer textures to mix with.
With this, the bread is front and center. We chose to top our order with melted shaved raclette, turning it into a four-cheese sandwich that was like grilled cheese on steroids. It’s good, especially when paired with the Hot Tsokolate (hot chocolate) (PHP80/US$1.50), but a little too salty and one-dimensional in flavor.
It turns out, more cheese does not always mean better.
Another sweet-and-salty option is the Bibingkang Ube (PHP230/US$1.51). A bibingka is a Filipino rice cake usually made with slices of salted egg and topped with grated coconut.
Manam Cafe offers this classic version but we opted for the one made with ube (purple yam). Ours took a while to be served but we didn’t mind because it had a warmth — literally and metaphorically — only found in freshly-baked goods.
It’s fluffy and buttery — things every good bibingka must be — but we think the flavor of the marbled ube should be more apparent.
One twist that didn’t quite work for us was the Tsokolate Sticky Roll (PHP115/US$21.17). Its dough was too dense, even for a sticky bun. Those with a serious sweet tooth would like this for the sugary glaze but chocoholics expecting a rich cocoa flavor will be disappointed. The roll is marbled with a chocolate dough but this is overpowered by the glaze.
Our spread was completed with an order of House Crispy Sisig Silog (PHP265/US$5.00), a spin on Filipino breakfast silogs made with Manam’s sisig (chopped pig’s face), fried garlic rice, and a sunny-side-up egg; and Sizzling Corned Beef Belly Kansi (PHP270/US$5.09 for a small).
Both are standouts in the restaurant’s original menu and are still worth ordering in the cafe.
Manam Cafe would have been more impressive if it had more drink and bread options — it is a cafe, after all — but overall, it is a great option for weekday coffee breaks or Sunday brunch with family or friends visiting the Philippines for the first time.
Find it: Third Floor, Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas, Mandaluyong City
Hours: Open every day from 10am – 10pm