Still the Best: China Blue

August 14, 2022 | Sunday

China Blue has already sealed its reputation as one of the best Chinese restaurants in Manila. I finally got to visit again after 3 years and I was so happy to see that it was as if no pandemic ever happened. It’s still every bit as excellent as I remember it to be.

China Blue, Jereme Leung, Margaux Salcedo, best chinese restaurant in manila philippines, top food writer philippines manila asia

My distinguished and saintly guests were keen to observe that the architecture of the hotel is such that as you emerge from the elevator to the floor of the restaurant, because of the glass walls, the first thing you see is the gorgeous view of Manila Bay. Rushing from Pasay traffic, I wasn’t able to pause and take this in but made a mental note to stop and stare when I dine there again. Usually for the Manila Bay sunset, I would go to the hotel’s C Lounge where you can have your cocktail of choice while taking it all in (after dinner, C Lounge is also great for listening to authentic jazz as – if you’re lucky to catch them – this is where the true jazz artists like Sandra Viray, Colby dela Calzada, Henry Katindig perform on some days).

The walk from the elevator to the restaurant is quite distant and I scolded myself for forgetting this as I rushed down the hall — scanning the art on display — in heels. If you will go with an elderly or anyone who needs assistance with mobility, make sure to bring a wheelchair or allot enough enough time for that walk. Think going from gates A to C at an airport. If you have no mobility issues, I would even recommend wearing skates!

But once you reach your destination, it’s another beautiful setting to enjoy. Try to snag a table by the window (if it’s a floor to ceiling glass wall, do you sit by the wall or by the window?!). If you need more privacy, they have a few rooms. Then immediately order an aperitif to calm you down after that long walk and to accompany you as you go through the splendid menu of Chef Jereme Leung.

Chef Leung, who was a judge on the Chinese edition of MasterChef for several years and appeared in the popular food documentary entitled A Bite of China, is a true master of his craft. He can immediately transport you to the elegant world of Chinese fine dining with one bite of his cooking. Think Babette’s Feast – the final dinner – but Chinese. 

While he is simultaneously running several restaurants around the world, he makes sure that all the restaurants he has committed to exude his brand of excellence.  So you might as well be dining at Yi at the iconic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, which he just opened last 2019. He was also the chef behind Jiang Nan at the Venetian in Macau and Puben in Shanghai.

He is committed to sharing “the rich heritage of regional Chinese cuisines that are rarely seen outside of China”. He has been honing his love for Chinese cuisine since the tender age of 13 when he started working the wok, roasts, dim sum, and knife prep stations at various Chinese restaurants until becoming the executive chef of the Mandarin Oriental Surabaya at the young age of 24 and then becoming executive Chinese chef of Four Seasons Singapore’s Jiang Nan Chun at 29. In 2003, he moved to Shanghai, where he became part-owner and chef of Whampoa Club at Three on The Bund and became known for his innovative interpretations of traditional Chinese dishes.

He continued to make a name for himself as he received the Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Science; the XO Hennessy Culinary Award; the inaugural Rising Chef of the Year Award at the World Gourmet Summit Awards of Excellence; the Global Chef Award from the culinary academy At-Sunrice; the International Famous Master Chef for Chinese Cuisines by the World Association of Chinese Cuisines; and Chef of the Year by Timeout Magazine. Today he has around 14 restaurants, his own line of sauces, wine and kitchen equipment, several cookbooks and was welcomed grandly back to Singapore as the chef of Yi at Raffles.

At China Blue, you will witness his creativity. The dimsums that arrive tickle both your eyes and your palate. There’s the famous steamed truffle mushroom bun whose bun is shaped like a mushroom (think Smurfs). Chicken dumpling is served underneath a layer of corn made to look like a very cute corn on the cob. Pork barbecue dumpling is deceivingly healthy in the shape of a carrot (think Bugs Bunny). And the smoked duck dumpling is made to look like a green pear.

Beyond the eyes, the chef plays with textures. Make sure to order the paper-thin crispy beef that isso fun to munch on and addictive with its hint of spiciness. We were told to pair this with cherry tomatoes to balance out the flavors.

Then there are the traditional dishes executed with a Leung twist. The sweet and sour pork has a tang from strawberries; beef tenderloin is inspired by Hunan cuisine; and the veggies are given character by the restaurant’s XO sauce.

Twice a year, Chef Jereme Leung himself comes to Manila. I am hoping that on his next visit, he will share with us more of his authentic regional Chinese cuisine finds. His creations are truly Chinese cooking at its best and it’s always an authentic, wonderful experience at China Blue. /MS

Champagne-Paired Thai Degustation at Benjarong

by Margaux Salcedo | First Class, Philippine Daily Inquirer | 29 May 2022

There are dining experiences that are just impossible to replicate at home, no matter what fancy kitchen tools you invest in. One of these is the exemplary Thai culinary experience that is Benjarong. 

Benjarong is now on the ground floor – at what used to be the lobby cafe – of Dusit Thani Manila in Makati. The high ceiling allows for good ventilation and the very socially distanced seating comforts germophobes like myself to take off our masks to eat. After two years of quarantining, a sense of space is now also a sense of security for diners!

This has always been my favorite Thai restaurant in Manila with its consistently excellent delivery of classic Thai cuisine but equally impressive and worth a try today is the Möet-paired degustation menu by resident Chef Ja which gives traditional dishes an elegant modern touch.

Chef Watcharaphon Yongbanthom or Chef Ja, Benjarong, Dusit Thani Manila, best Thai restaurant Manila, Margaux Salcedo, Moet champagne
Chef Ja of Dusit Thani Manila

Chef Watcharaphon Yongbanthom or Chef Ja hails from Chiangmai and often gives a nod to her hometown in her menu but she has also honed her culinary skills at the kitchens of the Bangkok Marriott Resort, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, Golden Tulip Mandison Suite Bangkok and at the Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. A master chef in her own right, she was also a Guest Chef for Iron Chef Thailand.

She brings her A game to the restaurant’s 8-course tasting menu that is paired with champagne! And there is much to celebrate as each dish honors tradition and Thai culture while showcasing the chef’s keen understanding of fine dining in the cosmopolitan world.

You are welcomed with – what else – a flute of Brut. If you go for lunch on a hot day, this is just perfect to settle down.

This goes perfectly with the amuse bouche of Pha Pla, a dainty cone of tuna salad with just a dabble of ginger, herbs and lime to wake up your senses, laid out on a gorgeous tuile that piques your curiosity. “Can you eat this? What is it made of?” “Coconut, apparently!”

It truly is a perfect bite, in which the chef definitively says, “Welcome to Benjarong.”

Northern Thai cuisine at Benjarong: Sai Oua (middle); Larb Ped (left); Pha Pla (right).

Once you have relaxed, she takes you to Chiangmai and introduces you to Northern Thai cuisine with Sai Oua or northern sausage made of pork cheek, pork tenderloin and pork belly. Also on the plate is a slither of pork belly that very much resembles chicharon and an adorable popsicle of sticky rice. You are to eat the aromatic sausage with chili paste and the sticky rice, as they do in Chiang Mai. A beautiful ode to her hometown by the chef, taking the guest to the streets of Chiangmai while feeling like a king of the Lanna kingdom as the sausage is paired with Möet Brut!

You are then eased into the salad course that is duck and herbs in a little basket. But what makes an impression is the watermelon sherbet this comes with. It does not come in a glass but in the shape of a miniature slice of watermelon. Then on top there is a sprinkling of dried snakehead fish, as appreciated by the locals of northern Thailand. It is not only refreshing but also a wonderful conversation starter, introducing us to the gastronomic culture of Thailand to understand how they balance salty and sweet.

The soup is, of course, Tom Yum. This version is the Tom Yum Pu Ma Prao On. The chef is keen to explain that the soup base is pure coconut water seasoned with coconut milk, lime juice and chili paste. It is made indulgent with balls of crab.

The next course is Panaeng See Krong Kae. This is lamb rack with rice noodles in a red curry sauce. This is just enough to wade you through before the main course Khao Phad Tom Yum, a gorgeous and heavy river prawn served with tom yum flavored fried rice.

Chef Ja’s Tom Yum Pu Ma Prao On; Panaeng See Krong Kae (lamb rack with rice noodles); Khao Phad Tom Yum (river prawn).

After that crescendo, you are offered a pre-dessert called Ka Nom Tom, a ball of coconut with palm sugar inside. And then as a final note, the chef serves something that is quintessentially Thai: mango. But this is no ordinary mango. I-Tim Ma Muang is mango ice cream: i-tim seems to be a phonetic translation for ice cream while muang means mango. Again, this is not served in a cup but it arrives encased in white chocolate that is made to look like a green mango. And when you bite into it, the sweetness of the white chocolate against the gentle tart sweetness of the mango is just the perfect ending to this elaborate degustation. This was paired with Nectar Imperial of Möet & Chandon which is a beautiful note even on its own.

If you have not yet had the courage to leave your house and are looking for where to begin, this Benajrong experience comes highly recommended for a celebratory splurge. It has the flavors of royalty, the warmth of home, the cultural experience of destination travel, the safety measures you can expect from a five star hotel and, with this menu, the delight that always comes with bottles of bubbly.

Truly a five star experience. Champagne cheers!

Chef Ja is as talented with dessert as she is with mains. Here: watermelon sherbet and mango ice cream.

Benjarong at  Dusit Thani Manila. Call +63 7238 8888 for reservations.

For this degustation, 2 days notice is required. There are options for champagne pairing and wine pairing. Wheelchair accessible. Major credit cards accepted. 

More from the author at Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram. 

Cebu Eats! 2022

I finally got the courage to travel again and am writing this from beautiful Cebu, where the 2nd National Mission Congress and the closing mass for the celebrations of 500 Years of Christianity — with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown; Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines; and Archbishop Jose Palma of the Archdiocese of Cebu — are taking place.

Margaux Salcedo, Msgr Joseph Tan, 500 Years of Christianity, Cebu, Closing Ceremonies, Archbishop Charles Brown, Fr Mhar Balili, Archbishop Jose Palma
Hosted the Closing Ceremonies for 500 YOC before the Eucharistic Celebration began. April 24, 2022 at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. With me is Msgr. Joseph Tan, Media Liaison Officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu. Photo: Msgr Ting Ancajas

I am happy to share that it looks like we really can start doing food trips again and now is the time, while fares are down. We flew via Cebu Pacific and a round-trip ticket was just P3,000 (without the add-ons)! Your health is your own lookout, though, as the crowds are back as well, so just make sure you wear the proper mask and that it is sealed correctly around your nose and mouth. Also make sure you are fully vaccinated so that even if the COVID-19 virus hits you, it will just be like the flu.

Here are few new foodie finds on this trip:

Maribago Bluewater’s ‘Sinudlan na Manok ‘

Maribago Bluewater is paradise. The 7-hectare beachfront property with gorgeous Balete trees is perfect for a relaxing getaway. It is just one hour from the city center so it’s also an ideal location if you have to meet friends in the city. I say paradise because it really is, especially if you get a bungalow—literally a two-bedroom, one story “house”—right on the beach.

It’s also safer for meals because the setup is al fresco. Even if you will not sleep over, have a meal at Allegro restaurant. They have a really delicious chicken stuffed with chorizo called Sinudlan na Manok. It does not come as a whole chicken but like a roll, similar to morcon, and sliced beautifully on the plate. The chorizo used is Cebuano chorizo hubad. Another unique dish is their ube sinigang. The fish in itself is sumptuous, a pan-seared snapper. But what makes the dish unique is that it’s purple, even the broth! In place of rice, the fish is laid atop a chunk of sweet potato, taro and halaya. Make sure to squeeze the lemon onto the mash as this does wonders in bringing the flavors together; otherwise it’s like an odd combination of fish and ube jam. But with the lemon, it’s like they are wed in holy matrimony and becomes really enjoyable!

Of course, the best option is to sleep over and have fresh oysters with champagne by the beach! Live the life!

‘Bibingka de Mandaue’

Every town has its version of kakanin. Mandaue in Cebu also has its own version of bibingka and Bishop Midyphil “Dodong” Billones, auxiliary bishop of Cebu and rector of the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue, says that Bibingka de Mandaue is the best. Count on a bishop to choose something that is very austere but spirit-filled! This rice cake is plain and almost looks like pita bread but its beauty is inside! No salted duck egg, no cheese on top but it is very flavorful!

Another must-try in Mandaue is Didang’s masa real. This is a bar of finely-ground boiled peanuts and coconut syrup. It’s a great pasalubong, too!

Part’ebelle Seafood Restaurant

This is a “karinderya “that I am sure Anthony Bourdain would have loved for a true taste of local flavors. The specialty of this al fresco resto is a seafood soup called Tinolang Isda (or tinowa) that has a clear broth. They use blue marlin and I learned from a local culinary expert to ask for fish roe instead of just plain fish meat for a first class treat in a casual atmosphere.

Tinolang Isda at Partebelle

Another specialty here is the sinugba or grilled fish. There is a huge grillery just outside the restaurant where they cook the liempo and blue marlin. It is very tasty and fresh! Served with a huge mound of rice per person, even if you just get your utensils from a communal container with hot water (don’t be maarte!), this is one of the best meals I’ve had on this trip!

Matias BBQ

For a great hole-in-the-wall experience, Enrico Monsanto of Bluewater in Maribago highly recommends Matias BBQ in Mandaue. This is on A.S. Fortuna Street in Mandaue. The must-trys are the pork barbecue, chorizo and balbacua.

Carcar ‘chicharon’

Carcar Chicharon beside the St Catherine of Alexandria historical church in Carcar

For chicharon, the place to visit is Carcar. While you are there, make a trip to the Shrine of Archbishop Teofilo Camomot, former Archbishop of Cebu and now Servant of God. On May 3, the Vatican will determine if he qualifies to be called Venerable, which is the next step to sainthood. So please pray for Archbishop Camomot and hopefully, we will have another Filipino saint!


Also make sure to try Tagaktak. In Cebuano, this means “to drop.” It looks like fried noodles presented in the shape of a triangle and is enjoyed as a snack. It earned its name from the process by which it is cooked: rice batter is poured into a perforated coconut shell and the batter then falls through the holes while the one cooking sways the shell to force the batter to fall “taktak” into boiling oil. You can find this from vendors just outside the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu.

World travel and tourism

Back in Manila, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat just opened the 21st Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council. She said: “A new age of travel and tourism is upon us, and it is up to us to drive the change towards a better and more hopeful future.”

This is so true. I confess I only agreed to fly to Cebu because Fr. Mhar Balili, chair of the 500 Years of Christianity celebrations in Cebu, promised that I would be hosting the 2nd National Mission Congress right in front of the original image of the Sto. Niño that was given by Ferdinand Magellan to Reyna Juan 500 years ago—a promise he fulfilled. But now that I have traveled, I would love to encourage everyone to welcome this new normal and fly!

Incidentally, Catholics call this day Divine Mercy Sunday and we are truly so grateful for this mercy. Now we can really get out of our caves and live life to the fullest again! Hallelujah!

Kaon ta!

First Class by Margaux Salcedo | Philippine Daily Inquirer | April 24, 2022 Sunday

It’s April! It’s Filipino Food Month!

A legacy of the Duterte Administration that we in the food community are grateful for is the declaration of Filipino Food Month.

Since April 13, 2018, when President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed Presidential Proclamation No. 469, we have been celebrating the month of April as National Filipino Food Month. This has been significant in promoting Filipino food both locally and internationally, bringing an awareness worldwide to what Filipino food is and rejuvenating the love for Filipino flavors here at home, including the desire to preserve our Filipino culinary heritage.

This April, we continue to celebrate National Filipino Food Month or, in Filipino, “Buwan ng Lutong Pilipino”. 

It has now become a collaborative effort led by the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement alongside the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Tourism and the Department of Agriculture.

The theme this year highlights Filipino food as a key to progress and change (“Pagkaing Pilipino, Susi sa Pag-unlad at Pagbabago”).

Chef Jam Melchor, who initiated the Filipino Food Month, explains the theme:  “The way we produce, distribute, choose, consume and preserve food significantly impacts our nation. Future scenarios will change significantly depending on how we relate to food.”

The festivities will start with face-to-face Opening Ceremonies on April 1 at the Metropolitan Theater. The Department of Agriculture will also have its own virtual launching on April 4 via their Facebook page.

One highlight of this year’s Filipino Food Month is a Culinary Cinema series that will showcase short films relating to Filipino food.

There will be screenings of the short films every Friday of the month at 2:00 p.m. via the page of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts while every Friday they will have short film “talkbacks”. There will also be the launch of Culinary Cinema Luzon on April 25; Culinary Cinema Visayas on April 18; and Culinary Cinema Mindanao on April 11. These will all be on the NCCA Facebook page.

Meanwhile the Filipino Food Month page will host “KainCon” sessions (short for ‘eating conference’, i.e. ‘kain’ means ‘to eat’ while ‘con’ is short for ‘conference’). The first session will be on how to grow your own food, to be held on April 7; the second one on preserving Filipino culinary traditions through gastro-diplomacy and tourism, to be held on April 12; the third one on innovations inspired by Filipino food history, to be held on April 14; the fourth one on starting a sustainable business, to be held on April 19; the fifth one on gastronomy as part of the Filipino cultural identity, to be held on April 21; the sixth one on the flavors of Muslim Mindanao, to be held on April 26; and the final one on a global perspective of preserving and promoting Filipino food traditions, to be held on April 28.

Schedule of Activities for the Filipino Food Month in the National Capital Region / Metro Manila

On the part of the Department of Agriculture, they will have a webinar series on High Value Crops (HVC).

This will open on April 11 at 9:00 a.m. via the Facebook page of the Department of Agriculture. They will also host a planting ceremony for inter-cropping of cofffee and cacao in coconut areas. There will be two webinars: one on April 12, tackling diversification in Philippine coconut areas, and another on April 13, on diversification in rice areas.

For those who simply love to eat, there will be a Filipino Food Festival at the Atrium of Shangri-la Plaza from April 22 to 24. For those who love to travel, you can look forward to the 21st World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit – Fun Philippine Finds Pop-Up Store that will be at the Marriott Grand Ballroom in Pasay from April 20 to 22.

There will also be many regional events.

One of the highlights would be the Sustainable Diner Series hosted by the Department of Tourism – CALABARZON and the World Wildlife Fund. This will be via Zoom on April 6, 11, 13, 18 and 20. Iloilo stands out as well for their regional activities, with a food art/carving contest at the Robinson’s Main, Iloilo Fountain Area on April 13 and a Farmers’ Cooking Contest on April 14 at the Department of Agriculture lobby in Koronadal. Pampanga will also hold a Filipino Food Month cooking contest at their Department of Agriculture in San Fernando. Pampanga is also hosting an Innovative Food Product Contest in Angeles City. Meanwhile, there will also be several food festivals: Capiz will host a food festival called Food Trip sa Capiz at the Capiz Provincial Park on April 22; Palawan will host Hapag ng Pamana sa Palawan on April 30 at the Cacaoyan Forest Park and Restaurant, which may be viewed on the NCCA Facebook page; in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, you can visit Punsyunan: A Showcase of CALABARZON Cuisine at the Ayala Solenad in Nuvali; and in Cagayan de Oro, there will be a CDO Foodcrawl that those in the rest of the country can follow via the Facebook pages of Cagayan de Oro city.

It is truly an exciting culinary month! What a delicious April this will be! Congratulations in advance to the organizers and all involved. Yes, let us all celebrate Filipino food! Kain na!


For updates on Filipino Food Month events, follow the Filipino Food Month page:

Drink Like Monks and Saints

Margaux Salcedo | Inquirer Business | First Class

It’s October! And that means one thing for F&B connoisseurs and beer lovers: Oktoberfest!
Sadly, Oktoberfest was cancelled again this year. It was first cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. There were high hopes for its return this 2021 but in May it was announced that the 187th Oktoberfest, which should have taken place from September 18 to October 3 on the Theresienwiese in Munich, would also be cancelled.

The organizers explained: “The risk is simply too huge that people here could become infected with the Coronavirus.” They added: “Oktoberfest can only take place completely or not at all. Or, in one Bavarian sentence: ‘So a bissl Wiesn geht ned. (There’s no thing like a little bit of Wiesn.)”
In pre-pandemic Philippines, there would usually be beer festivals at various hotels, bars and pubs all over the metro the entire month of October. Sadly, all that is cancelled as well.

Oktoberfest 2013. Photo: Heribert Pohl | Wikimedia Commons

Beer connoisseurs

But no one is stopping us from drinking at home and celebrating with the people in our bubble or virtually. (For some of us, this is what has kept us sane every day!) So in the spirit of Oktoberfest, let’s make ourselves feel better with some good beer!
The operative word is ‘good’. We are not promoting mindless drinking here but an appreciation for the complexities and nuances of carefully thought out brews.

Strictly speaking, Oktoberfest revolves only around six breweries: Augustiner, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. And there are clear specifications on beer quality: The festival beer must have an original gravity of at least 13.6%. The beer must be golden yellow, drinkable and full-bodied; and must have original wort percentage, alcohol content, bitterness and color. The Munich Purity Law of 1487 applies and the water must come from Munich deep wells, which reach into layers of the Tertiary period. Finally, brewing is only allowed in the territory of the city of Munich.

St Francis

In the Philippines, Paulaner is especially appreciated. And here’s some timely trivia as we celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi tomorrow, October 4: Paulaner was named after St Francis of Paola, founder of the mendicant Order of Minims, whose friars of the Neudeck ob der Au cloister established the German brewery in Munich in 1634. St Francis of Paola, meanwhile, was named after St Francis of Assisi, as his parents asked St Francis of Assisi for intercession when they were trying to conceive and also later when he was in danger of losing his eyesight due to an illness.

The young Francis of Paola entered the friary of the Franciscan Order and later went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Assisi, after which he chose to live a life of solitude, living in a secluded cave. Later, in 1436, he was joined by two companions, which led to the foundation of the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, which would eventually become the Order of Minims (O.M.). The Minim friars are known for their humility but also for their ‘fourth vow’: a Lenten way of life, which includes abstinence from meat and other animal products.

Perhaps this vow is what inspired some brothers of the order, i.e., the monks in the Neudeck ob der Au Monastery in Munich two hundred years later, to become creative and make exceptional beer!

Then whatever the monks did not drink, they would give to the poor. In 1634, the city council received complaints from other brewers about competition from the monastery. The date of this letter is considered the first documented evidence of the Paulaner Brewery and used as the founding date of the brewery.


Personally, though, with all respect and reverence for St Francis, my personal preference for beer is named after St Michael. I still love our good ol’ San Miguel Pale Pilsen (not Light!), proudly made in the Philippines!

And truth be told, I prefer dark beer over light. The best is still Guinness. And not from the bottle or from the can but draught! Guinness is an Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James’s Gate, Dublin, Ireland, in 1759.

Since we cannot yet really travel as we used to, there is a good alternative here for dark beer lovers: Kozel. This is brewed in the village of Velké Popovice in the Czech Republic, just outside Prague, exactly where the first batch of Kozel was brewed in 1874. To this day, this beer is brewed the traditional Czech way, with select malts and the aromatic hop Premiant for a complex but well-balanced bitter and sweet taste. This is distributed in the Philippines by Don Revy (visit to order). It’s my favorite!

Whatever beer you choose to drink today, I hope it lifts your spirits! Let’s pray for the end of this pandemic and drink to that!

And as we remember his feast day tomorrow, let’s raise a glass as well to St Francis of Assisi and ask for his intercession to help us through this pandemic. Paulaner cheers! Prost!


Read as published in the Inquirer here:


Margaux Salcedo | First Class, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Business, 19 September 2021

Margaux Salcedo | First Class | Inquirer Business | 19 September 2021 Sunday


Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. A big, loud Happy Fiesta to all Bikolanos and devotees!

Technically, we can travel to Naga today, which is now under general community quarantine (GCQ), to celebrate with Bikolanos because it was announced that from September 16 to 30, with Metro Manila under GCQ, leisure travel from Metro Manila to areas under GCQ and modified GCQ would be allowed, subject to local government guidelines. But, given it is only point-to-point travel, you may be stuck in just your hotel upon arrival and miss the festivities anyway. So we will just celebrate the fiesta vicariously through food and prayers!


Our Lady of Peñafrancia is the patroness of Bicol, endearingly referred to by her local devotees as Ina (Mother).
Her original image is in Spain, at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peña de Francia, located on the Peña de Francia mountain in Salamanca. It is reportedly the world’s highest Marian sanctuary.

Our Lady of Peñafrancia

Its origins are unknown but in the 1400s, Simon Vela, a Parisian from a well-to-do family who gave up his inheritance to become a chamber boy in the convent of the Franciscans in Paris, journeyed to the distant and steep mountains of Peña de Francia in Salamanca after hearing instructions from the Blessed Virgin herself in a dream: “Go to Peña de Francia west of this country, and there you will find the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

He embarked on the journey and, upon finding the location, contracted men from the nearby town of San Martin del Castañar to assist him, and with them found, on May 19, 1434, embedded among the rocks, the most coveted image of the Holy Virgin with the Child in her arms.

Then in 1712, a Spanish officer from Peña de Francia arrived in Cavite. His son, Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, studied as a seminarian at the University of Sto. Tomas. While he was a seminarian, he became seriously ill and prayed for healing through the intercession of Our Lady of Peña de Francia, clutching a photograph of her image and vowing to construct a chapel if cured. He was cured and even became a priest, was ordained in Naga, then called Ciudad de Nueva Caceres, and there fulfilled his promise to Our Lady. He also asked a local sculptor to carve an image patterned after the photo he had of Our Lady of Peña de Francia which he clutched while sick. After reports of many miracles, on September 20, 1924, Pope Pius XI granted the image a canonical coronation. This image may be found today at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga.

Peñafrancia Festival

The Peñafrancia Festival is a huge celebration in Bicol, with millions of devotees and tourists alike participating. It has extended beyond religion to become a true celebration of life for Bikolanos of all faiths, with concerts, parades, triathlons, etc. It has also been acknowledged to be the largest annual Marian pilgrimage in Asia.

This year, though, due to the pandemic, the festivities will be more solemn than festive, with online masses instead. Of course, when there is a fiesta, there must be an abundance of food. So since we can’t travel, let’s do the next best thing and join in the fiesta today by cooking some of these famous Bicolano dishes even as we stay home:

Tinutungang Manok. This is my personal favorite of all Bikolano dishes. On a trip to Albay, I got to watch Colonial Grill’s Chef Jeric Llandelar make this and he explained that the coconut meat (sapal) is cooked in a cauldron until it is toasted or resembles ‘tutong’ (burnt rice). He advised to make sure that it is not burned black or it will be bitter instead of smokey. Once toasted, water is added to make gata or coconut soup. This becomes the Tinutungang Gata, which creates the cream for the stew. The unique thing about this is that it has a smokey flavor. This is then added to the chicken then served with slices of either green papaya or green saba bananas. A truly elegant dish even if I first tried it at the very casual 1st Colonial Grill.

Adobo sa Gata. The quintessential Pinoy dish but with a Bikolano twist! The Bikolano version uses coconut milk and siling labuyo. You simple braise the meat in the traditional adobo marinade but finish off with coconut milk. The result is a creamier adobo with a spicy bite. Quite festive!

The glorious Mt. Mayon and Bicol delicacies: Tinutungang Manok, Kandingga (Bopis), Kinunot na Pagi, Pinangat, Gulay na Dahon ng Kamoteng Kahoy.

Laing. In some areas, this is called Pinangat na Gabi. The original Bikolano version of this does not use shredded but a whole taro leaf, called natong by some. A mixture of pre-cooked cubed pork, shrimp, or fish flakes, plus crushed chili (siling labuyo), shallots, ginger, and shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) is wrapped in the taro leaf and tied with lemongrass (tanglad). It is then steamed in coconut milk until the leaf pouches are fork tender and the gata is reduced to a thick sauce. Now, though, we are more used to the shredded gabi version, so that will work for today’s festivities, too!

Ginataang Dahon ng Kamoteng Kahoy or Young Yuka Leaves in Coconut Milk. This is a fairly simple vegetable dish, though one may add pork belly or tinapa, that involves, yet again, just cooking the ingredients in coconut milk and adding siling labuyo. This would be perfect with steaming hot white rice.

Kinunot na Pagi or Spicy Stingray in Coconut Milk. This is really just a fish coconut stew but if you don’t know how to clean the stingray well, leave it to the professionals or it may have a stench. But otherwise, it is a true delicacy!

Sili Ice Cream. When one visits Bicol, you can’t leave without trying the Sili Ice Cream. As usual, it has coconut milk and – yes, even in ice cream – siling labuyo. What an experience. At first bite, you think it is regular ice cream then two second later, the chili creeps in to surprise if not shock you.

There are so many more Bikolano dishes, they won’t fit on this page. Perhaps with the guidance of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, you will find them! If Simon Vela found the buried image of Our Lady in the distant terrains of Peña de Francia, on the side of an uninhabited mountain, I’m sure you can easily find a Bikolano recipe to your liking to celebrate and honor Ina with devotees and Bikolanos!

Happy Fiesta once again to everyone in Bicol and to all Bikolanos around the world. May our faith in the Lord, strengthened by our devotion to Ina, get us through this pandemic. While we can’t gather in person today, we certainly will have the Peñefrancia Festival once again – hopefully next year!

In the meantime, we celebrate life and all blessings, big or small, everyday! Dios Mabalos!


Claude Tayag: Portrait of the Chef as Artist

Claude Tayag never ceases to amaze me as he not only dabbles but shines in the various endeavors he pours his heart and soul into – whether it be the culinary arts or the visual arts.

The other side of Claude Tayag: The chef exhibits his watercolor paintings at the National Museum

Bale Dutung

We know him as a chef and culinary icon, with his relentless promotion of Pampango and Philippine cuisine.

The name of his private dining space is Bale Dutung. If you have not yet been to this culinary treasure, make your way to the Tayags’ home in Angeles, Pampanga (visit for details). It’s is by reservation only as guests experience the culinary traditions of the Pampangeños, as interpreted by Tayag, made extraordinary with the charming touch of his wife Maryann Quioc. You may opt for an all-Pampango menu or an all-lechon menu. It was in fact at Tayag’s home that Anthony Bourdain experienced and fell in love sisig, after which the culinary legend said that sisig would “win the hearts and minds of the world”. (To honor Bourdain, Bale Dutung now also offers an Anthony Bourdain menu.)

Claude Tayag’s wife Maryann Quioc poses before 1956 portrait of the artist of himself being carried by his mother.

The Influence of E. Aguilar Cruz

But the chef’s hat is only one of his many hats. In fact, Claude Tayag was first recognized for his paintings, not for his cooking.

It was over 40 years ago, in 1977, that he was first acknowledged as a painter, when he won second prize at the annual competition of the Art Association of the Philippines, for an acrylic on canvas painting depicting the frenzied Ati-tihan festival from an elevated view. A year later, in 1978, he made his official debut into the Manila art scene with a one-man exhibition of watercolor paintings at the ABC Galleries of Larry J. Cruz, son of the great Emilio “Abe” Aguilar Cruz, in Manila. The exhibit was well-received, with critics describing Tayag’s works as “characterized by a forceful spontaneity and raw vigor”.

Abè (father of Larry) was Tayag’s greatest influence and mentor. Cruz was the bosom buddy of Tayag’s father, Renato “Katoks” Dayrit Tayag, a lawyer turned journalist. They used to call Abe “Tatang Milio”. Tayag very clearly remembers when Abe invited his artist friends over to paint the landscape of the Zambales ranges (now Carmenville Subdivision). Tayag holds dear a photo taken by his father of that moment, in 1968, with the 12-year old Claude watching the painters intently. It was quite a group: Sofronio ‘SYM’ Mendoza, Romulo Galicano, Rodolfo Ragodon, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Mauro ‘Malang’ Santos, and the future National Artist Vicente Manansala. Tayag remembers that it was then that he found his own calling, thinking, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up!”

Tayag also recalls his visits to Abe in 1976: “I was a third year Architecture student at the University of the Philippines but I would visit Tatang Milio in his painting studio on Arquiza Street, just off the tourist belt area along A. Mabini in Manila. I’d show him my latest watercolor paintings then he would critique them, and would demonstrate with paint sketches a trick or two.”

Tayag also remembers joining Cruz for the “Sketching Soiree” of the Saturday Artists’ Group – an informal association of professionals with a common passion for making art, led by Cesar Legazpi, then an executive of an advertising agency, and with members such as Alfredo “Ding” Roces, and artists who later became recognized as National Artists, such as Vicente Manansala, H.R. Ocampo, Jose Joya, Ang Kiukok, Arturo Luz, Bencab (Benedicto Cabrera) and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz.

Sketching Soiree by Claude Tayag. September 11, 1976.

Tayag was also influenced by the “Dimasalang group” comprised of Cruz and 3 friends, SYM, Galicano, and Andres Cristobal. “It was their watercolor paintings that I tried to emulate, in terms of style and subject matter,” Tayag recalls.

Inspired by these great artists, Tayag pursued watercolor as a medium, hoping to increase appreciation for this medium as well. “Watercolor is the most difficult painting medium there is,” the artist explains. “One has to have full control of the water, color, paper and timing. And this could only be achieved through a lifetime dedication of practice and exploration. For me, it is the most rewarding and most pleasurable to work with once you’ve mastered it.”

Watercolor and Wood

In the decade following his first exhibit, Tayag was very prolific, holding an exhibit every two years, with each exhibit focusing on a different subject. Among his exhibits were a European watercolor travelogue in 1980, inspired by his 11-month tour of Europe; Moriones in 1981; Cordillera landscapes in 1985 at the Hyatt Terraces in Baguio, after living in Baguio for a while; Kristos in 1987; and a black and white exhibition using Japanese ink on rice paper called the Bokuseki series, influenced by the Japanese style of painting called Sumi-e, in 1994 and 1997.

Sunset in the Clouds, 1979, Claude Tayag.

Later, Tayag also became known as a sculptor. He started by designing and manufacturing traditional Filipino domestic furniture (e.g la mesa, upuan, taburete, bangkô, paminggalan), which he consigned to the Pansol Pottery owned by potters Jon and Tessie Pettyjohn in Makati. He became known for his creations that had “straightforward functionality and clean lines, much like the Japanese and Shaker furniture”, with “no-nail construction, using mostly dove-tailing and mortise-and-tenon techniques”. In 1990, he staged his first one-man exhibition as a sculptor at the Ayala Museum, presenting both functional and sculptural creations in wood. He awed audiences with his ability to “supercede the limitations of an essentially rigid material, achieving limitless volume and sensuous plasticity with this wave and curvilinear series”.

Chef Claude

In the 1980s, Tayag started dabbling in cooking. The ingenious Larry Cruz, then owner of Ang Hang restaurant in Makati, challenged Tayag to interpret his watercolor paintings as “edible art”. I guess a Capampangan does not back down from a challenge, especially one related to cooking, so Tayag executed a clever dinner entitled “Artworks” in 1989. So just as Cruz had given Tayag his first exhibit in 1978, it was also Cruz who gave Tayag his first culinary “exhibit” in 1989!

It must have been a hit as a few years later, in 1993, Tayag was featured as the guest chef of the hoity toity Chaine des Rotisseurs at their annual dinner held at the Manila Hotel. He cooked traditional Pampango cuisine.

In 2001, he was invited to be guest chef for an entire month at the famous fine dining restaurant Prince Albert of the Intercontinental Hotel, the first Asian chef ever to be invited, cooking alongside their French chef Cyrille Soenen.

Since then, Tayag has become a favorite in the culinary scene. Aside from his private dining space Bale Dutung, which he opened with wife Maryann in the 2000s, he has also hosted a television show on food, and has published three food-related books: Food Tour, Linamnam, and Kulinarya (with co-authors). He also made the country proud when he won the People’s Choice Award at the Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington, D.C. in May 2016.

National Museum

But once an artist, you are always an artist. So when Dr. Ana Labrador, assistant director of the National Museum, saw Tayag at the Emilio “Abé” Aguilar Cruz Hall opening three years ago and suggested that he do an exhibition of his watercolor paintings with them, being a direct “offspring” of Abé as a watercolorist, he immediately said yes.

So until until September 22, the National Museum presents “Claude Tayag: Watercolors 1974 – Present”.

T’bloi Women by Claude Tayag.

My favorite among Claude’s works: “Kain Na!” A T’boli woman enticing you to eat.

Here you will see the other side of the “chef”: that of visual artist, featuring his watercolor paintings of T’boli women, paintings from the Moriones series, the Kristo series, the Cordillera series, paintings of churches and images of Catholic saints, postcards with art from his travels, and a throwback to the Bokuseki series.

I love the energy that flows from each work of art – from the vibrant colors to the details that communicate life. It is a beautiful exhibition that mirrors the artist’s inspired journeys.

I encourage everyone to visit this exhibit. It is one that his mentors and even his father, who discouraged him from pursuing fine arts, would undoubtedly be proud of. Claude Tayag, like his mentor E. Aguilar Cruz, is truly a Renaissance man!

Claude Tayag: Watercolors 1974 – Present
At the National Museum
Until September 22, 2019


Other opening highlights:

Me and my sister Goldee, fans of Claude, getting our book of watercolor paintings by Claude Tayag autographed by the artist at the exhibition opening.

Also love Claude’s church series. This is a painting from 1979 of the Nuremberg Cathedral.

Also love his series on Catholic images or what we call “Poon”.

Claude Tayag greeted by fellow chefs Myrna Segismundo (checkered, beside Claude) and Glenda Barretto of Via Mare (blue)

Checking out Claude Tayag’s Bokuseki series with Manila tour guide Ivan Man Dy

The exhibit opening was a resounding success. It was a nice touch too that there was food from Pampanga brought by the chef. We all loved the tibok tibok (carabao milk pudding)

Never a dull moment with Goldee!! Playing tourist with Claude’s Moriones series. This is based on an actual painting (see first photo with the artist).

Congratulations, Claude!!!

Painting Cakes Brings New Life to Artist Christina Dy

He Is Risen! 


As we celebrate the message of hope that Easter brings, allow me to share the story of a friend who found light amidst darkness, strength in the midst of fear, and joy in spite of sorrow. She is a true inspiration.


Her name is Christina Dy. 



She is a visual artist: a recipient of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artists Award in 2009, participant at the Busan Biennale, aside from her solo shows (see She is also an award-winning production designer (her works include Big Time and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros). Extending her artistry to the performing arts, she also created Polecats Manila, changing the perspective of pole dancing from banal and sleazy to brilliant and creative through lessons and performances. 


Last year, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. It was devastating news, as cancer goes, but CD, as she is called by friends, while pragmatic enough to admit her lows, did not wallow in pity or allow the diagnosis to get her down. 


Instead, she turned to art. In the past, she had turned to pole dancing. In fact the story of how she created Polecats Manila – to heal her broken heart after breaking up with a boyfriend – was so moving that Maalala Mo Kaya in 2016 even did an episode on her story, with no less than Jessie Mendiola playing her character! This time, though, she had to find a new medium of expression. And she did … in the kitchen!



“Suddenly I couldn’t do pole anymore. So I had to figure out what to do with my time. I didn’t want to do any serious ‘art’ so I decided to draw on food,” she recalls. 


She started with macarons for a very realistic reason: “They seemed less of a commitment. They’re tiny and readily available and less expensive than a cake. If I paint ugly things on them, I can just feed them to my sister and no one has to know, haha!” Then she moved on to cakes. “After macarons, the cakes came next naturally so that I would have a bigger painting area.” She learned to do art on this new canvass by googling how to paint on cakes online. 

The cakes are baked by her friend Rachelle Sarzona, former pastry chef at Shangrila Fort, who now has her own pastry brand, I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts. Then CD paints on them.

CD posted about the first cake that she painted on, she recalls vividly, on February 27 this year, and got her first order on the same day.


But note that CD does not offer your usual cake art – no characters or kiddie themes. Neither are her cakes bright or festive or chirpy. In fact, all her cake art are black and white. “I never really liked colors. I don’t understand them,” she explains.


So the cakes are simply edible versions of her art.


And as art has helped her in the past, they did help her heal emotionally this time as well. “Painting on cakes helped relieve my feelings of not being productive. It was nice being able to produce something

It did not erase the other pains she had to go through, though. She hated having what she calls a “blistery boob”. “With a blistery boob all you can do is think while lying motionless. Everything else is painful. … What cancer has taught me is that all i have is today. Now. What will I do now?” she mulled candidly on Facebook.


But she pulled herself together with resolve: “How many times have I thought of making this art work or learning this piano piece, but I said I’ll just do it tomorrow? Then tomorrow again. And again. Well guess what CD, today was yesterday’s tomorrow and have you done it yet? And now my attention and energy and resources are directed somewhere else. So yes, what will I do today?”


Then she has pulled herself up with gratitude and optimism: “I never thought that the biggest challenge of my life would be a blistery boob! During times like this, I cannot stress enough the importance of doing something fun and having something to look forward to. Today I went out and took a silversmithing workshop, and getting dressed was painful, but I made it and had so much fun and forgot the blisters for 4 hours. … Tomorrow,  after the hospital, I plan on going to ArtBar and All About Baking and will look at all the pretty supplies and get inspired to create new things. And having that purpose makes the discomfort and pain worth it.”


Her advice to those going through challenges like hers as she finished radiation: “Do something that gives you joy every day. Doesn’t have to be big. Just something. For me, it’s painting on macarons or cakes, playing with origami and chocolate, making clay cakes, making nonsense abstract paintings. It’s important to have something to look forward to everyday, because it’s so much easier to just be angry and give up.”  


Just last month, CD turned 43.  


It is evident – and heartwarming – that after her Black Saturday, by grace, she found her personal Easter morning, as she wrote poetically on her birthday: ”   So many things in life I have no control over, but I can always choose the kind of person I want to be. And right now, I want to be the kind of person that laughs, makes time for herself, takes things slow, listens, tries to make the world a better place, sleeps (who knew I’d love sleep this much!), plays with new silly ideas (likepainting on macarons!), says thank you for each day, wears eyeliner and red lipstick just because.
I thought of sharing CD’s story today, on Easter Sunday, because that is what today is about: celebrating the fullness of life.


I hope that you find your Easter morning, too – and celebrate the fullness of life by the grace of God, in the presence of the Father – today and everyday!


Happy Easter! 

Story in today’s column in the Inquirer

Mario Mio: Charming New Italian Resto Near Tagaytay

Mario Mio, a charming Italian restaurant in Silang, Cavite, near Tagaytay

Mario Mio, a charming Italian restaurant in Silang, Cavite, near Tagaytay
Mario Mio, a charming Italian restaurant in Silang, Cavite, near Tagaytay

I just had a conversation with my friend Jayme Natividad, Chef of Taal Vista Hotel, that Tagaytay needs a good Italian restaurant.

Maybe my wishes resonated across the Universe because – tada! – L’Opera’s Paolo Nesi, who is not only a respected restaurateur but also a certified sommelier, has partnered with lawyer/developer Babes Oreta and opened TRATTORIA MARIO MIO in Silang, Cavite, on the way to Tagaytay.


The restaurant is located in the 20-hectare property of Atty. Babes Oreta, who developed Balesin and Tagaytay Highlands. The development is called Monteluce and now has four buildings where you can buy condos as well as an exclusive gated community of single villas called Sienna. (If you want to buy a house, I hear the going rate is now at P9 Million.)

Monteluce, Cavite. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for
Monteluce is a 20-hectare new development in Silang, Cavite, near Tagaytay.

Trattoria Mario Mio

Just near the entrance of this development is TRATTORIA MARIO MIO.

The first thing I noticed as I walked to the restaurant from the parking area right beside it is this …

Mario Mio in Tagaytay. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for

… a golf cart?! Later I asked owner Atty Oreta if there was a nearby golf course. Apparently there is none; the cart is there to pick up customers who come in by CHOPPER. These customers can land at the helipad beside the lettuce garden of Mario Mio across the restaurant. I wish I had known about this so I could’ve taken my chopper and avoided traffic … (hehehe!)

Lettuce Garden of Mario Babes Oreta inMario Mio Tagaytay
Mario Mio has a lettuce garden just across the street.

Paolo Nesi

The restaurant’s menu is by L’Opera’s Paolo Nesi.

L’Opera has been a reliable Italian restaurant and I do recall celebrating memorable family dinners there. (Missing my Lola Sally, who loved it and had a birthday dinner there with her friends.) And if I remember right (I do not know how I have this in my memory bank LOL), L’Opera was also in the movie of Vilma Santos and Angel Locsin entitled Everything About Her where Vilma played a powerful businesswoman who owned the world but couldn’t get through to her son and whose last wish was to be loved by him – her choice of resto for what she dreamed would be their grand reconciliation dinner was L’Opera. (Can someone tell me if I remember right? I loved that movie – watched it when my dad was battling cancer so it really resonated! Plus Angel Locsin was hilarious. And poignant. Brilliant acting from these two ladies! But I digress … )

So if you know what L’Opera food is like, well, that’s what you can expect at Mario Mio. Some of the dishes that I absolutely loved include the tomato soup, which was so beautifully textured with cheese. This tomato soup was the bomb, the kind that makes you pause and say, “Hey, this is really good!”. And the starter of tomatoes and mozzarella had such juicy tomatoes that, to my horror, when I sliced into mine, the juice spurted and its projectile motion went straight in the direction of Atty Oreta’s eye! Fortunately he just laughed it off!

I also loved the starter of arugula and braesola in a Parmesan basket:

I checked the menu to see what cured meat this was and saw that it was braesola. Incidentally, the first time I met Atty Babes Oreta – at the lunch hosted by then-Ambassador to the Vatican Mercy Tuazon at the Pontificio Collegio Fillipino (the school for Filipino priests in Rome) for Pinoys who attended the canonization of St. Pedro Calunsod – they also served braesola. “This is what they served at that lunch at the Colegio!” I told Atty Oreta. “How do you remember?” he asked, incredulous. “I just remember!” I said.

I remember because I absolutely loved the taste when I first tried it – at that event – that I had to ask the waiter what it was and it just stuck. Proof: here’s a throwback photo of what we ate that day in Rome, the braesola on the bottom row. I was also amazed that it is beef and not pork, unlike the usual hamon.

Speaking of beef, the rib eye is also good. Very juicy, flavorful. No gimmicks. Just good meat.

They also offer duck ravioli, which is apparently the owners’ favorite, doused with truffle oil. I also loved the sea bass wrapped in zucchinis; white fish is usually boring but this was just oozing with flavor. The Italians would be proud.

For dessert, we had a thick panna cotta – other panna cottas I have tried are less dense – that was given character with a brush of balsamic vinegar and truffle oil, and finely decorated with chopped walnuts. Quite a sophisticated dessert, and happily, not too sweet.

Summer being just around the corner, once I saw they had a gelato menu, I needed some! I tried the calamansi gelato, which was perfect for a hot day. (It’s been getting hot again recently, hasn’t it? Summer is coming.) Their gelatos are all “homemade” and really good.

Mario Mio

Aside from the calamansi gelato, the restaurant also makes a mean calamansicello, their version of limoncello but using calamansi. You can enjoy it either as an apertif or as a digestif.

After a shot of calamansicello as a digestif, I finally asked, “So who is Mario?”

To which Atty Babes Oreta, looking at me incredulously as he couldn’t believe I hadn’t put it together, said, “ME !!”

Seeing me look at him in consternation (I was trying to reconcile how Mario became Babes) he said, with an Italian accent out of nowhere, “My full name is Mario Stefano Alessandro (MAH-rio Ste-FAH-no Ale-SAHN-dro!” To which his BFF Jimmy Borromeo added, “Di Malaboni!” (because the Oretas hail from Malabon).

We couldn’t stop laughing!

When you go, I hope you have with you friends who will make you laugh as our hosts did – til there were tears in our eyes! The food was undoubtedly delicious but I do think there were two secret ingredients that elevated the food from delicious to memorable: laughter and great company! Mas masarap talaga ang pagkain kapag masarap ang tawanan!

Bring your own bottle when you visit – there’s no corkage. They want to make sure you have a great time!

Trattoria Mario Mio
Km 48, Aguinaldo Highway,
Lalaan, Silang, Cavite.
Take Carmona exit then head to Maguyam Road.
Turn left on Aguinaldo Highway.
Mario Mio is inside MONTELUCE
+63 917 166 7332





Where Shall We Go This Valentine’s Day?

Taal Vista Hotel

Ah it’s that time of the year again when the all-encompassing excuse to love (and spend for it) reigns supreme: It’s Valentine’s Day!

I’ve been told by friends in the industry that the following are happening so here are a few options on how to be a sucker and succumb to the dictates of commercialism and kinkiness on that day … if you don’t allow yourself to be saved by the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday and you have a legitimate excuse to abstain from love itself (hah!) …


Spices under the stars, peninsula manila, valentine's philippines
A romantic Pen Moment: Spices Under the Stars at the Peninsula Manila (Photo: The Peninsula Manila)

At the Peninsula Manila, you can already take advantage of the free-flowing Champagne for a Sunday Valentine’s brunch starting February 11 at Escolta for P4,300 per head.

Then on Valentine’s Day itself, you can have a lovely four-course dinner at Old Manila with the reliable fine dining classics: foie gras, lobster bisque, Wagyu and dessert. If your date has an appetite, try the Valentine’s Day Seafood Buffet – I’m assuming it’s seafood in consideration of Ash Wednesday – with free-flowing sparkling wines and beer (because if you’re a sneaky Catholic, you would argue that your fasting is limited to not eating meat). This buffet is priced at P3,600 per person.

But I think the most romantic set up would be at Spices. Usually, this is indoors but Pen is taking advantage of the gorgeous weather we have been having lately and opening the al fresco area for a poolside dinner called Spices Under the Stars. Imagine having your favorite Thai food and other curries under the stars! This is the option I would choose!

There’s also an incentive to get a room: it comes with a bottle of wine, breakfast buffet, and P3,000 dining credit that you can use at their restaurants.


City of Dreams, Cafe Society Valentine's hampers
Valentine’s gifts by Cafe Society at the City of Dreams  (Photo: City of Dreams)

If you want a really sulit date, the buffet at Hyatt at the City of Dreams is another option. They offer a six-station buffet with unlimited sparking wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages for P2,799 nett on Valentine’s Day. For inquiries and reservations, call (02) 691 1234 ext. 1163.

City of Dreams, Cafe Society Valentine's hampers
City of Dreams, Cafe Society Valentine’s hampers (Photo: City of Dreams)

Also at City of Dreams are Valentine’s hampers by Cafe Society. These are available until the 15th. You can choose to gift your beloved with a Chocolate Love Bear; a Chocolate Pot of Lollies; Chocolate Truffles with either strawberry or raspberry flavors; or a Latte Chocolate Cake. Prices start at P250 nett while the hampers start at P1,500.




Gorgeous canopy set up for Valentine's Day beside Manila Bay at Sofitel Manila
Gorgeous canopy set up for Valentine’s Day beside Manila Bay at Sofitel Manila (Photo: Sofitel Manila)


Sofitel, of course, has the advantage of being right beside Manila Bay. I mean, how can anyone beat the Manila Bay sunset?! (By creating the most awful Manila traffic, that’s how!) They are also presenting the most elaborate dining experience called Love By Design: For P30,000 (yup, THIRTY thousand), you and your date can enjoy Valentine’s with a canopy set up and have your own butler, a violinist, a four-course dinner, a bottle of Champagne … and (don’t laugh) the chance to win an iPhone 8 (talk about incentive!).

If 30 grand is a bit too much, consider the Romance by the Bay package instead:For less than P3,000, you get to eat and drink all you want via their poolside buffet (more to eat!), enjoy unlimited local beer and catch the Valentine’s fireworks.

For reservations and inquiries at Sofitel, call (02) 832 6988.




Taal Vista Hotel
Taal Vista Hotel

If you are masipag to drive, head over to Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay. They also have a canopy set up. It will set you back P8,000 BUT you get to enjoy an 8-course dinner paired with a couple of glasses of Moet with priceless Tagaytay weather and a view of Taal Volcano. How romantic is that?! This is available only on February 14. For reservations and inquiries, call (02) 917 8225.


Edible rose by James Antolin at Ikomai in Salcedo Village, Makati
Edible rose by James Antolin at Ikomai in Salcedo Village, Makati

If your Valentine is a foodie and would just like to just eat out at a restaurant on Valentine’s try one of my fave restos of late, Ikomai in Salcedo Village. It’s a hip Japanese resto beside Smith and Butcher on dela Costa St. For Valentine’s they are offering a six-course dinner. But the best part about it is that the meal culminates with an edible rose (see the pic? that’s the edible rose) created by pastry chef extraordinaire James Antolin. How perfect is that for the girl who is not into roses but into food (like me)? For reservations, call the number in the picture.


Valentine's at Restaurant 101 of the Alain Ducasse Institute at Enderun
Valentine’s at Restaurant 101 of the Alain Ducasse Institute at Enderun (Photo from Enderun)

Another restaurant to consider is Enderun’s Restaurant 101. It’s French cuisine by an Alain Ducasse-trained chef and at a very reasonable, student-friendly price, too! Details in the pic above.


James and Daughters
James and Daughters by Chef Jonas Ng (Photo by Margaux Salcedo)

For those who want just a casual hang on the 13th, head over to the latest hip happening place especially for titos and titas of Manila, James and Daughters. Chef Jonas Ng is testing out his new cocktail menu so for only P750, in what he calls Kulitan Night, you get a cocktail plus some bar chow. The space is lit (uuuy trying to use millennial terms si Margaux LOL) and it’ll feel like you’re just having a really fun party with friends. Call 0917 817 6584​ to reserve.

Valentine's for Singles with Unlimited Wine and Mojitos at Refinery
Valentine’s for Singles with Unlimited Wine and Mojitos at Refinery (Photo: Refinery)

Over at Refinery, they are celebrating the Hashtag Bigo. Their Facebook post humorously gives the definition for “Sawi”: Pagdurusa. Pagluluksa. Walang hanggang kalungkutan. (Suffering, mourning, eternal sorrow.) LOL. Kaloka! Time to drown those sorrows in wine! Details in the pic above.


Karen's Kitchen Valentine's Day cakes
Karen’s Kitchen Valentine’s Day cakes. (Photo: Karen’s Kitchen)

As for gifts, if your sweetheart has a sweet tooth, try the celebration cakes of Karen’s Kitchen. She makes cakes for love birds of all ages. For puppy lovers, you might like to try the strawberry cake with rose petals. For senior seducers and seductresses, she offers an apple crisp with oats on top, a base of apples and sweetened with Stevia; and a Splenda mango cake with a white chocolate heart plaque. Visit her website or call 0917 539 4968 or landline (02) 555 0555 or (02) 555 0111 to order.



Donate blood on Valentine’s Day (Photo:

Food writer CJ Juntereal told me about this: “Makati Med is doing a Valentine’s Day Blood Donation drive. Donate blood with your sweetie then go out for dinner after. You might even save a life!” For inquiries, call (632) 8888 999.


Cardinal Tagle Dispensation for Chinese New Year
Cardinal Tagle Dispensation for Chinese New Year

 When I wrote my shout out to friends in the industry to tell me what events they had planned for Valentine’s Day, our friendly priest Father Benny Tuazon gently commented that since Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year, we must be KJ. KJ is ’70s slang for Kill Joy … but for Father Benny it translates to “Kay Jesus (lang)” (baduy! haha!) So go celebrate on the 13th or on the 15th but remember, we must fast, abstain and go to mass on the 14th. Anyway, it would be rather odd to be on a date with a cross of ash on your forehead!

Bawi na lang sa Chinese New Year because Cardinal Tagle, who is apparently partly Chinese, said that as the Chinese New Year celebrations also have a spiritual and cultural significance, it is ok to celebrate, i.e., not fast and abstain, as long as you also do acts of penance, mercy and charity on the said date.


The best option, of course, is to make the effort to cook for your loved one on that day. There’s nothing sexier! Click HERE for some great ideas for a Valentine’s dinner from Whole Foods.

Happy Valentine’s!

PS Spread the love and share!!