What does James JJ Acuna love most about Filipino food? “The sugar, the sour, the savoury all mixing together from appetiser to dessert,” says Acuna. “People think our diet is weird, but it’s all the best things from all of the cultures that ever came to the Philippines done in a really bold way—turned up to 11.”
The designer, who is founder and creative director of interior design firm JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio which is based in both Hong Kong and Manila, is clearly missing the Philippines and its food. In normal times, he usually travels to the Philippines’ capital once or twice a month, but the global pandemic has meant he hasn’t been back—or had his fix of Filipino food at home—since 2019.
The scope of Acuna’s work predominantly encompasses projects in the F&B and hospitality space, so he is no stranger to restaurants. Work in Hong Kong has included the interiors of F&B spaces such as Elephant Grounds, Tate Dining Room, Hansik Goo and, most recently, Coffeelin, while concepts in the Philippines include Elephant Grounds outposts there and Tokyo Tokyo Trinoma. Given the current situation, most construction projects in the Philippines, in particular, are now on hold, but Acuna has been busy elsewhere, working on Xiao Ting, a Guangdong-style restaurant and tea-house at Four Seasons Macao Cotai Strip in Macau, and an upcoming project in vibrant—especially on the dining front—Ho Chi Minh City.
Hopefully, it won’t be long before Acuna can return to Manila, as there are plenty of places he’s dying to get back to. Read on to find out where he’ll be heading first, the places he believes you should go for a true taste of the Philippines, and how he gets his Filipino food fix at home in Hong Kong.