These four restaurants dish out the best memories of our better days
Haven’t you noticed that shortly after community quarantine was put in place, nostalgia took over the daily updates in our social media accounts: “Two years ago at Edith Piaf’s nocturnal haunts in Paris.” “Five years ago, sailing in Auckland.” “Tokyo just last February, why does it seem like a lifetime ago?” Those were some of our more common day-to-day accounts, mostly reposted from FB and IG memories.
Even at the beginning of the pandemic, before we had any idea it would stretch this long, putting our very way of life, especially international travel in a highly globalized world, on indefinite hold, we had begun to look around us, at our immediate surroundings, including those near and dear, what and who truly mattered, the inner core of our existence. As our world began to shrink, with much of what was out there beyond reach, we developed a new, higher appreciation for our little corners in the sun, whether it was just within the perimeters of our homes inhabited by our closest family members or within our immediate communities or, now that domestic travel is fast getting back to normal, within our country, the Philippines.
No sooner than domestic flights resumed operation have many of us locked down in the National Capital Region sought a sense of liberation from months of isolation by flying to El Nido or Boracay or Balesin. Others who aren’t prepared to ride airplanes took road trips to Tagaytay or Batangas or Laguna, even as far as Sorsogon. Still, majority of us are city-bound. The coronavirus is no less virulent and present around us now than it was in March, but after eight months of isolation we know that sooner or later we will need to venture out and just live with the risks of infection or else we could succumb to other ailments, severe paranoia maybe or extreme loneliness.
But we need not throw caution to the wind. Let’s take baby steps into the world out there, even if all we can handle for the moment is a small get-together lunch in a favorite haunt or a few drinks before curfew with just a couple of our favorite people.
But we need not throw caution to the wind. Let’s take it slowly. Let’s take baby steps into the world out there, just making the most of every trip, even if all we can handle for the moment is a small get-together lunch in a favorite haunt or a few drinks before curfew with just a couple of our favorite people.
Here, we’re listing down a few places within Metro Manila or within two hours of the metropolis, where we can start reclaiming more spaces out there, limiting the list only to those places in which dwell many of our pre-pandemic memories.
The Peninsula Manila
Open daily, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Of all the hotels in Metro Manila, the Peninsula Manila is among the very few, if not the only one, that stayed completely shuttered from mid-March to late October, so when it opened at last, starting with The Lobby, replete with the ceremonial touches of a 45-foot Christmas tree lighting and an intimate dinner for 10, led by the hotel’s GM Masahisa Oba and Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, it was an occasion worthy of a reunion between long-lost friends. The Lobby, once upon a time open 24 hours, is a repository of many memories, from high school dates over the Peninsula Manila signature ice cream to innumerable after-parties that would last until dawn, all the way to breakfast of frittatas and Bloody Mary or espresso. On the menu, arroz caldo is a bowl of nostalgia, rekindling those many hung-over post-party hours spent under National Artist Napoleon Abueva’s “Sunburst.” Just as evocative of memories ispancitluglug. For Berna Romulo Puyat, who considered wearing a gown to grace what to her was a grand return to our better days, it was a reunion with the famous Peninsula halo-halo, which she ordered for dessert following the three-course menu at the ceremonial dinner marking yet another milestone in the Peninsula Manila’s 44-year-long history, rising like a phoenix from the invisible ashes of the ongoing pandemic. The live orchestra on the mezzanine is sometimes there, if not, piped-in music—Christmas carols are the repertoire now—takes their place. It’s always quite an experience to be at The Lobby of the Peninsula Manila, especially when you are feeling like Christmas.peninsula.com
The Manila Hotel
Opens daily for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner until 9 p.m.
The Manila Hotel is the Philippines’ most historic hotel. Woven into its century-long history is a greater part of the history of the Philippine republic, including World War II, two People Power Revolutions, practically every change of the administration—the Philippines was under the insular government or the US colonial administration when the hotel opened in 1912, the first of the Philippines’ luxury hotels to open, but it was while President Manuel L. Quezon was in Malacañang that he made part of the hotel, the penthouse, the equivalent of the palace to serve as official residence of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the latter’s tenure as military advisor to Commonwealth Government of the Philippines from 1935 to 1941.So to eat at Café Ilang-Ilang, which has a lot more diners than any other restaurant I’ve been at since we eased into GCQ, could be described as being in the same building as many of its iconic guests, Prince Charles, for one, and Michael Jackson, Ernest Hemingway, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and more. Personally, I always frequent the Japanese station for some handrolled sushi before checking out the live cooking stations and the carving station, homebaked breads, charcuterie, Chinese noodles and dumplings, and the dessert spread, replete with artisanal ice cream. But just before the pandemic, I discovered the minestrone of my life, whipped up by the Italian head chef when he would be in the mood at the Italian kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven, and so when I went recently it was my first stop. Let’s not forget the lechon and the steaks flame-grilled to order while you watch, not to mention the crispy shrimp tempura. Remember, Café Ilang-Ilang is still buffet, but to conform to the new protocols you can only point at what you like through a safety shield and the kitchen staff will plate your order.|manila-hotel.com.ph
The Marriott Manila
Opens daily for dinner from 5 p.m to 9 p.m.
Steaks are always memorable and Cru’s signature grills—handcut, handseasoned, and prepared with so much care—are juicy and tender, their flavors lingering on the mouth and in yourmemories. The overall atmosphere, dark-ish with lots of wood and red velvet touches, lit mostly by the open fire in the open steak flame grill, is as if designed for the pandemic—the tables are far apart, the better to adhere to physical distancing protocols, and the food is served piping hot by a waitstaff made even more unobtrusive by their PPEs and masks and shields. When at Cru, you can forget there is a virulent virus lurking out there because, away from the next table, yours is a world all its own, a safe space, in which you and a few friends, four at the most at each table, can speak to each other without having to raise your voices or worry about being eavesdropped on, especially while concentrating on the finer points of your Stockyard long fed Angus gold, your MulwarraWagyu, or your US prime rib eye, the house’s specialty, with a side of black truffle risotto and grilled marinated Portobello mushrooms. If you’re not such a meat lover, there is a wide selection of seafood options, such as oysters and lobsters and scallops, depending on seasonality. Make sure to ask for wine recommendations. And start early, a good steak dinner is often a three-hour affair, especially when the Cabernet Sauvignon starts to kick in. | marriott.com
Brasserie on 3
Opens daily for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner until 9 p.m.
Brasserie on 3, overlooking a vast sweep of Manila Bay and showcasing it via floor-to-ceiling picture windows, is a pursuit of wanderlust, that is if your imagination can take you far beyond the horizon to places as far away as you can dream of at the moment. If you’re aching for the blue of sea and sky, but have yet to muster the courage to run to the nearest beach paradise, this is the place. Still a buffet restaurant, but with a few twists to adapt to the times, it’s now more of a hybrid. You have appetizer and dessert galore, plus soup, but you can’t just pick what you want off the spread. What you can do now is to point at what you want through acrylic barriers and the kitchen crew will set it up for you with superb plating skills on a wooden platter, which they will serve promptly at your table. As for your main course, choose from a menu accessible via QR code on your place mat highlighting the day’s specials from various sections, such as “Asian Favorites,” which includes Singaporean laksa, oxtail kare-kare, and beef bulalo, Brasserie on 3’s signature. There is also “From the Grill,” which offers Wagyu beef burger, organic chicken, and sirloin steak, as well as “Pasta & Pizza,” of which the truffle four-cheese, fetuccine carbonara, and spaghetti Bolognese are the favorites. The portions are buffet size. I ordered the crispy pork belly and it was served in an oversized plate good enough for three. It’s cheap too and, given that the pandemic has forced us to curb our excesses, Conrad Manila’s executive chef Daniel Patterson has consented to allow us diners to take home our leftovers. Please try not to bite more than you can chew—the portions are really made to satiate your buffet appetite—because you still have to make room for a serving of Eton Mess, a fun enough dessert and good, and the bestselling egg tarts for good measure. | hilton.com