Clean eating has slowly been making headway in the Manila dining scene. The latest restaurant to embrace the farm-to-table philosophy is Berde, a Filipino bowl restaurant located in the Ayala Triangle Gardens, itself a sanctuary of greenery in the middle of the bustling city. “We thought it was the right time for Manila to have more restaurants that provided fast, healthy and delicious food options,” says Jaime Urquijo, one of Berde’s partners. Together with Ryan Daniels and Timothy Kong, the young men comprise the Three Brostachos, the group also behind bringing in Emack & Bolio’s, ice cream that rocks.
The restaurant’s name is an apt word for its fast-but-fresh philosophy, as well as for the lifestyle of its on the go clientele, which are mostly office workers and park goers. “We worked with a fantastic architect/interior designer, Deo Alam who, together with his team, helped us create our take on the modern karinderia. It had to be light, modern and vibrant, but also extremely functional. Deo is extremely talented and we loved working with him,” Jaime says.
A framed copy of the restaurant philosophy of ‘healthy, fresh, and fast’ hangs on the wall, and a chalkboard lists the restaurant’s partner organic and sometimes heirloom suppliers such as Domingo Perma Farms, which supplies their papaya, romaine lettuce, and spring onion; Rice Terraces Farm Coop, where they get their Tinawan white rice and Minaangan red rice; and Earth Beat Farms, where they get their arugula, calamansi, bok choy, and basil.
“All of our produce is from the Philippines. When we started the concept, making sure that everything we were serving was Filipino was important to us so we went to great lengths to make sure that we were meeting providers around the country in order to find the best produce,” Jaime shares. “This is always a work in progress and we encourage any providers to reach out to us as we always love a good farm visit! Our furthest provider would be our beef supplier who source all of their beef from Bukindnon. Their beef is delicious and it’s no coincidence that our Baka Bowl is one of our best sellers.”
But all this doesn’t mean anything if the restaurant’s food can’t hold its own. Fortunately, it can. Customers can choose from five signature bowls that focus on five different proteins—adobo, inasal, kilawin, vegetarian kare-kare, karnitas—or customize their own bowl. “Filipino food is delicious and the ingredients available to us in this country are fantastic, so we wanted to try and incorporate them as much as possible into the dishes in Berde to showcase the cuisine and hopefully, also show how taste and health can go hand in hand without having to compromise on either,” Jaime continues.
The Mushroom Monggo Kare-Kare (Php250) is made up of mushroom monggo kare-kare, berde salad mix, white rice, vegetarian gising-gising, calamansi red onion pickle, crispy shallots, and red sauce. This is the most ‘Filipino-tasting’ of the bowls, courtesy of the kare-kare and gising-gising sauces. The ‘coconuttiness’ and ‘peanutiness’ make for an umami-packed bowl.
The Manok-Out (Php280) is chicken inasal, berde salad mix, red rice, malunggay coconut pumpkin mash, calamansi red onion pickle, peanuts, and green sauce. The chicken cubes are soft, though their inasal taste tends to get lost in the mix. The bowl has good texture, and is probably the ‘safest’ of all the bowls. It’s a good dish to order for first-timers who are unsure about what they want.
Baboy Oh Boy (Php280) is pork karnitas, berde salad mix, white rice, calamansi singkamas slaw, cucumber and dill pickle, crispy garlic, and green sauce. It’s a surprisingly hearty dish with a bit of tang.
The Bangka (Php310) is fish kinilaw, berde salad mix, white rice, ensaladang talong, calamansi red onion pickle, pomelo, and green sauce. Kinilaw-lovers will enjoy this citrusy-sour bowl.
The best-selling Baka Bowl (Php350) is beef adobo, berde salad mix, white rice, calamansi singkamas slaw, calamansi red onion pickle, crispy shallots, red sauce. It’s got a slight heat to it, perfect for folks who don’t want things too spicy.
“The fact that it’s Filipino food is very important to us as we felt that too often people shy away from really showcasing our cuisine and produce,” Jaime says. “Everything we serve is made fresh in the store location and we go to great lengths to feel comfortable with a food supplier before they get on our ‘farm board.’ The process includes farm visits and several taste tests to make sure we are comfortable the food will provide healthy food for our customers and the environment.”
Guests who are feeling adventurous can make their own bowls. You choose your protein, veg, carbs, toppings, and sauce. The writer requested a fish-based salad bowl, and MBites’ Tim Muñoz came up with the MBites Bowl, which had fish kinilaw, berde salad mix, oven roasted kamote, ensaladang talong, calamansi singkamas slaw, cucumber and dill pickles, crispy shallots, and red sauce. The ensaladang talong added texture and a smokiness to the dish, while the kamote added sweetness (and carbs).
There are homemade hot sauces on hand to intensify the bowls’ flavor, though the writer thinks that a full-on sarsa-mixing station (soy sauce, vinegar, chili, and calamansi, maybe patis) would have helped guests enjoy their experience more.
There are also Saba chips (Php60) that can be ordered on the side, as well as two specialty drinks: Minty Melon (Php90), a calamansi, mint, and watermelon shake that helps with digestion and Blueko (Php90), buko juice mixed with the increasingly fashionable blue ternate flower that helps short-term memory.
“The concept lends itself well to individuals who want to eat delicious and nutritious food but who lead busy and hectic lives. Our bowls are easily taken to go and are packed with great flavors and nutrients,” Jaime says. “But at a deeper level, the concept is for consumers who want to start to get to know more about their food and ultimately where it comes from.”
Berde is a quick way to enjoy a fast, delicious, healthy, and sustainably-sourced meal. It may be a tiny restaurant now, but it’s a big signal towards the direction that the dining culture is headed towards.