JUNE 21, 2019

Stomping Grounds

BY CHINO L. CRUZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN DEL ROSARIO

Hong Kong favorite Elephant Grounds confidently makes its way to Manila.

You wouldn’t expect the opening of a café like Elephant Grounds in One Bonifacio High to be exciting. You’d think, amidst an almost frightening influx of overseas brands buoyed by social media buzz and queues as far as the eye can see, that putting up yet another coffee shop — this one a favorite among the ristretto-sipping sort of Hong Kong — was just par the course for Mike Concepcion’s Standard Hospitality Group.

Elephant Grounds is the local franchise of the Hong Kong café concept.

You would think that Manila, a dining city gasping for air and starved for originality, couldn’t possibly need any more culinary carbon copies from beyond, even if they did serve stellar AeroPress coffee with their thick slabs of slightly burned brioche toast.

However, you would be wrong.

The thing is, Elephant Grounds’ opening is exciting, incredibly exciting, exciting in a way that Manila hasn’t seen in quite a long time.

What Concepcion and his team — which now, crucially, includes former Your Local and Hey Handsome chefs, Nicco Santos and Queenie Villar — have done is craft a restaurant clearly inspired by the ethos and vision of the original in Wan Chai but is also unafraid to be its own unique place, fully aware of the wild and wondrous city it now calls home.

The space itself is an echo of the HK flagship — covered in slats of exposed wood, warmly lit, all of it incredibly handsome, slick and masculine without ever being macho — but it finds its identity in the details.

Tropical plants feature prominently on an accent wall, a Basquiat finds itself printed on skateboard decks hanging from one of the walls, and a massive marquee set above a flight of stairs turned seating reminds you exactly why you’re here: “Coffee n’ Chill.”

The Philippine space is an echo of the Elephant Grounds Hong Kong flagship.

It never feels like too much, though. It’s all rather composed and edited, like the café wants you to know that it’s trying but not that much.

“Everyone out there tries to be super conceptual,” Concepcion says. “But what we’re trying to do here is get the foundation right. A lot of people forget that. We just wanted to create a good place where people can have quality food and good coffee. I just want to give the city what it deserves.”

Nowhere else in the city will you find salads as boldly seasoned with lime, palm sugar and fish sauce as their outrageously vivid Thai shrimp salad, or an Earl Grey ice cream as smooth and as complex as theirs.

Here you will learn that perhaps you’ve always wanted slivers of briny bottarga in your soft-set scrambled eggs, and that maybe the hollandaise on your eggs benny had always called for the salty pop of tobiko.

The café goes beyond standard coffee shop brunch fare.

In fact, it is only here where you can get a bowl of duck krapow (served with a bright papaya salad and an egg fried to a gorgeous, lacy crisp) so alarmingly good you will find yourself wondering, if only for a moment, why you would’ve ordered anything else in the first place.

Patrons can purchase merchandise on their way in—or out.

Time will tell if this iteration of Elephant Grounds will strike the imaginations of Manila’s diners, but this much is certain: it will be a long while before the city can find a restaurant as cool, confident and accessible as this one, with a singular focus to serve food as good — no, as great — as theirs.

Elephant Grounds is opening soon at the ground floor of One Bonifacio High in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

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