Self-made F&B power player Charles Paw of The Grid Food Market in Manila understands something most successful restaurateurs do: people who dine out are a fickle, fussy bunch. They want dishes that work double duty as conversation starters, meals that are inexpensive while still looking star-strewn on Instagram and interiors that ooze character. They want variety and flair, some element of surprise and flavors so deliciously familiar and comforting they could summon one’s childhood, a la Ratatouille. All in one plate, in one meal.
At first glance, the concept that drives his latest venture at the Power Plant Mall — a pared-down-to-the-basics dining hall of multiple food concessionaires, where the intention is to “give guests a decluttered dining experience” — might seem contrary to this understanding. Stalls at The Grid, on the second floor of Power Plant Mall’s new wing, are “stripped of any distinctive branding” and are uniformly identified by a number and a specialty dish. The concessionaire’s name, however bold-faced it may be in Metro Manila’s dining scene — Margarita Forés, Josh Boutwood, EDSA Beverage Design Group — appears third in billing, in considerably smaller type. The overall look of the three-month-old dining destination is elegant and spare, a deliberate call in a bid to bring the focus back to good food. The idea, Charles says, was to “create a food hall that’s totally different from what the others are doing”.
But step into The Grid and you’ll understand how the whole enterprise is infused with the wisdom he’s gleaned from previous ventures — including Wrong Ramen and Hole in the Wall, the somewhat intensely art-directed food court in Century City Mall — under the Tasteless Food Group brand. “I wanted to create something that has longevity… something that will still be relevant in four to five years,” he says.
The Grid is powered by a stellar line-up of 15 carefully chosen food and beverage merchants, each presenting fresh concepts inspired by international cuisines that are known to everyone, from lobster rolls to tapas and pintxos (small bites traditionally from the Spanish Basque region), tsukemen (a kind of ramen with the noodles served dry and with the broth on the side, as dipping sauce) and porchetta (rolls of boneless pork roast). “The cuisine had to be something mainstream,” says Charles. “There had to be American, Japanese, Thai… food that people are familiar with. These are the chefs that we think are the best at that cuisine.” The drinks counter in the center of the hall is operated by EDSA BDG, purveyors of third-wave coffee and craft cocktails. A wine retailer, Happy Barrels, sells reds and whites to go with your meal.
A lot of care has gone into the idea of food as the focus of the meal, but the space itself as imagined by the Hydra Design Group is rather atmospheric, with more than a few subtle nods to the location and its history. Power Plant Mall is built on the former site of a thermal plant from the 1950s owned by the Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company (Meralco), and apart from the obvious reference in its name, The Grid’s running themes of black steel bars, brass fittings, retro overhead lighting and Mid-Century Modern furniture hark back to that bygone era of casual elegance and unhurried meals. Add to that the look of the stalls —ticket booths come to mind — and you sort of feel as though you were in a stylish train station, about to have a meal that’s going to transport you somewhere. Childhood, hopefully.
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Your guide to great grub
Stall 02: Phad Thai, pork chop plate, salads by Flower Boy
Stall 03: Tsukemen, aburasoba, ramen and small plates of karaage by Tsuke-Men
Stall 08: Pintxos like gambas and chorizo with white wine by Rambla
Stall 11: Lobster rolls, lobster grilled cheese sandwich, lobster mac and cheese by Bun Appetit
Stall 09: All kinds of tacos, from pork and lamb to oyster by La Chinesca
Stall 12: coffee and cocktails by EDSA BDG
This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Smile magazine.