On a windy, day the Philippine flag waves proudly in front of Kalesa Restaurant in Battersea, the only place to enjoy Filipino cuisine in this part of London. A little less than an hour away from Earl’s Court, where the concentration of Filipino restaurants are located, Kalesa stands out among the rows of Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants in the area. Despite being a novice in the food business, Kalesa is already gaining a steady stream of regular customers.
Like other Filipino expats, owners Joyce and Greg Digma would share Pinoy food to colleagues by inviting them over for dinner at home or bringing food to the hospital. One day, an officemate commented about Filipino restaurants being very few in London. This gave Joyce the idea to open one. She was even more convinced when an Englishman joked about Filipino culture being so westernized, if not diluted by other foreign influences.
The couple has been living in the United Kingdom for two decades now, both working as nurses at the National Health Services (NHS). Joyce felt that after so many years of living in England, it’s time that they introduce their Filipino roots to the English through food.
“My mother was a history teacher and I am patriotic even though I don’t have a Filipino nationality anymore. We need to let people [here] know what Filipino culture and consequently, what Filipino food is all about. It’s time we put the Filipino food on the map,” she enthuses.
In April 2012, Kalesa opened its doors to the public. It has since received positive response from its customers largely made up of Englishmen and Filipinos. Bong Zapatero, a chef with 25 years of experience under his belt, heads the kitchen. His credentials include having worked at the Intercontinental Hotel as well as cooked for no less than the former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, for many years.
Joyce credits Zapatero for maintaining the Filipino authenticity of the food served in Kalesa. He makes sure that they use the same ingredients that we use back home. That’s why they sometimes have to source out ingredients from specialty stores.
Kalesa’s bestseller, especially to its English diners, is adobo. Other must-tries are sinigang, lechon kawali, and lomi.
A Filipino meal is not complete without rice – a Pinoy staple that Kalesa’s English guests can do without. As such, Kalesa has come up with new ways to serve their dishes without the piping hot bowl of white rice.
Recently, they started offering freshly baked pandesal together with adobo and baguette with beef tapa.
“This way, we can still serve our European customers true Filipino food while adjusting to their dining culture,” says Joyce.
Kalesa restaurant is located at 59 Lavender Hill, Battersea SW11 5QN London. Contact +44 20 34715693 or visit www.kalesa.co.uk.