Now that staycations are allowed, why not book yourself a room at a Covid-safe hotel for a day or the weekend to dust yourself off, stretch, and get some air?
If you have stayed home all this time, it’s a good idea to book yourself a hotel room, stay overnight or over the weekend to dust yourself off, stretch, and get some air. Invite your friends over in batches, two or four or eight at a time, for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails, and dinner. Those are five occasions for a get-together in a day, but you can squeeze in brunch and a night cap if you have that many friends. Keep the party small because no matter how cozy you want to be, you and your friends cannot sit next to each other or across each other at a table.
Staycation Mood: On
This is what I had in mind when I staycationed at the Peninsula Manila over the weekend. The 44-year-old hotel is one of the safest places you can think of in these Covid-infested times. Closed for nearly nine months, it opted to stay shuttered, rather than opening up as a quarantine facility, even for returning residents or expats and overseas Filipinos flying in for business in the Philippines.
Since it reopened, first The Lobby for dine-in guests and only a week or so later, the rooms for staycationers and leisure guests, it has left no stone unturned to ensure that all but the virus is welcome in its premises. Antigen tests, whose results come out within 30 minutes of a nasal swab, are required prior to check in—and guests are to check in no later than 24 hours after receiving a negative result. BTW, the rapid antigen test is compliments of the house.
The Lobby is the perfect place for a catchup. An atrium connecting the two 11-story towers of the hotel, it is soaring and dramatic, sprawled over 1,108 square meters (11,935 square feet) on marble floors, beneath a ceiling four stories high, topped by an eternal sun, National Artist Nap Abueva’s Sunburst, a sculpture made of bronze, steel, and copper. Daylight streams in from the 10-meter-high glass windows that line the upper walls. Pre-pandemic, there was a live orchestra playing from the mezzanine. The weekend I was there it was a solo pianist playing nostalgic carols. You forget you are indoors. You might as well be al fresco or in an oasis, The Lobby nestled in a garden of ornamental trees, the Washingtonia palms, towering at seven meters around you. Multiplying the lush garden feel are the two artisanal tapestries on two statement walls flanking the dining scene, each four by seven meters and handwoven in the art of the Arraiolos rug made in a small town in Portugal.
Breakfast At The Lobby
Although the menu has been downsized a bit on account of the pandemic, it has integrated some of the items favored in other still-closed F&B outlets. You have a choice between international and Filipino, and you can spend an entire day at The Lobby poring over the menu in search of the dish that matches your mood. I like breakfast when I’m out of life because otherwise I’m never awake for it and it’s always farm fresh eggs sunny side up for me, although this time it took me a while to order my default with bacon, grilled tomato Provençale, and hash browns, deciding too long against the eggs Benedict with English muffin, smoked salmon, and Hollandaise sauce. The a la carte menu would have been enough for me but the bakery basket of croissants, Danish, muffins, rolls, and toast served with butter, honey, and preserves proved irresistible. Breakfast is such a luxury when you have a full day ahead, unlike the typical day in this 10-month-long pandemic that stretches out like a void, just another day that isn’t any different from yesterday, unless Netflix drops anything exciting.
Now it’s time for brunch and a new set of friends. Obviously still full, I considered the avocado toast with poached eggs and toasted sourdough, but settled for fiber—bircher muesli, Greek yoghurt, green apple, nuts, and toasted oats. I should have contented myself with just another cup of coffee because there was still lunch, for which I had my eyes on the Escolta favorite, the Angus beef maki with pickled radish, cucumber, kimchi, and sriracha mayo. There were other things I would have wanted for lunch, such as the Angus beef rib-eye or the duck confit cassoulet with chorizo, white beans, herb, and citrus breadcrumbs, but not on a full stomach.
If you aren’t anything like me, who takes forever in the shower, you could have enough time before the next catchup to burn it all off at the Fitness Center, which opens at the crack of dawn and closes at 10 p.m., with 24-hour access to in-house guests, but you should have booked in advance via the 24-hour e-concierge service, Pen Chat. Pen Chat is accessible via QR code that is handed to you along with your room keys upon check-in. The pool, I was told, is closed after lunch for sanitation, so maybe the gym as well.
Invite your friends over in batches, two or four or eight at a time, for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails, and dinner. Those are five occasions for a get-together in a day, but you can squeeze in brunch and a night cap if you have that many friends.
Festive Afternoon Tea
The afternoon is always a time of luxury for me. Even when buried at work, those hours unfold languorously, like the summers of my youth. In the mid-1800s, the Duchess of Bedford must have had the same idea, unable to stand the long wait between lunch and dinner, which had been moved later to 8 or 9 p.m. upon the introduction of kerosene lamps in England, so on the pretext of inviting friends over, she arguably invented the afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea and high tea are not the same, though many confuse the two. High tea is heavy, served at the end of a day’s work, while afternoon tea is light. Think dainty finger sandwiches, delicate teacups, gentle manners, and lace.
The Festive Afternoon Tea at the Lobby is served in a vintage-patterned three-tier tea tray. Think of it as a three-course meal. I usually start from the bottom, where the savories are, of which my favorite are the foie gras tartlet, the smoked salmon and creamed spinach mille-feuille, and the green asparagus quiche. Next course is the Peninsula raisin scones and the banana bread, along with the strawberry jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream. To cap it off, I pick off the top tier the sweetest things, like the orange and white chocolate tart and the raspberry éclair. A flute of Champagne may go with your tea, if you so wish. The whole menu, tea set included, is also available as a cakeaway, for delivery and pickup.
The Final Luxury
I took the evening off my all-day Lobby adventure, but not before cocktails under the Sunburst, with no less than beverage manager Rico Deang making me a custom drink, Native Chocolate Espresso Martini whipped up with espresso, tablea, Kahlua, and vanilla-infused vodka.
Dinner was at Spices, the second of the hotel’s dining destinations to open, where I started with tom kha gai. Not so easy to find in Manila, this coconut-poached chicken soup with lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal was as comforting as a warm hug, which made everything that followed heartier, the vegetable samosa and the chicken biryani, tandoori-roasted with mixed vegetables, yellow curry sauce, and saffron basmati rice.
I would have gone for a nightcap, but the dinner conversation took me past 10 p.m., when the hotel, including The Lobby, once open 24 hours, would close for the day in these pandemic times. Having spent the day like I had—too much, I know—I was at once rejuvenated and tired, like a bird out of a cage, but there was always tomorrow, breakfast included. Besides, I had yet to indulge in the final luxury of my all-too-brief staycation, my king-size bed with the finest linens and the softest pillows and the sleep that was only possible after a full, eventful day.