Why Filipino Food is London’s Latest Love Affair (and Where to Try It)

Why Filipino Food is London’s Latest Love Affair (and Where to Try It)

Do you know your calderetas from your kare kare? Pinay Hannah Tan-Gillies gives us the lowdown on London’s flourishing Filipino food scene.

food can only be eaten one way, and that’s
family-style. The best of our cuisine is cooked lovingly at home by
a lola (grandma) or tita (aunt). Bowls of adobo and sour sinigang
soup are savoured by dozens of giddy relatives as they gossip
affectionately about their neighbours and church friends. It’s that
way for many Pinoys (a colloquial term for Filipinos).

In the Philippines, everyone is either “aunt” or
“uncle” – a joyful reflection of a community that tends to treat
everyone like family. And our food mirrors this warmth. To us, food
is a kind of love language, designed to be shared, even when eating

But, with 7,641 islands – and a far-reaching diaspora – the
cookbook of the Philippines is hard to sum up. A colony for 300
years, Spanish influences still permeate every aspect of the
country’s culture, including in the kitchen, where hints of Chinese
and other Southeast Asian flavours mingle with Iberian and
indigenous elements. Filipino food is characterised by rich tomato-
or soy-based stews, grilled meats and filling broths. It’s sour,
salty and spicy. Stews – adobos, menudos, calderatas and even the
more adventurous peanut butter-infused kare kare – are packed with
flavour and thick with sauce. Lechon, a whole roast pig, is the
high point of any fiesta.

Ensaladang talong at Sarap
A dessert at London's Sarap

Ensaladang talong, left, and a dessert at Sarap, London. |
Photo credit: Thomas Alexander

It’s a melting pot of textures, spices, flavours and
ingredients, always with a hint of sweetness. If you’ve ever tried
Filipino spaghetti, you’ll know what I mean. Meaty, saucy dishes
are accompanied by hefty bowls of rice, and by the occasional
sautéed vegetable – pinakbet, gising gising or adobong kangkong.
Garlic, onions, soy sauce and vinegar make up the foundations of
almost every dish, so your nose always tells you when something is
cooking in the kitchen. Growing up with Filipino food means I’ve
developed a taste for food made with love. While every tito or tita
may have his or her own recipe for the classic adobo, they are all
united by that same thread: an unstuffy, home-cooked and hearty
flavour – and a little bit of love – that sings when you experience
it at any good Filipino restaurant.

Until recently, the UK’s relationship to Filipino cuisine had
taken a backseat to its enjoyment of the bun houses and ramen
joints of Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines, but that’s changing.
In London’s ever-evolving food scene, Filipino restaurateurs have
shifted the focus.

It’s a melting pot of textures, spices, flavours and ingredients, always with a hint of sweetness

Take Romulo Café. An institution in family-style Filipino food,
it landed in South Kensington in 2016 as one of London’s first
Filipino fine-dining restaurants. The interiors look like they
could be a dining room in the Romulo family estate in Manila, and
fit perfectly into Kensington’s glitzy restaurant scene – all
baroque flourishes and haughty family oil portraits. Here, you’ll
dine between the glamorous titas and titos of London (so behave).
The menu is rich and diverse, with distinctly Western touches
meeting old-school classics: think scottish salmon tamarind
sinigang, and a heady truffled pork belly adobo.

Then, there’s the family-owned, UK-based Maginhawa Group, named
after a well-known dining destination in Metro Manila; an area that
houses some of the most daring and creative independently owned
bars and restaurants in the Philippines’ capital. We have Maginhawa
to thank for London eateries Bintang, Mamasons, Panadera and, most
recently, Ramo Ramen (a playful Japanese-Filipino noodle joint),
where traditional cuisine is fused with other culinary styles, with
both panache and respect.

Like many other Filipino immigrants, I’ve found these
restaurants and their familiar tastes a welcome source of reprieve
when missing home, especially during the pandemic. When I sit down
with that bowl of sinigang on a rainy day, I’m instantly
transported to my family dining room, awash with familiar scents
and flavours, and reminded of the people who represent home.

Eight London Filipino restaurants to try

The kare kare at Kasa and Kin, London


Kasa and Kin

This buzzy barbecue joint’s name perfectly reflects its ethos:
Kasa means “home”, while Kin means “familial relations” – it’s all
about feeling comfortable. Start with the beef bulalo, a
traditional beef shank and bone marrow soup brewed for hours. Then,
turn your attention to the grill for soft pork belly, also known as
liempo, chicken inasal, a grilled chicken delicacy, and the
homemade chorizo de Cebu, a sweet-cured pork sausage. There’s also
a dedicated in-house panaderio, or Filipino bakery. Stop by to pick
up a quintessential pandesal (sweet bread roll).


52-53 Poland St, W1F 7NQ

Crispy roast pork hock at Romulo Café


Romulo Café

Before there was Kasa and Kin, there was Romulo Café, also owned
by Rowena Romulo, a trailblazer in bringing Filipino cuisine to
London’s fine-dining scene. The elegant, monochrome dining room
with pistachio-green accents is the place to try the likes of
sizzling chicken inasal sisig (sisig is finely chopped sizzling
meat), ensaladang talong (aubergine salad) and Dingley Dell crispy
pata, a deep-fried pork hock served with mung beans and moringa. Be
sure to sample Tito Greg’s beef and oxtail kare kare, too, another
family recipe – stewed beef brisket and oxtail in peanut sauce and
shrimp paste.


343 Kensington High St, W8 6NW

Bintang in Camden



A Camden institution for 35 years, Bintang is one of the oldest
Filipino restaurants in London. What originally started as a
hole-in-the-wall Malaysian noodle shop has slowly morphed into an
intimate pan-Asian neighbourhood restaurant. Try the spicy carabao
chicken wings or adobo fried wings to start, or, if you’re here for
brunch, one of the silogs. A standard Filipino breakfast, the dish
consists of meat, egg, rice and a bit of pickled papaya. Our
favourite is either the tapsilog (with sirloin beef steak) or the
bangsilog (with marinated fried milkfish).


93 Kentish Town Rd, NW1 8NY



“Dirty ice cream”, a uniquely Filipino concept, is sold by
street vendors to help people contend with the Philippines’ humid
heat. Mamasons, another Maginhawa Group operation, serves up
delicious scoops in flavours including ube, queso, Milo and
calamansi. Ube is a purple yam used in many Pinoy treats; queso is
cheese; Milo is a chocolate malt drink; and calamansi, a special
Filipino lime. Also try the quintessential Filipino dessert of halo
halo. The name means “mix mix”, and refers to the combination of a
whole bunch of Filipino dessert favourites in one dish. Expect
coconut strings, flan, shaved ice, nata de coco and evaporated
milk, all layered up into a trifle-like extravagance.


32 Newport Ct, WC2H 7PQ

A bowl at Ramo Ramen, Camden


Ramo Ramen

A Filipino ramen house? Sign us up. Ramo Ramen combines the
staple soups and broths of the Philippines with classic Japanese
ramen plating. Tempt your taste buds with the octopus kinilaw, a
Filipino version of ceviche, then turn your attention to the bowls.
Lobster and crab ginataan is the star of the show, an all-round
crowd-pleaser that pairs a coconut-milk broth with grilled lobster
and lemon butter. It’s a revelation. Other highlights include the
oxtail kare kare and the classic sinigang – a sour, tamarind-based


157 Kentish Town Rd, NW1 8PD

Sarap dish
Photo credit: Nic Crilly Hargrave



Combining a Filipino soul with a London heart, Sarap
(“Delicious”) celebrates the well-balanced sour, salty and sweet
flavours synonymous with the Philippines. Swerving traditional
dishes, the menu offers contemporary takes on the classics. We like
the ginataang kalabasa, pumpkin and butternut squash cooked in
coconut milk, and rellenong crispy pata, a fried pork trotter
served with moreish adobo rice. For dessert, don’t miss the suman –
sweet sticky rice cake rolled in a pandan leaf – served with a
devilish, Don Papa rum-sloshed coconut ice cream.


10 Heddon St, W1B 4BX

Dishes on offer at Jollibee



Yes, we know it’s a chain, but no Pinoy would miss Jollibee off
a list of their favourite London restaurants. Coined the “Filipino
KFC”, this beloved fast-food chicken joint arrived in the UK with a
reputation. The Philippines is the only country in the world where,
despite having a presence, McDonald’s isn’t the top fast-food
chain. By the looks of the snaking lines outside Jollibee’s Earl’s
Court and Leicester Square locations, the golden arches might be
getting worried in old Blighty, too. Top orders include the chicken
joy with rice (no chips in sight), burger steak and pancit malabon,
a moreish concoction of rice noodles cooked in salty shrimp


22 Leicester Square, WC2H 7LE

Photo credit: Alejandro Olaya


The Adobros Supper Club

Run by brothers Mark and Mike Corbyn, in south-east London, The
Adobros is all about offering hungry diners traditional Filipino
recipes, crafted with love. Launched in 2013, it has quickly become
the foremost Filipino supper club in town. Inspired by the Corbyns’
love for the Filipino meals their mum cooked when they were growing
up, the duo started it after realising there wasn’t much decent
Filipino food around in London. The dining experience is all about
capturing the warmth, buzz and festivity of this unique food
culture and adding a contemporary twist. Book in for a taste of
their famous adobo, kare kare, and lechon porchetta.

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