Ito Kish is a storyteller. And with a career spanning over two decades, there’s plenty to talk about. He cemented his name in the design world starting out in retail, eventually moving into interiors, and later designing his own iconic collection. Now, he’s trying his hand at the restaurant business with Ito Kish Design Food.

Translating the Brand’s DNA

The minimalist dining area of Ito Kish Design Food with burgundy walls and vintage light fixtures.

At first, it may sound a little off brand. But as with all things Ito Kish, there’s a story behind that. To those who know him, Kish has a gift for conversation. But he also knows how to listen. Clients visiting his store in JP Rizal would often spend hours looking at the furniture or request consultations.  Every now and then, they would ask for something to drink. As the consummate host, Kish set up a small cafe where he served coffee and panaderia favorites.

Word quickly spread about this trendy little cafe within a highly Instagrammable shop, and soon customers came pouring in, but not necessarily for the furniture. They were there for coffee and selfies. So, it seemed only natural for Kish to establish his own restaurant. But he would do it on his own terms.

Kish had a clear vision for the restaurant’s look and feel from the very beginning. At first glance, the space feels sparse and minimalist. However, there’s a story behind every design element.

“We basically translated the DNA of the store in the last 20 years,” Kish shares. “When I was working on the design, this is exactly how [I envisioned it] to look like.”

A Fluency in Design Language

The minimalist dining area of Ito Kish Design Food with burgundy walls and vintage light fixtures.
The minimalist dining area of Ito Kish Design Food with burgundy walls and vintage light fixtures.
The minimalist dining area of Ito Kish Design Food with burgundy walls and vintage light fixtures.

The first thing you notice are the deep burgundy walls. This color was inspired by a panel from a chapel in Myanmar, which Kish used in the original café. The geometric paneling is reminiscent of the wall treatment in Kish’s store in Reposo. The pendant lamps are from his own collection, originally kept in storage. It just so happened that they perfectly complemented the space. Locally sourced, handcrafted wooden benches contrast with the sleek metal chairs.

On display in a small unassuming niche by the counter is a miniature of his iconic Gregoria chair. It’s a subtle of hint of Kish’s background in retail.

“All the décor on the wall are from the store… And those are all for sale,” Kish says. He takes the time to swap those out on occasion to stage a new tableau. Once you become aware of the attention to detail, it makes the whole experience that more special. Even the short trip to the powder room merits sharing.

There’s a bit of history in every design choice. This eclectic mix of elements blends traditional Asian antiques with vintage Jacobsen light fixtures, all coming together to create a minimalist aesthetic. It just goes to show Kish’s fluency in various design languages.

Coffee Under the Trees

To the left of the entrance, there’s a coffee bar past a row of potted suamei trees on top of a live edge wooden table. During the day, light filters in through the floor to ceiling windows to cast a play of shadows.

Kish covered the wall behind the coffee bar with a tropical wallpaper. In lieu of a menu, each coffee flavor has its own tab hanging on a round wooden peg. Just make your selection and present the tab to the barista. One drink in particular, made with nata de coco, is named after Kish’s beloved grandmother.

Perhaps the best seat in the house is right by the indoor forest. The suamei curve above you right next to a beautiful, impeccably crafted antique bar cabinet. According to Kish, “It’s a representation of the classic collection we sell at the store.”

Back lit signage of Ito Kish Design Food.

But rather than treat it as a museum piece, it’s used to store items needed for running the restaurant. The coffee bar setting simulates Kish’s fond memories of having coffee under the trees. But Ito Kish Design Food elevates that experience.

And that’s what makes this place so unique. It’s far more than just sitting down for a meal. Sure, the food is great, but what takes it up a notch is the deliberate curation of everything around you. The patterns on the handcrafted plates, the Italian designed fish water pitcher, and the plating of the food itself, all work in harmony. It’s a nod to the Japanese practice where food should be as beautiful as it tastes.

The menu reflects the cuisine from the various places Kish sources his products: Lahksa from Indonesia, Shakshuka from Africa, and of course, some Filipino favorites. Everything has a story behind it.

Ito Kish

Ito Kish Design Food is a full sensory experience. From the moment you step inside, the minimalist design and unique textures engage your sight. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the murmur of conversation, while the vibrant flavors of the cuisine delight your palate.

In a saturated restaurant scene where you’re spoiled for choice, it’s easy to find a delicious and affordable meal. But it’s rare to find an orchestration of meticulously curated elements-from the decor to the music selection-that gives you a little something extra. It’s a physical manifestation of Kish’s creative vision that walks you through his unique narrative. Come for the food or the coffee, but stay for the stories.

Photographed by Ed Simon.

Read more: Cafe Bobs: Casting a New Light on Interior Design

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