What happens when a British-Filipina finance professional falls in love with Taiwanese bubble tea? A hip chill-out place called Lakwatsa (Filipino slang for hangout) is born, catering to Londoners’ love for tea and afternoon snack, albeit with a twist.
A bubble tea paired with siopao or adobo rice balls is perhaps the coolest trend to hit London’s posh Notting Hill area. A couple of months after its opening, Lakwatsa landed on the pages of London’s Evening Standard and shortly after, on UK’s Vogue and Marie Claire magazines. Until now, owner Claire Buyson couldn’t believe her luck.
Introducing bubble tea and merienda
Having both Filipino parents, Buyson grew up exposed to Philippine cuisine. Like any other daughter who is proud of her mom’s kitchen prowess, she claims her mother is the best cook in the world, using only the freshest her taste for anything delicious from her mom’s kitchen.
“She put great importance in fresh, organic food so it made me appreciate good, quality food at a young age,” says the 32-year- old businesswoman.
Buyson’s love for food was further developed when she started working at restaurants at age 16 – Buyson had to support her way through college, where she took up business in the food and beverage industry early on made her realize she wanted to put up her own restaurant someday.
However, her dream had to take a backseat in the company was to travel the world –from Asia to Middle East and the US –providing her another opportunity to discover diffirent cuisines as well as restaurant concepts.
In 2001, during one of her travels in California, Buyson stumbled upon bubble tea, otherwise known as milk tea, and fell
in love with it right away. She thought of doing something like it in London but selling it with Filipino merienda or small snacks. Right then and there, she wrote this idea on the business plan that she carried with her wherever she went.
When the time came, Buyson pitched her business idea to her boss who was investors.
“My boss didn’t have any idea what bubble tea was but he went for it all the same,” fondly recalls Buyson.
Striving for perfection
Buyson spent more than four months developing and perfecting bubble tea recipes for Lakwatsa. At one point, after being the “guinea pig” for her bubble tea concoctions for Lakwatsa. At one point, after being the “guinea pig”for her bubble tea concoctions for so many months, Buyson swore off bubble tea.
“I actually told myself I never want to taste another milk tea!,” she jokingly recalls.
She adds, “I’m really a perfectionist when it comes to the taste and the quality of my products.”
According to Buyson, the secret to a good bubble tea lies in the tapioca balls as well as the tea itself. “It should have the right texture, taste, and quality,” she says.
A place to chill out
Lakwatsa was still not very busy when I visited on a rainy, Wednesday afternoon. Manning the counter was a young Filipino-British guy who speaks Tagalog. He served us the lychee-and- siopao and lumpia. The good food and company reminded me of happy times spent chilling out with barkadas.
The ambience in Lakwatsa was so relaxing I was tempted to take out my book, put my feet up and listen to some soft music. I wouldn’t mind destressing here after a long day at work or from school. The best part is that the place promotes good, clean fun as they don’t serve alchoholic drinks.
“I wanted to create a place which is sort of a refuge. Here, it is sort of organic, very chill kind of place,” says Buyson, adding that clients can even choose to play their own music through an iPod jukebox attached to the wall near the counter.
During the interview, Buyson offered me a plate of her mother’s homemade pandesal. I never thought pandesal with cheese and bubble tea would go well together –a fresh take on the traditional Filipino snack. Lakwatsa is definitely doing an unconventional, if not bold, way of promoting Filipino food culture to Europeans. And by the looks of it, Lakwatsa is doing a good job, with Londoners queuing up outside its doors.
Lakwatsa is located at 7 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, London, W11 2EE. Call 07900 266 080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.