Rave Against the Machine – Café Antonio’s still kickin’ it, indie style in their new location
What: Independent set-up, young, artful with a talented line-up of baristas.
Where: Los Banos, the university town.
Price: Extremely reasonable (student reasonable – which is very reasonable)
Firmly settled in its new LB square location, Café Antonio has come out swinging with all the sass and independent spirit we’ve come to love – but with a brand new, expanded menu to boot. Part performance space, part living room, part café; Antonio’s has always stood as the antithesis to the vomit-inducing, status seeking, manufactured corporate machine of Starbucks. Only now, with a cracking line-up of cultural events and a swath of new snacky little things, Café Antonio’s is starting to prove that the traditional combination of tasty treats, excellent customer service and entrepreneurial spirit can still trump the bloated, consumerist herd of cafés and restaurants dumped (and for some reason, ‘loved’) across Metro Manila.
Despite all the rock bands and music gigs blasting out of the café at night, the first thing one notices when one steps inside is how quaint and homey the café feels. Bathed in a citrus yellow and lined with wood, the combination of shelves replete with books on art, history and philosophy, a smattering of board games and the dark blue couch make it feel like one has stepped into one’s postgrad, bass-playing, cum-artist uni friend’s living room. The eclectic blend of acid jazz and indie rock pumping completes the experience.
Start by making a dash for the couch and grab the chess set, lest you sit at one of the tables where all the students jumble together, happily knocking elbows over coffee and pasta.
You’d be wise to start with a drink. The coffee is a real standout in an area (hell, let’s face it - a nation) renowned for bad coffee. Owner and barista, Jabez Flores and his barista team are a highly talented bunch, able to master a good Italian cup of coffee and create those indulgent dessert-like drinks that are more fun than coffee bean, so popular these days. The line-up runs the gamut from a well-polished macchiato and respectable cappuccino to the iced variety, coffee jellies, affogatos, blended drinks and said decadent desserts in a mug.
All the usual dessert treats are here – hazelnut, vanilla lattes and a rainbow of syrups to choose from. The team will do anything you ask – double shot, triple shot, jelly in that? You bet. Peppermint in your mocha? They’ve got you covered. But if you’re feeling truly indulgent, grab one of their original creations. The super sweet black forest frajelli, rocky road frothiccino and double shot Choco-Peppermint affogato are outrageous enough to let me toss aside that cup of chai and get down and dirty with some chocolate. Just don’t drink all three in one sitting. These drinks are so crazy that it’s obvious the baristas apply the same experimental and creative approach mixologists apply to cocktails.
If the coffee jellies, affogato and syrups weren’t enough to fill your sugar intake then scoff down a blueberries and cream waffle, fresh off the griddle from a home-made batter mix. Cakes and cookies abound from Yummings and a killer bigingkinitan is on the menu too.
No doubt, though, you’re going to be after the eats. The original menu had a modest selection of sandwiches and pastas, that has now flowered and matured into a thoughtful selection of focaccis, paninis and pastas that can easily make a meal.
Ditch the regular sandwiches and have the crisp and tangy lemon chicken panini, or go for the basil, tomato and mozzarella focaccia. The bread is to die for. The pasta dishes are worth a crack too. The penne Bolognese is generous, with the true home-made Italian taste of tomatoes, sans all the brown sugar and sweet drivel that passes for Italian food elsewhere. But our favourite is the pasta Antonio, served in a rich vegetarian sauce evoking ratatouille and arrabbiata in one spoonful – it truly hits the mark.
It’s not just the coffee machine and the kitchen swinging with both fists either. On the floor is Jabez with the entire crew all hands on deck, so no matter which way you turn, you’re pretty much surrounded by uncut, A-grade talent in a laid back, student-like package. The staff is incredibly affable, a couple of visits and you’ll feel like part of the family. If I’m in Los Banos, Café Antonio is my living room. I always wait, my fork poised and glass raised in anticipation for whatever the region’s brightest young barista talents are ready to throw at me.
What’s it got: Everything you need for a good day/night out at a café. Including the live music.
What’s Missing: Red wine and some sort of brunch deal with poached eggs, béarnaise sauce, sliced avocado and focaccia. Is that asking too much? Yes, it is – but if it did the whole wine and brunch thing, this place would be perfect – and exactly what this country is missing. Oh – and when can we Irish up our coffee?
Some pictures are from Cafe Antonio LB's website. I do not own some of them. If you want to know more about Cafe Antonio, visit their sites