Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Chef Miko Aspiras’ favorite doughnut memory is one he shares with his grandmother: jogging with her when he was young along the roads of Greenhills in San Juan. While running, they would encounter a doughnut shop and a particular doughnut called the ‘homecut.’ “Maybe that means it’s homemade,” says Aspiras. “They serve it without any glaze, it has nutmeg. It’s so simple.”
That doughnut, buried somewhere in Aspiras’ subconscious, might be one of the many things that led to the creation of Poison Doughnuts, a darkly-lit doughnut shop fronting the Hydra Headquarters in The Alley at Karrivin Plaza in Makati. Aspiras and Kristine Lotilla, known for their elaborate desserts, came up with seven distinct doughnut flavors to add to the numerous variants available in the market.
“In the Philippines, we tend [to go] toward friendlier flavors, and in the States and in Spain, they go for more experimental flavors,” says Aspiras. “We wanted to put these two things together. Something different, but also something Filipinos would like to eat and relate.”
For starters, one can consider the garam masala doughnut (₱50), laced with spiced sugar. The inspiration is a cinnamon doughnut, one flavored with an aromatic blend of herbs and spices commonly used in India. In Indian cuisine, the garam masala — which loosely translates as spices that heat the body — gives the dishes its umami flavor, says Aspiras. “Normally it’s used for savory dishes.” Aspiras was also inspired by L.A.-based pastry chef Sally Camacho’s mango purée dessert with garam masala. “It goes really well for something fried,” he says. “It cuts that oily flavor.”
Garam masala is the requisite doughnut that gives Poison its introduction. “It describes how different we are from your normal neighborhood doughnut shop,” says Aspiras, as it’s consistent with their goal “to fix unfamiliar flavors in a familiar way.” The rest of the doughnuts aspire to the same ethos. There’s the vanilla glaze doughnut (₱50), “a simple vanilla glaze, but instead of using vanilla extract we used real vanilla beans and we just added a bit of salt,” says Aspiras. A salted dark chocolate doughnut (₱50) is also included in the slim menu, along with a blueberry glaze (₱50), egg custard brûlée (₱70), blueberry lemon (₱70), and Boston cream (₱70).
All doughnuts are made by hand from a combination of sourdough and brioche, accounting for their distinct bite. “The texture is more on the denser side. Still quite light, and there’s a chew to the dough,” says Aspiras. “It’s the perfect basic dough for us to be able to put in a lot of flavors and textures like custard. We can actually dip it in so many types of glazes,” he adds.
For now, however, Aspiras and Lotilla keep it simple. It’s what the team in the Hydra Design Group wanted, says Dan Matutina of Plus63 Design Co. The Hydra Design Group is comprised of several design firms — Plus63 Design Co., Inksurge, The Acid House, and KM Design — all housed in the office for which Poison Doughnuts is some sort of welcoming lobby.
“We always wanted to have a coffee shop in front of the office,” says Matutina, but the heads of the various firms at Hydra wanted something different. The doughnuts and coffee would have to speak for themselves, he says, despite the look of Poison’s interiors. And the look is something straight out of “Blade Runner,” or “Ghost in the Shell,” or some other cyberpunk film: neon lights, ethereal sounds, the slight feeling of not being in this world.
“I guess the idea was to give the burden to the coffee and food, na sana sobrang sarap ng doughnut at kape [the coffee is by Yardstick], that people would come regardless of how it looks,” says Matutina. “Nakikita din ng mga tao na may alternative way to a coffee shop.”
The whole concept — experimental doughnuts placed in an unfamiliar context — lets you pay more attention to where you are and what you’re eating. You would think you know doughnuts, but you don’t, as you assess how good a garam masala is compared to your nostalgic choco butternut, for example. The airy doughnut shops of your childhood give way to the hypnotic animation projected at Poison’s walls, its less-than-Instagrammable atmosphere refreshing to those just a little bit tired of that culture.
It’s the doughnut shop that, perhaps, weary and jaded adults need. “Doughnut shops are always bright and happy,” says Aspiras. “I guess it’s your neighborhood doughnut shop that grew up.”
Poison Doughnuts is located at The Alley at Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Pasong Tamo Ext., Makati. For more details, visit them on Facebook and Instagram.