How a new generation reinvented a family favorite restaurant

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Fresh from its renovation, family-run restaurant Angels’ Kitchen, known for its trademark pinakbet rice and reliable home cooking, continues to be a local favorite. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I sit beside Tina Ong as she offers to refill my bowl of sinigang. “Sure,” I say. After all, it’s an amazing bowl of sinigang, a new item on the menu, with beef short ribs and Indian mangoes as the souring agents. I’m still baffled though as to what Tina is doing here serving me food during lunch: She’s an established name in the fashion industry, who worked previously for H&F Retail Concepts and, more recently, Sunnies. But for the past year, she’s been at Angels’ Kitchen, handling the restaurant, where the sinigang is really good.

Opened back in 2007, Angels’ Kitchen was a quaint little cafe put up by five women, or to better explain the food, five moms — one of whom is Tina’s mother, Marnie Ong. The restaurant quickly became a local favorite, echoing the different dishes that these women would prepare in their own homes, a collection of greatest hits both comforting and familiar. However, in 2015, the owners considered selling the restaurant, initially offering it to the partners.

Angels' Kitchen The sinigang is soured with Indian mangoes. Photo by JL JAVIER

Angels' Kitchen Despite having a background on fashion, Tina Ong decided to help her mom Marnie in running Angels’ Kitchen after it was let go by the owners in 2015. Photo by JL JAVIER

“We spoke about it and we [told my mom], ‘You can’t let it go because this is what we grew up with.’ It just means so much to us as a family,” Tina says. With that push from her family, Marnie opted to take the restaurant.

After Marnie took over Angels’ Kitchen, Tina started running back-end operations, while her mom continued to handle the food. “I wanted to help my mom,” Tina says. It has been a challenge for the pair, learning to run the restaurant from the inside out, more so for Tina. “My experience is completely different from food,” she says. So she took last year as an opportunity to learn before making changes to the restaurant.

Fresh from its renovation, Angels’ Kitchen opened its doors again last June. It looks different, with new interiors to match its redesigned layout, but nevertheless still feels familiar. The place retains much of the spirit of the old restaurant. “Our regulars would be furious if we took them out,” says Tina, referring to their classic dishes.

Angels' Kitchen The new design still captures the old and familiar spirit of Angels' Kitchen. Photos by JL JAVIER

Angels' Kitchen The lamb curry is a crowd favorite, and has been retained as one of the restaurant's classic dishes. Photo by JL JAVIER

The lamb curry, which is tender diced lamb in garam masala, accompanied by an apple and raisin chutney, is still there. So is the pinakbet rice, one of the restaurant’s favorites, featuring generous cuts of lechon kawali sitting atop a bed of pinakbet fried rice, complete with a bagoong and chocolate dipping sauce.

There’s a sense of playfulness in Angels’ Kitchen’s food, like dining at a neighbor's house and the surprise you get when you discover a new way of eating; a creativity that was not lost in their new dishes (including the sinigang Tina served). Another, which is slowly becoming a crowd favorite, is the aligue pasta with soft-shell crabs, a wicked plate of spaghetti noodles coated in crab fat, and served with deep fried soft shell crabs. Like any good home cooked food, these are all served in excess of what you need.

Angels' Kitchen Aligue pasta with soft-shell crabs. Photo by JL JAVIER

Angels' Kitchen (Left) A rustic apple pie is included in the restaurant's dessert menu. (Right) An EDSA BDG pop-up, by Marnie's son David, where coffee is made available for guests. Photo by JL JAVIER

But they’ve also kept little nuances that diners have been accustomed to, like the paper table covers they use, which guests frequently draw on. “As much as possible we listen to what our customers want,” Tina says. While that’s happening, opposite our table, I see a young boy doing just that. Across us, a mother holds her toddler on her lap with multiple crayons in front of them. The owners seem to know what’s important.

Angels’ Kitchen has become a full-functioning family affair. Aside from Tina, her brother David Ong — one of the minds behind EDSA BDG, Curator, and Oto — also pitches in to help their mom run the restaurant. “David helps out with creatives, with ideas, marketing especially. Social media, also. He’s so much better at that,” Tina says with a laugh. Near the entrance, I see an EDSA BDG pop-up and moments later, David himself is making coffee for guests.

The new Angels’ Kitchen still feels like the home cafe it set out to be. But with Tina, her mom, and her brother, the restaurant can still surprise diners. At the very least, people can rest well knowing that their favorite neighborhood haunt is in good hands.

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Angels’ Kitchen is located at 57 Connecticut St., North East Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila.