Restaurant Review: Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen at John Lewis Roof Fest

When one of central London’s largest rooftops meets a reality TV winner peddling Filipino street food, you know you’re in for a great summer…

‘Tis the season to head to the rooftops, and John Lewis at The Gardening Society has upped its game in this department year on year, delivering us an actual ‘roof fest’ for summer 2019, complete with a caravan stage hosting live DJ sets and entertainment. Nice one, John Lewis.

But of course, no rooftop is complete without a decent food and drink offering. And since there’s no satisfying London’s insatiable appetite for street food, John Lewis at The Gardening Society has bagged itself BBC Two’s My Million Pound Menu 2019 winners, BBQ Dreamz.

BBQ Dreamz, the Filipino-inspired street food and catering company set up by couple Sinead Campbell and Lee Johnson, enjoyed a six-week residency at MEATLiquor in King’s Cross following their victory, and are continuing their ascendancy with the launch of Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen, their summer residency up on the Oxford Street rooftop.

We wanted in. Filipino food isn’t something we’ve eaten enough of. And, of course, we wanted in in style.

So a four-strong team from The Resident reserved ourselves the Garden Den, one of Roof Fest’s three bookable spaces that also includes the Boho Den (with room for four) and the Cherry Blossom Den (with room for 10).

Beautifully decked out in the season’s hottest decor – verdant florals – the Garden Den, which has room for six, is one seriously Instagrammable shed. White-painted and kitted out with banquets and cushions, the den even has a bell with which to summon the friendly staff (but just like the famed champagne bell at Bob Bob Ricard, I can’t ring it without apologising for doing so, although it does make wine ordering mighty convenient).

We began with cocktails, courtesy of Roof Fest’s drinks partner, Background Bars. The Summer of Love, with Beefeater Gin, elderflower, lemon, cucumber and Fentimans Soda, is the perfect serve for a summer’s day – spritzy and delicate. A colleague ordered the Roof Fest London, a dainty little serve with Havana 3 year old rum, banana liquor, passion fruit and mint.

‘The Garden Den even has a bell with which to summon the friendly staff, but I can’t ring it without apologising’

On to the food. Bong Bong’s Manila Kitchen crafts authentic Filipino family recipes into flavoursome dishes that look as good as they taste. My colleagues, ignoring my pleas for variety so that we could get an awesome over-the-top shot for Instagram, all order the Lechon Kawali (crispy fragrant pork belly with pickled papaya salad and a Filipino Lechon dipping sauce).

Shocking. Mostly because I was envious – who doesn’t love pork belly? I was heavily tempted by the Grilled Aubergine Satay Curry (peanut and coconut milk curry with garden peas, roasted peanuts, fresh pineapple, spring onion, coriander and lime), but I went for the Beef Tapa because a) beef and b) I like eating things I’ve never even heard of before, although it was a pretty simple dish really – garlic cured Bavette steak with tomato coriander salsa and a fried egg.

The cocktails are created by Background Bars

The cocktails are created by Background Bars

The coriander and lime add that exotic, fragrant lightness to the dish, with tasty slivers of pink beef that’s seared to a crisp around the edges, while the pork dish comes with a Filipino Lechon sauce (made with liver, breadcrumbs, vinegar, sugar and spices), that adds a real bang, plus that pickled papaya salad for freshness.

We also ordered two sides of sweet potato fries, made truly moreish with the addition of Sriracha lime mayo and shichimi salt, alongside an Asian roots salad, a light, punchy plate of daikon, kohlrabi and carrot with a ginger coriander dressing.

‘The coriander and lime add that exotic, fragrant lightness to the dish, with tasty slivers of pink beef that’s seared to a crisp around the edges’

The sides are a little steep at £6 each, considering the mains are such good value at £11 each. If anything, there’s probably a little too much rice with the main dishes, so skip the sides if you’re there for a light lunch or want to keep the bill trim.

As the temperatures rise, you can expect this one to get pretty popular. The restaurant itself has plenty of seating, but if you’re struggling to get a booking, bear in mind that Roof Fest is operating ‘walk-in Wednesdays’ this year. When it comes to summer in London, Wednesdays are the new Fridays, right?

300 Oxford Street W1C 1DX; 

All photography courtesy of Roof Fest at John Lewis