While most of Manila’s upscale bars duke it out over their lineup of premium imported spirits and complex cocktails crafted by foreign consultants, Kalel Demetrio dreamt of opening a bar that would serve delicious brews only with local products.
His plans have always been out there, but that's what they've always been, until Demetrio quietly—and finally—opened Agimat Foraging Bar and Kitchen in Makati Poblacion. Discreet and mysterious, the bar is located on the second floor of a refitted old home: large windows are adorned with wrought iron fashioned into strange ancient symbols including an all-seeing eye. The glow of candles and warm bulbs from the inside cast eerie shadows on the dark streets and lends to the place’s foreboding vibe.
The theme of agimat, those traditional amulets in Filipino folklore, can be seen throughout the entire space. In the middle of the bar, through some force of nature (or expert logistical maneuvering), is an ancient-looking balete tree, which, according to legend, houses land spirits and dwarfs. The shelves are made to look like an arbolaryo’s apothecary. There are no brand-name liquors, no imported bitters and syrups. Everything is proudly Pinoy, from the beers to the spirits to all the components. Most of them Demetrio develops himself.
Ritual ng Agimat
He excitedly shares that his syrups and liqueurs are made in-house so you can easily detect the floral aromas of guava; the herbaceous citrus notes of ripe dalandan; and the irreplaceable tropical pungency of papaya, profiles you won't really get from concentrates. They're used to flavor his exotic craft cocktails such as the fruity yet potent Swabeng Delubyo (gin, basi, pomelo liqueur, hot lemongrass papaya liqueur, herb bitters, kafir, hibiscus) and the rum-based Gayuma ng Paraiso. An order of the Ritual ng Agimat comes with chanting and a short shimmy before the flambé-d drink is poured into a silver goblet. The concoction of calamansi liqueur, lambanog, gin, tomato purée, melon tomato mint shrub, tamarind, lime, rose citrus aromatics packs a wallop but is surprisingly refreshing and refined.
The food here, like the libations, are whimsical and complex. Co-owner and chef Niño Laus (from Ninyo Fusion in Quezon City) delivers his signature style of modern Asian cuisine, utilizing local ingredients in ingenious ways. For example, notepad-sized chicharon is used to scoop up balut that finely blended and cooked into a custard. The mollusco is a shellfish ceviche of chopped mussels, diwal, and scallops served with an uni emulsion. Sago is turned into chips and is the edible vessel of the fermented maliputo topped with alugbati, a common weed known also for its medicinal properties.
With beautiful interiors, fancy silverware, and meticulous attention and respect for locally ourced ingredients, Agimat’s advocacy does not come cheap. It caters to the spiffily dressed expats that have trickled into Poblacion from the business district, as well as food lovers who would appreciate the techniques and ingredients used—customers who won't be deterred by local cocktail prices usually reserved for premium imported spirits. Sure, the small batch gin and craft rum might justify the extra zeroes in your bill, but it’s really more than that. What people are paying for here are Demetrio and Laus’ fastidiousness and expertise at conjuring the beauty from the mundane and accessible, and turning it into something truly magical.
Agimat Foraging Bar and Kitchen is at Alfonso corner Fermina Streets, Poblacion, Makati City.