Located along the bustling avenue of Katipunan are numerous big-name establishments. It seems like most cuisines are well-represented, tightly packed into the relatively small area. It has to be said though that a lot of these restaurants require a considerable budget. There are individuals who live and/or study in the area who choose not to splurge on meals. It’s a good thing that part of the options in Katipunan are places like Blu Kitchen Cafe, dishing out tasty food at student-friendly prices.
Blu Kitchen Café is a student canteen that serves a different selection of Filipino favorites every day with a mix of Western staples. Their main clientele are students from all over the Katipunan neighborhood, residents of nearby condominiums and dormitories, and employees from various businesses. It is a renovated restaurant owned by Chef Concon Constantino and his family. A set of young chefs, fresh from culinary school, run the kitchen.
The dishes that they serve are relatively straightforward, the comforting kind that you’d expect from a home kitchen but elevated to restaurant standards. There are your staple silogs, Tapsilog and Longsilog. The house-made Beef Tapa (P85) is soft and juicy beef sirloin marinated until it’s salty enough to warrant the consumption of a heaping serving of rice. It’s the best kind of early morning fuel. Their Longganisa (P80), also house-made, is the hubad kind. Garlicky, salty and just all kinds of flavorful, it is served like a halo around a generous scoop of rice and accompanied by an ensalada of cucumber and tomatoes to cut the saltiness of the meat.
The Crispy Chicken Inasal (P115) is a dish that’s unique to Blu Kitchen Café. It was inspired by the owner’s chicken inasal business. Fillets of chicken inasal are dredged in flour and fried until golden and satisfyingly crunchy. The herbs used in the inasal marinade really jump out on first bite, with lemongrass being the most conspicuous.
Then there are the merienda favorites like the Pancit Luglug (P75) and the Mac & Cheese (P90). Pancit Luglug is basically fat rice noodles covered in the same sauce as pancit Malabon. For me, what really makes the dish is the assortment of crunchy bits on top: little pork cubes, crunchy chicharon, sweet and juicy shrimp, and smoky tinapa flakes. Their take on mac & cheese was not what I expected. They use mornay and cheddar mixed with a little tomato sauce on the cheese sauce. A hint of sourness is the most prominent taste in the dish. It’s not my kind of mac & cheese because I prefer it to be a little saltier, but that’s just me. I must say that I really loved the bacon rashers, cured in-house, that topped the mac & cheese.
The enterprising owner of Blu Kitchen café also owns a bakery. Understandably, they get their bread from there. Love your own, as they say. The burger buns of the Chef’s Special Cheese Burger (P165) is a fine example. Two large buns hold a square patty, topped with a slice of cheese, a thick slab of garlic Spam, and a heap of lettuce. It is a behemoth of a burger that my tiny hands couldn’t pick up so I had to do it the French way with a knife and fork. The patty was a revelation. At first glance, I thought that it was dry, but one bite proved me wrong. It is toasted on the outside and nicely cooked on the inside. The meat was moist, tender, perfectly seasoned, and gloriously beefy. Combining it with the garlic Spam was an inspired choice. It is served with a side of kamote fries. Don’t let the kamote fries get soggy as they are best eaten when hot.
Halo-halo is more than just a dessert for us Filipinos, it’s practically an institution. Summer, also known as halo-halo season, is officially here. It’s time to eat halo-halo and its various permutations. In Blu Kitchen Café, they fry their Halo-halo (P60). How, you may ask. First of all, they take out the milk. All the “halo” (beans, caramelized bananas, macapuno, and langka) are then wrapped in a turon wrapper and deep fried. It is then served with a latik sauce that tastes like macerated macapuno, and a couple of scoops of ube ice cream. The result? An intermarriage of flavors and textures which is what halo-halo is all about in the first place. It still tastes like your beloved halo-halo, it’s just crunchy.
A group of French students were in the cafe on the day of my visit. According to the owners, they are regulars who like to sample Filipino dishes. Apparently, they go gaga for the Coffee Flan (P50). Sweet leche flan drenched in a bitter coffee sauce, the two flavors bouncing off each other and then coming together in a smooth, crème brulee-like finish.
Blu Kitchen Café is a kitchen away from home for Katipunan dwellers who want the comfort of a good meal but don’t necessarily want to break their wallets in getting it.