Bonifacio Global City has become the go-to location for international brands coming to Manila for the first time, and the latest to set up shop in the business district is Hong Kong’s Elephant Grounds.
Filipinos who frequent Hong Kong are all too familiar with the cafe’s cozy-but-modern interiors and offerings like single origin coffee, artisanal ice cream, and Asian-inspired comfort food. And now, they no longer have to fly to get a taste of it.
“From a personal side, it’s a concept that I’ve really wanted to see,” businessman Mike Concepcion told Coconuts Manila. He’s friends with the team that started Elephant Grounds in Hong Kong and together, they decided to bring the concept to Manila.
“I’m always on the go and I’m always looking for a great place that I can just have a good coffee, have a really good meal that’s unpretentious, that’s just good quality, affordable,” he said.
A cup of coffee in Elephant Grounds averages at about PHP150 (US$2.87) per cup, the same or even cheaper than similar offerings in chain coffee shops.
We tried an iced cold brew and latte, both priced at PHP160 (US$3.07), and found them both to be quite smooth. Even the cold brew had a creamy finish and did not leave a bitter aftertaste even without milk and sugar.
Their food menu was developed by executive chef Nicco Santos, who is known for the similarly trendy Asian-inspired restaurants Hey Handsome and Your Local.
“It doesn’t have a specific cuisine but it’s all about simple comfort food dishes that you know you can have all the time,” Santos told Coconuts.
As for the food, the offerings here are similar to the ones at Elephant Ground’s branches in Hong Kong, which are mostly comprised of light meals like the Acai Greek Yogurt bowl (PHP385/US$7.38) and Avocado Pesto Toast (PHP355/US$6.80), and heartier fare like the Bacon Steak and Eggs Waffle (PHP350/US$6.70).
It was the Scrambled Eggs and Bottarga Toast (PHP345/US$6.61), however, that really impressed us and became our instant favorite.
True to a proper scramble, this one was silky, with all the components seamlessly integrated into the runny egg. It served as a blanket for chunky pieces of woodsy mushrooms and smoked whitefish and laid perfectly on top of a homemade sourdough toast that was rustic enough to carry the eggs without getting soaked.
Those looking for Asian flavors in their vegetables can go for the Thai Shrimp Salad (PHP325/US$6.23) that’s made with mixed greens and topped with shrimps and shreds of coconut. It’s dressed with nuoc cham, giving the salad hints of fish sauce that’s made milder by sweet mango slices.
Similar to Elephant Grounds’ outlets in Hong Kong, the one in Manila also serves rice bowls. But instead of typical donburi toppings, the team developed ones that incorporated local flavors like the Tapa Donburi (PHP430/US$8.24) and the Twice Cooked Adobo Pork Belly (PHP370/US$7.09).
We preferred the Tapa Donburi, a take on the Filipino classic tapsilog (beef with garlic rice and egg) that marinates the beef in Japanese soy sauce, resulting in sweeter meat with deeper umami flavor. This was served with a smokey ensalada of tomatoes and roasted eggplant, Japanese rice cooked in garlic, and a fried egg.
Those who like to douse their adobo with sauce might miss it in Elephant Grounds’ version, as it was already incorporated into the black rice. But lovers of adobo flakes will appreciate how the pork belly has a crispy exterior while retaining soft pieces of meat that can be easily cut through. It was topped with chicharron (pork cracklings) and served with a side of atchara (pickled green papaya). Ours was served with scrambled eggs, but diners can have it any way they want.
One of the more classic dishes on their menu is the Smoked Bacon Carbonara (PHP280/US$5.36), rightly made with only egg yolks, aged parmesan cheese, and smoked bacon. The linguine was al dente and did not get mushy even after several mouthfuls.
Apart from coffee, diners can also choose to pair their food with flavored iced teas. We tried the Berry Fields, Sunset, and the Yuzu Oolong (our favorite of the three), which are all priced at PHP150 (US$2.87). They’re lightly flavored, allowing the taste of the tea to come through, but the fruits add a refreshing twist fit for hot days.
Elephant Grounds Manila has also developed its own flavors of ice cream, which currently include Toasted Rice, Hazelnut, Rocky Road, EG Latte, Cookies n’ Cream, Chocolate, Earl Grey, and Acai Mixed Berry. One scoop paired with one topping is priced at PHP150 (US$2.87).
According to Santos, most of their ingredients are organic and sourced locally. “I guess we’re more thoughtful about handpicking who we wanna create relationships with … suppliers we believe who have the same vision as ours,” he said.
This is in line with what Brand Manager Catalina Altomonte said is their goal to develop a community in the cafe.
“We want it to be a space where people can come in, have coffee in the morning or have breakfast, come in, day drink, or come in [for] dinner, go on a date, things like that,” she said.
“We don’t want it to be snobbish coffee, we want it to be like everyday coffee.”
The restaurant can seat about 60 people comfortably, with tables for groups inside and outside, a bar, and elevated seating with electric sockets.
It was designed by the same architect that worked on the Hong Kong stores, and keeps the same modern aesthetic via exposed wood on the walls and ceiling.
Like those that came before it, the Elephant Grounds in Manila also has merchandise for sale, including totes, tees, and postcards.
Elephant Grounds Manila has moved its opening date. Follow them on social media for updates on when they will open.
Editor’s note: This article previously said that Elephant Grounds will be opening on May 31, Friday. The restaurant’s management first informed Coconuts Manila that they are moving the opening date to June 5, Wednesday but later said that they moved their opening date once again and have yet to specify a day.
This article, Elephant Grounds: Cult favorite HK cafe brings specialty coffee, artisanal ice cream, and Asian-inspired brunch to BGC, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!