truffled foie gras potato tempura at Antonio’s
Ever since S put together Inside the Southeast Asian Kitchen, arguably the best book on our region’s cuisine (and at the very least the only one in which all contributors were actually from Southeast Asia), she and I have been obsessed with visiting what we realized is probably the region’s most underrated but amazing food destination, the Philippines. Yes, the Philippines. Which, when you actually think about it, makes sense. This is a country whose culture has been very heavily influenced by foreign influences, especially the Spanish, Chinese, Malays and Americans. It’s only natural that elements of these different cuisines have been absorbed into the local food culture to create new (or not so new anymore) and exceedingly delicious dishes.
In addition, over the past few years, the restaurant scene in and around Manila has become increasingly exciting and sophisticated. When we published The Miele Guide‘s first edition last year, we were honestly surprised by the number of amazing restaurants from the Philippines that made it into the top end of our survey–and thrilled that one restaurant, Antonio’s, actually came out as Asia’s tenth best restaurant.
left to right: cucumber and pineapple juice, kurobuta pork belly and foie gras cassoulet, both from Antonio’s
S and I decided that after a year of promising friends that we’d visit them, that it was high time we actually stopped saying we’d come and actually go. We jumped on a plan last Friday afternoon and spend a fabulous and over-indulgent three days eating our way across Manila. (Sadly, our visit also coincided with the passing of President Cory Aquino, which made the weekend a bit of a juggling act for one of our hosts, who is the press spokesperson for another ex-President.)
The following is a few of the places we went to and a few great things we ate that I am sure will make you want to buy a ticket immediately. Of course, there is no way that, after just one short 3 day visit, my list is anywhere near comprehensive. I mean, I missed having halo-halo at Razon’s, didn’t make it to Lola Dad’s or Abe or Apartment 1b… which only means many more future eating trips across the Philippines.
clockwise from top left: French sandwiches hot off the grill; gourmet suman; lechon; top foodies Margaux Salcedo and Jill Sandique
Jaime Velasquez Park, Bel-Air Baranguay, Makati. Saturday, 7am to 2pm
roast calf at Salcedo Market
I wish we had open-air food markets like this in Singapore. But we don’t, which made our visit to this fabulous Saturday market, centrally located in Makati in a large open park, really fabulous. There are over 140 stalls here selling everything from traditional pastries to roast suckling pig. We feasted on piaya, a griddled flatbread filled with muscovado sugar and recommended to me by Robyn of Eating Asia.
clockwise from top left: piaya; grilled meats; more roast pigs; nana meng’s tsokolate
We pigged out on lechon (roast suckling pig), wolfed down a chicken empanada, a sugar-filled Breton-style crepe, and purchased lots of awesome edibles to bring home. One of our favourite stalls was BudBud, which sells “gourmet suman”. Suman is sticky rice rolled in either young coconut leaves or banana leaves and then boiled. Budbud flavours his suman–he has 13 different types, including suman made with fresh mango, suman with native chocolate swirls, and suman with a touch of ginger. We couldn’t help buying a half dozen each of our two favourites, suman with a coconut caramel (latik) and suman with millet seeds. We also had to make a stop to pick up some Tsokolate Filipino (Filipino style hot chocolate paste) from Nana Meng, owned by celebrated journalist, PR person, ex-TV personality, ex-lawyer, and super-cool foodie Margaux Salcedo.
Sorry, champorado is not the name of a specific breakfast place. Champorado is a classic Filipino breakfast item and one of the strangest and yet most exciting things I’ve ever eaten. It’s, quite simply, a chocolate flavoured rice porridge/pudding that is topped off with some evaporated milk and, get this, some smoked, dried or fried fish. Sounds strange? You betcha. Taste even stranger? Surprisingly, no. It’s actually really good, especially if you, like me, are into foods that are both salty and sweet at the same time. Having this combination actually reminded of the show that Anthony Bourdain devoted to El Bulli. I remember a scene in which Ferran Adria coated a deep-fried fish with cotton candy, which he then asked Tony to eat. While at first hesitant, he (of course) ate it and admitted that the combination was pretty amazing. My friend Margaux made the champorado pictured here, which was pretty darned satisfying. Who would have thought fish and chocolate would work so well together?
The Philippines is home to some of the best pastries I have ever tasted. And the very best of these are all made by one rather amazing foodie, Jill Sandique. Jill, an amazing authority on Filipino cuisine, runs a business called Delize. She is most famous for her sansrival, a small cake made up of four layers of crisp meringue sandwiched in between and covered with buttercream and sprinkled with chopped nuts. We tried four different kinds of sansrivals, all made by Jill, and each was as good as the next. Honestly, if you ever get a chance to try these amazingly rich yet light and super-delicious cakes, you must! Jill also let us taste her canonigo, which was a revelation, and her tocino del cielo, which were sinfully good. Canonigo is an egg-white meringue cake that shares similarities to the French ile flottante (my all-time favourite dessert), except it is baked in a bundt pan, and served sliced with caramel and a thick custard. Tocino del cielo, pictured here, are small baked custards made with nothing more than caramel, egg yolks and butter. The name translates to “bacon from heaven”, which is where you’ll end up if you eat too many of these delicious snacks.
chanterelles and foie gras from Antonio’s
Bgy. Neogan, Tagaytay City, Cavite, Tel: +63 918 899 2866
Antonio’s is a stunning restaurant in an equally stunning location. Truly deserving of all the accolades that it has received, our meal at this gorgeously furnished French-Filipino stunner easily ranks among the very best we have had in our lives. The restaurant is located in Tagaytay, a popular weekend resort area that is a 90 minute drive (in good traffic) from Manila. The restaurant itself is housed in a beautiful old manor house. The interiors are classic and chic, with just the right amount of old-world charm to seduce even the most jaded city-slicker. The food here is bold, bountiful, artfully presented and skillfully crafted. On our trip, we started our meal with a plate of white asparagus with parmesan and balsamic vinegar and an order of sauteed chanterelles served with seared foie gras. We then tried the blissful truffled potato foie gras tempura, followed by salad and a gorgeous oven roasted tomato soup. I had the kurobuta pork belly and foie gras cassoulet while S had Antonio’s famous duck confit. By the time dessert came around, we were too full for anything more than a small bowl of chocolate chilli ice cream. We really loved our visit to this restaurant. S even expressed an interest in hosting her 40th birthday party there one day. It is definitely a restaurant well worth the trip, even from abroad.
clockwise from top left: USDA Super Prime striploin at Elbert’s, adobo overload at Bistro Filipino, Jill Sandique’s sansrival, Chef Roland Laudico
Chef Laudico Bistro Filipino
Net Two Building, The Fort, Taguig City, Metro Manila, Tel: +632 856 0634
Chef Roland Laudico may just be the greatest culinary ambassador the Philippines has–but of course is not being marketed by his country’s Tourism Authority at all. His humble but smart bistro, located in the historic Fort Bonafacio area, serves up stunning Modern Filipino fare, a cuisine that Chef Laudico has been championing since the restaurant opened in 2006. The food represents the best of traditional Filipino cuisine–its techniques and flavours–but is presented in a novel, modern, and sometimes lighter style. It is an evolution of the cuisine that I feel could open up Filipino food to the world–because Chef Laudico is able to present it in a way and with flavours that would appeal to any foodie from any part of the planet. We had an amazing meal, starting with a trio of starters: a crispy lumpia cone stuffed with chorizo, prawns and heart of palm and served with a spicy vinegar granite; spicy pork sisig stuffed in a crispy rice basket topped with chicharon and a half quail egg; and crispy fish, shrimp and squid with garlic aioli, pinakurat soy glaze and a crab fat dipping sauce. We then had a prawn sinigang martini that S swooned over. The martini actually contained a cold sinigang gelee garnished with seared prawns and julienned jicama. Over this, diners are asked to pour a hot lemongrass-infused coconut cream. We then had a milk fish souffle followed by grilled tuna with a pickled garlic shrimp sauce (burong hipon) on tumeric rice and kangkong saute. Our main course was Chef’s signature adobo overload–adobo sticky rice stuffed with chicken adobo topped with seared foie gras, fried adobo flakes and adobong kangkong. Dessert was another trio: halo-halo shooter with fresh carabao cream sorbet and ube ice cream; coconut panna cotta rice cake drizzled with coconut caramel glaze, toasted coconut and torched mango; and slow-baked tsokolate topped with almond cream. I truly hope that every foodie one day gets to try Chef’s Laudico’s dishes and I hope someone from the Tourism Authority reads this and realizes what a resource this talented chef could be for the Philippines. Chef also told us his first cookbook will be available by Christmas. I can’t wait to buy a copy and start cooking from it.
Elbert’s Steak Room
Elbert’s is a great classic (albeit slightly secret) steak restaurant. Hidden up the stairs in an industrial building in Makati, there is no sign on the door or at street level. Once inside, you’ll be led to one of the few tables in this tiny sliver of a restaurant. The menu is equally sparse. Choose between the Shortloin, Ribeye, Striploin or Tenderloin–each cut is available in either USDA Prime or Super Prime. There is also a Prime Rib available… and that’s it. That’s the whole menu, save for 7 side dishes and some sauces. Of course, as you might hope in a place that is confident enough to serve only steak and nothing else, the steaks are fabulous… better than any I have eaten in Singapore in the last few years at least. They are cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of charring on the outside and the right level of seasoning. Elbert has also opened a Philidelphia Cheesesteak chain, which I also visited and can attest is out of this world–best cheesesteak I have had this decade (of course, I live in Asia so a good cheesesteak is a real rarity for me).
The Peninsula Manila
The Pen’s grand outpost in Makati is the place to see and be seen, and to stay when visiting Manila. Like other Pens, the lobby oozes old-world grandeur. The city’s top socialites drop by frequently for drinks and to tuck into one of the city’s most famous halo-halos. The rooms, which have been recently renovated, are plush and luxurious. The staff efficient, courteous and immaculately turned out at all times. The bell boys are especially cute in their crisp white and very classic uniforms. Very centrally located in Makati and only a few minutes from some of the best restaurants and shops, The Pen Manila is simply the smart and stylish option for experienced road warriors and global nomads.