Culinary entrepreneur Allan Pineda can now add tiki restaurant founder to his long list of culinary ventures, which also includes pop-up proprietor, festival director, Filipino food ambassador, and cook book contributor.
Along with fellow chef and co-owner Eejay Chua, Pineda opened Bahay Kubo–named after the stilt houses that are found in the Philippines–in the Albert Hotel’s atrium in February, which has become a hot spot Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
The building’s atrium, which had been empty since the Underground Café made a return running from March to November 2022, has been transformed into a scene replete with bamboo walls, kitschy lights that you wish you owned, and all manner of Filipino motifs and masks covering the walls.
It all makes for the ideal setting to savour tiki drinks and dishes from chef Chua’s menu like longganisa lumpia (the sausage is made in-house) served with banana ketchup and smoked cheese from locals Loaf and Honey, salmon and tuna kinilaw, and the soon-to-be signature panko-breaded Spam fries—which are of course served in a can.
Plus, there’s DJs, different theme nights or collaborative dinners each week, and even cooking classes and workshops coming soon. They even have their own beer on tap–the Halo Halo Ube Coconut NEIPA–(yes, it is a touch purple) that One Great City created for Pineda’s Kultivation Festival (which you’ll note in the link is from August 25-27 this summer), along with a few more beers in the works. Oh, and be on the lookout for all the geckos (more on that below).
Here’s an interview with Pineda to paint the full picture:
Where did this idea come from?
I’ve been collecting this stuff [all the tiki-themed items] for a while and have had the idea for a Filipino-influenced tiki bar on my mind for years and years. Then we did that dry tiki speakeasy pop-up in The Pemby [which has since been demolished] in 2021. So, we had bought all this furniture and ran that for a bit, and the reception was awesome, but then they closed that space.
One of the lady’s we bought a bunch of tiki stuff off recently asked what I was going to do with all of this? So I said I wanted to open up a tiki-themed restaurant one day, and she said, “well you should talk to a buddy of mine, because he has a space.”
So I emailed her buddy, who just happens to be Dave [McKeigan] the manager here who also owns the Pyramid Cabaret, as he was looking for someone to run the kitchen.
Anyway, we started talking… and this was just in December. Next thing you know we’re dumping off a bunch of boxes and then we started putting stuff up, putting stuff up, putting stuff up, and then he was like: "okay, so this is happening." It’s obviously a super major change to the space so we told him, ‘don't worry about it, it's gonna be good.’ And now it turned out really well and Dave is super happy.
And the crazy thing is we got it all ready in three weeks–from dropping off those boxes, to running the kitchen for opening night.
You folks are now over a month into service. What’s been the reception thus far?
For this time of year–January and February being notoriously slow months for restaurants–we are doing decent.
The past two weeks on Friday and Saturday, we had to turn people away that didn't have a reservation. It gets busy around 6 p.m. until late, so if you want to guarantee a spot make a reso through @bahaykubowpg and firstname.lastname@example.org for now.
The clientele has been and they're all over the map. We’ve been getting people aged 16 to 70-year-olds, with from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. It’s fun to see.
You’ve been promoting Philippine cuisine for a long time. What’s it like seeing it finally getting the recognition it deserves in North America?
I’ve been ‘repping it heavily since 2014, and professionally since at least 2010, but even dating back to culinary school back in 2005. And back then, people just dismissed us.
But now, it’s like ube in everything.
But when I started out, people were slamming the door in my face. They didn’t want to do collaborative dinners and events. People were like, ‘who are you? What are you doing?’ Meanwhile, I'm just trying to help everybody–all these young chefs coming up.
So now it's so cool, because I feel the work that we've done has helped. All these businesses growing, all these pop ups… I think we've had an influence on that for sure.
What can people expect at Bahay Kubo?
Dining is an experience now… and we are offering an experience. We have DJs, we're gone to start doing open mic nights with the bar side [The Albert is still a live music venue behind the tiki restaurant]. We're doing workshops, we're doing seminars, we're doing spoken word. Everything that we can do for the community, in our shared space.
Everyone who has walked in here has been like, ‘what's, what's going on here? What is this place?’
Many Filipinos see stuff that they are used to seeing at home. They feel at home here and they want to come back. Actually 80 per cent of the art on the walls is from local Filipino artists.
But I must emphasize, it's not only for Filipinos, and we're not just Filipino food. We're pulling flavours from anywhere that has that type of bamboo house, from Southeast Asia, South Pacific. That's because I want to do that food. Eejay and myself, we’re both part Chinese. My grandparents are in Hawaii. My wife and I recently travelled Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Samoa–I did a pop-up in Australia. And that's all in the last year. And we’re going to keep being inspired by travel, we're gonna hit Singapore and Thailand this year. You pick up things up from traveling and share what we've learned.
Anything you’d like to add?
Look out for the geckos. If you take a closer look, there's little lizards everywhere. We’ve hidden like 11 lizards on one side of the dining room and we’re thinking if people find them all, then they can tell us to unlock a secret dish that's not on the menu. I think that will be fun.
Bahay Kubo is located at 48 Albert St and is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch is coming soon. The restaurant has seating for 40, and capacity to hold private parties for up to 75 people. For inquiries and reservations please email email@example.com.
This interview had been edited and condensed for spacing and clarity.