Barkada is a fun, buzzy restaurant serving up modern Filipino cocktails and cuisine
Barkada – with the moniker referring to the Tagalog term for a group of friends – is founded by Instagram-famous influencer and author Jen Balisi alongside Gagan Gurung, who oversees the cocktail programme. At this new Singular Concepts eatery, guests can indulge in unique dishes filled with the diverse flavours and cooking techniques associated with the Southeast Asian nation of the Philippines.
The tasteful, tropical interior’s neon signs and blue-gemmed tones make for a vibrant and laid-back ambience.
The Barkada cocktails
We opted for the Barkada Sour and Sogo Manila (HK$110 each) for our first round of drinks. The Barkada Sour (right) focuses on guava and citrus flavours shaken with pandan-infused gin. This refreshing drink is topped with a frothy rice foam, giving a clean, earthy ending. While guava and citrus are a trophy pairing, the fruity flavours are too subtle, with the flavour of pandan overtaking the palate.
The Sogo Manila (left) is a bold first drink that incorporates Red Horse Beer (brewed and bottled in the Philippines), white tequila, lemonade, guava and calamansi. Served in an ice-cold glass, this drink comes off a bit harsh owing to the tequila, but the pops of calamansi are a welcome contrast, backed and strengthened by the lemonade and beer.
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Coconut-infused gin gives a tropical twist to the Coconut Negroni (HK$120), pictured at right, with our palate reaping the benefits of the smooth, creamy and slightly nutty flavours, while the Balikbayan (HK$120), pictured at left – which stands for a Filipino living abroad – is made with apples grown in the Philippines. Shaken with whisky, this cocktail contains apple juice, apple-pie moonshine, Fernet Hunter, citrus and mint. Unfortunately, we couldn’t detect any mint, but the spices infused into this cocktail make it taste just like liquid apple pie! Perhaps this drink was overshaken, like the Barkada Sour, as the flavours quickly became diluted.
The Barkada food menu
The dishes at Barkada provide a great introduction to Filipino cuisine. The back of the menu showcases a brief guide to the regions and cooking styles of the Philippines. Because many Filipino dishes are meat heavy, there are vegetarian options offered for those with specific dietary restrictions or diners who simply want to lighten the load.
To start, order the lumpiang Shanghai (HK$68) for some deep-fried goodness. We wished there were a few more rolls, but the sweet pineapple sauce hit the spot, complementing the savoury chicken-mince filling.
The adobo popcorn chicken (HK$108; HK$98 with tofu) is a riff on adobo – the national dish of the Philippines – flavoured with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and bay leaves. The chicken was slightly overcooked and a little too chewy for my liking, but both this dish and the spring rolls are recommended meal openers, especially when paired with a few cocktails.
One notable starter is the salmon kinilaw (HK$128). Kinilaw is a Filipino cooking method featuring raw seafood cured with vinegar and/or citrus. At Barkada, sashimi-grade salmon is marinated with cane vinegar, calamansi, chilli, onion, fried garlic and coconut milk. This dish is spicy from the chilli, sour from the calamansi and savoury from the fried garlic, but I didn’t taste much of the coconut milk, which would have offered a welcome cooling effect. I found the rice crackers to be too thin for this dish; they fall apart within seconds once the kinilaw is scooped up.
I was most looking forward to trying the Spicy Funky Coconut Noodles with bagoong shrimp (HK$158; HK$138 with kabocha squash). Traditionally, this dish is paired with rice, but Jen’s changed it up, using thick, chewy noodles that pick up the sauce (made with coconut, chilli, fried garlic and coriander) as they’re twirled with each bite. This comforting, creative plate is influenced by Jen’s mother’s home region of Bicol, famed for its spicy coconut-milk dishes. The bagoong (a fermented krill marinade) shrimp were a bit overcooked and had a stringy, slightly tough texture, but the noodles overshadowed this part of the execution.
We enjoyed the Sizzling Sisig with pork belly (HK$138; HK$148 with salmon; HK$128 with shiitake and oyster mushrooms) with garlic rice (HK$38). Originating from the province of Pampanga in the region of Luzon, sisig is traditionally served on a hot plate; it’s made from pork jowl, pork ears, pork belly and chicken liver seasoned with onion, chilli and calamansi and is topped with a raw egg for stirring in. Barkada retains most of the classic recipe, drizzling the dish with Kewpie mayo. The calamansi lightens the rich and fatty flavours of the pork, while the egg cooks naturally on the hot plate and adds a creamy touch.
We ended our gut-busting meal with Jen’s mum’s cassava cake (HK$108). This sweet and buttery cake features a mochi-like centre and is topped with caramelised coconut syrup (known as latik) and a scoop of coconut ice cream. The natural starchiness of the cassava holds all the ingredients together and highlights the coconut’s sweet, delicate earthiness.
This was my first time trying an array of Filipino dishes, and Barkada serves as a great introduction to the cuisine, delivering on its promise of serving up authentic flavours with a modern twist. We like the restaurant’s chilled atmosphere and the hearty, homestyle plates. Admittedly, some of the dishes’ classic flavours are overshadowed by the tendency towards and modernity and creativity (I’m a fan of allowing the traditional flavours to shine). However, Barkada’s warm, welcoming vibe left us feeling satisfied and content.
Where: UG/F, FOCO, 48 Cochrane Street, Central
For reservations: phone 2663 0238 or book online
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.