New York-based Pinoy Bartender Shows MasterChef Skills at New BGC Resto

Francis Balbarin, New York-based Filipino bartender takes over James and Daughters kitchen


There is a new restaurant in BGC called James & Daughters.

It is by the same group that created Le Jardin. But chef-owner Jonas Ng emphasizes that this time around, he is just cooking from the heart; no more stuffy classic fine dining frou frou recipes. “This is me,” he says. The restaurant serves “no borders cuisine”.

The place is beautifully designed, with touches of the old Le Jardin, like the faux balconies. There is one private dining room and high seats for those who care to just drink.

Best of all, there is parking!

If you would like to check it out, it is on the side of Essensa.


NYC Bartender Proves Kitchen Skills

But here’s the thing: I did not go to check out Jonas Ng – though I will definitely come back to try his new style and see how he is flexing his kitchen muscles this way.

In fact I had not heard of James & Daughters before my friend of 14 years (since my sabbatical in NYC) Francis Balbarin told me about it because he was doing a pop-up at the resto and cooking a full 8-course dinner for the first time for a public Manila audience.

I always knew that Francis can cook and cook well. After all, he co-founded Burgers & Brewskies in BGC. And truth be told, the B&B hits are his recipes: the Walk of Shame, a huge burger with a sunny side up egg on the top toast; the Call the Nurse burger, a burger with mac & cheese alongside the patty between the buns; and the Cuban Missile corn on the cob, inspired by the corn on the cob of Cafe Habana on Prince Street, one of our favorite hang outs back in the day in New York, even if the line was horrendous.

Francis Balbarin, whom we fondly call Kiko, executes an excellent 8-course dinner at James & Daughters
New York-based bartender Francis Balbarin, whom we fondly call Kiko, executes an excellent 8-course dinner at James & Daughters

Bartender Cooks Like A MasterChef

I was blown away, though, by how much he has improved as a cook. He could very well compete with today’s top restaurateurs in the industry.

Dinner started with grilled octopus with arugula and patani. But my I was especially impressed by the second starter: Kitayama beef heart and rib eye tartare with quail egg. It’s hard to find good tartare in Manila, a dish that is harder to execute than it seems (Tonyboy Escalante still makes the best but you have to go all the way to Antonio’s Fine Dining in Tagaytay). And I loved the incorporation of ox hearts into the dish.

His third dish, thanks to the Tiger Milk Gang’s campaign, was the ever-trendy ceviche. Francis used barramundi and scallops for the most part. It was beautifully seasoned with fresh lime juice and cilantro, as is the usual case, and Francis added kaffir leaves for character. But I also loved how he added white corn for texture, sweet potato to contrast the acidity, mango for some sweetness, and on top just a snip of barramundi skin for crunch. It was a very cohesive ceviche and every bite was pleasurable.

His fourth dish, dedicated to his lovely wife Mayone, was likewise exceptional: squid ink pasta because it is one of her favorite dishes. But Francis upped his squid ink pasta game by using shallots, anchovies, and (best of all!) taba ng talangka for his pasta sauce. And then the dish was finished with lemongrass “para mawala umay”, he explained. It was so good, I could have finished a larger bowl of it.

This was followed by duck, which reaped the approval of Swiss-trained French cooking expert Aleth Ocampo. And a little piece of pork with the crunchiest skin. Then, finally, two courses of elaborate desserts, such as a dalandan ice cream with strawberry coulis, meringue and a rosemary parfait, all in one plate.

Pop Up

It was a really great, well thought out menu and you could see Francis’ passion for cooking with every dish.

Unfortunately, Francis does not have a restaurant with such dishes on display just yet. He is in fact going back to New York in a few days to continue his bartending career.

Hopefully, we can convince him to come to Manila more often and do more of these dinners!

Happy tummies with (standing) Francis Balbarin (in the bandana) and Jonas Ng of James & Daughters.
Happy tummies with (standing) Francis Balbarin (in the bandana) and Jonas Ng of James & Daughters.

In the meantime, check out these upcoming events at James & Daughters:

January 18 – Salsa Night with Don Papa Rum

January 25 – Jazz Night with Ferdie Borja

February 7 – Blues Night

February 13 – Singles Night


James & Daughters by Le Jardin. G/F Westin Residences Manila Sonata, 21st Dr., Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. +63 917 817 6584. Open Monday – Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm. 


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