Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In a little more than a year, Toyo Eatery has proven to be the black horse in the roster of Manila’s established young restaurants. It challenged the idea of traditional local flavors by reincarnating them into new dishes that hint at some familiarity. If chef Jordy Navarra has proven anything through Toyo, it is that one can maintain authenticity, even in the face of inventiveness. It is an idea that has been prominent since their earlier days, which has now coursed out into a derivation of the Eatery.
A couple of weeks ago, on my way to dinner, I managed to sneak into a space hidden behind the wall of an artists’ alley, just two doors down from Toyo. Inside is a dark and dusty space with the smell of newly painted walls. Imagine my surprise a few days later, as I walk into a homey shop buttery with the scent of freshly baked bread. At one end, a new deck oven is being put to good use, baking and counting down the remaining minutes of a batch of knotted pandesal. The recently oiled bread counter is barely a week old but it already looks seasoned, roughened with flour and hosting a small bread pile from the oven.
Next to all this, I find myself seated beside Navarra and Toyo head baker Richie Manapat, along with Arts Serrano of 1/0 Design Collective, and Dan Matutina of Plus63 Design Co. Over merienda of bread and coffee, we are the unintended inaugural guests of the then-yet-to-open Panaderya Toyo. With bread at our fingertips and the smell of pandesal knots right out of the oven thickening the air, the inevitable discussion was on Filipino bakeries we grew up with.
“The whole idea [when we got the space] was [to] build it around everyday things. Bread was something we wanted to expand on,” Navarra begins. The fermented black rice sourdough, buttermilk loaves, and famed tocino bread in Toyo have garnered quite a following, with customers often requesting for a loaf (and a tocino roll or ten) to take home. The eatery, however, wasn’t really set up for bread. “We only had a standard gas oven that could make three or four loaves per load,” he tells me. Even Manapat would bring his own small oven to help out with the demand.
By chance, a space right by the mouth of The Alley had freed up, and was offered off the bat to Toyo. The decision to devote a place just for bread was inescapable.
Challenging traditional Filipino concepts is a philosophy that Panaderya shares with Toyo Eatery. Despite the term “eatery,” Toyo is extremely different from traditional Filipino eateries. The same goes with Panaderya, in that it isn’t merely a traditional panaderia. It isn’t just a takeout counter where people can pick out bread from the display, have it bagged, and carry it home. Along with the option to take home bread (complete with its reheating instructions), diners can opt to eat their bread there — coupled, of course, with Panaderya’s offerings of palaman.
Just as Toyo has has earned a reputation for shaking up familiar Filipino dishes, so too does Panaderya attempt to change how bread can be consumed. The selection of palaman challenges the idea of bread at breakfast, and its presence at afternoon merienda.
A slice of house sourdough, for instance, can be topped by warm scrambled eggs and tortang talong — above that, a surprising crunch and saltiness erupts from crispy dulong, capped by a mild bite of acidity from bits of pickled sibuyas Tagalog and a dusting of tomato powder. Individually, each layer is straightforward and uncomplicated, but together they are a blend of tastes and textures.
There are distinct design aspects in a Filipino bakery, and while its look falls under modern, Panaderya manages to retain its roots with the traditional. The man responsible for this interpretation is architect Arts Serrano. “When I asked Jordy what emotion he wanted the place to evoke, I was intrigued by his answer, ‘happiness,’” he explains. Serrano has a knack for bringing the old world into the new, revitalizing old structures in Manila, as seen clearly through his efforts in Escolta.
In reimagining neighborhood bakeries of his childhood, Serrano drew on what panaderias represented: family and community. The space is adorned by wooden structures that draw people towards the important parts of the bakery, the bread counter and oven, and the bread display — creating an intimate atmosphere, especially when watching the bakers at work.
In spite of its proximity to Toyo, Panaderya is a different beast altogether. “We want to offer things for brunch, lunch, or in the afternoon, we plan to throw small barbecues, and, maybe, halo-halo. Fun things,” Navarra tells me with excitement. Fun is an apt word to use and it’s obvious from the branding design. Panaderya is more approachable — funny to the point where you understand that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
As we eye the remaining slices on the table, Dan Matutina shows us initial design posters. “Mahal kita maging tocino ka man,” it reads, accompanied by an illustration of a lady holding a bag of tocino. “We created images reminiscent of flour sacks pero I guess done in our own execution. ‘Yung typeface, we just wanted to go with traditional Filipino handwriting, but of course machine na siya para may consistency,” Matutina expounds. His love for panaderia breads also inspired Panaderya’s logo, the iconic bike horn or potpot, which serves as the signature call of roving bread vendors. “Naisip ko we can do that logo but instead of going out, we honk the horn for them to come in.”
Bread is easy to make. Good bread is a different story altogether. It is rare to find a baker who will be true to proper techniques and quality, but somehow they managed to find one in Richie Manapat, who is Toyo’s head baker. “Everywhere I go even from there to here, the procedure is different when making bread. It’s like a baby. You bring it to a new place, it's gonna cry, like, ‘Who is this person?’ Even in an environment it’s supposed to be familiar with, when you take it out and put it back in, it doesn't cooperate,” he explains to the group.
Manapat has a tendency to ramble on about bread, a fact that he admits. It reveals his devotion to his craft just as much as his reverence for technique — doing long fermentations, cooking with high temperatures, and of course, using the best possible ingredients. To say that Manapat is obsessed with bread is an understatement. The guy can tell you our country’s history with bread —complete with agricultural and geopolitical commentaries sprinkled with some of his own personal theories.
It’s a devotion, one that can be seen through his first brush with sourdough. “When you go online or when you read books, the recipes are tailored to European or American or Australian environments, but there wasn’t really any book that [taught how to] make sourdough in a tropical country,” he explains. So he tinkered with recipes until he got it right — six months later. With this passion, the result of his work can only be described as . . . artisanal. The word gets thrown a lot these days, but drop its casual usage and what you’re left with is this: Richie Manapat is making some of the best bread in country right now.
In the book “My Last Supper: The Next Course,” prominent chefs were asked what their last meal on earth would be. Culinary icon and celebrated chef Joël Robuchon answered, “A good bread. Bread is a symbol of birth, life, and death.” It is this cycle that Panaderya continues, drawing from the traditional while pursuing for innovation. “We want to make great bread and do it in a way that redefines what a Filipino baker is. I want people to look at a Filipino panaderia and put it alongside boulangeries, Spanish panaderias, and these Nordic bakeries,” Navarra tells me with gusto. Panaderya was never the end game, it simply sets out to answer the question: What can bread made by Filipinos be?
Panaderya Toyo is on soft opening. It is located at The Alley at Karrivin, 2316 Chino Roces Ave., Makati. Visit Panaderya Toyo on Instagram for more details.