Downtown Cafe: Pinoy ’50s Diner in Pampanga

Downtown Cafe, Angeles, Pampanga

Here’s Part 2 of my column First Class published 21 August 2016, Sunday, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer + more pics🙂 I wrote about a recent day trip to Pampanga. Went with a few doctors of my dad, whom we met when they were just residents and now they have finished their fellowships!

Part 1 here: Sau del Rosario’s Cafe Fleur

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Downtown Cafe


Claude Tayag is another famous Capampangan celebrity chef, or as he was called at the Mission Manila dinner during Madrid Fusion, El Kusinero.

He is better known for Bale Dutung, his home, showroom and private dining space with his lovely Capampangan wife Mary Ann Quioc. This is the place No Reservations host Anthony Bourdain visited and loved—a place that is ironically by reservation only and for a minimum guest list of around 12.

Thankfully, the Tayags have opened Downtown Cafe. While it is by no means Bale Dutung, which is an incomparable experience, Downtown has a charm of its own, with its diner vibe complete with jukebox and a Coke ad with the stunning Gloria Romero. The big bonus, of course, is that we can now get a taste of Claude Tayag’s cooking every day.


Best on the menu is the duck. In classic Claude Tayag humor, the menu reads “What’s Up, Duck?” The duck leg confit is salted and slow-cooked for two hours; you eat it Peking Duck-style, with wrappers.

The star of the menu of late, though, is the bringhe, which won the the People’s Choice Award at the 8th Annual Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington D.C. last May.


The waiters call it bringhe pizza; it felt like a morphing of bibingka galapong and paella. It’s a fun, unique snack.

On a rainy day, have a cup of their barako. Really Filipino and really good coffee. I bet coffee guru Chit Juan would approve.

PS Really loved the interiors. Look – Royal Tru Orange before “Joey”/RJ Ledesma …
Our friend Dr Jill Tabora also had this super refreshing dessert:
I was too stuffed from eating so much at Cafe Fleur, Everybody’s Cafe and Susie’s that I could really only eat this:
But we were excited to dance to the music from the jukebox … or maybe from our minds – naloka na sa busog haha. (The jukebox doesn’t really work.)

Thanks so much to our #LafangMD friends for a great time!!! Isser and Pau, thanks for being such wonderful tour guides! Mabuhay ang Angeles!!1956 Downtown Cafe by Bale Dutung. 1 Plaridel St., Nepo Quad, Angeles City. 0917-5359198. More info at

Part 1: Cafe Fleur
Part 2 of 3

Cafe Fleur with #LafangMD

Cafe Fleur by Sau del Rosario, Angeles, Pampanga

Here’s a copy of my column First Class published 21 August 2016, Sunday, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer + more pics 🙂 I wrote about a recent day trip to Pampanga. Went with a few doctors of my dad, whom we met when they were just residents and now they have finished their fellowships!

Margaux Salcedo column, First Class, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Biz
First Class, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Sundays in Inquirer Business

Angeles has changed since the last time I visited.

Pampanga has always been a thriving food hub but next generation Capampangan celebrity chefs have given the Angeles food scene extra flair.

Cafe Fleur

Case in point: Cafe Fleur by Chef Sau del Rosario, a restaurant that is both a tribute to Chef Sau’s Pampango roots while showcasing his growth as a French-trained chef.

The venue is a heritage home and one can easily envision a family from yesteryears making memories in this space.

Chef Sau converted the upstairs into “Babo” (Kapampangan for ’upstairs’) Avante Garde Capampangan cuisine.


Here the celebrity chef presents his interpretation of traditional recipes.

Tamales, which is usually served wrapped in banana leaves, is here served deconstructed in a shapely glass.


The well-known Capampangan delicacy (also called Boboto) made with very finely ground rice, coconut milk and various savory toppings like chicken and ham, is presented in a manner befitting a fine dining setting.

Purists are bound to raise an eyebrow but it’s a lovely modern-day expression of a classic comfort dish. (The bread that comes with it is tasty, too, encouraging the diner to treat the tamales like a pate and spread it on the bread.)

Kare-kare, a quintessential Filipino comfort food, is likewise deconstructed and twisted. Kare-kare usually uses oxtail; here Chef Sau uses crispy pork belly and other ingredients that are neatly tucked in a corner of the serving plate.

The rest of the plate is a bed of peanut sauce mixed with macadamia and the irresistible flavor of truffles.


Other items are more straightforward, such as the lamb kaldereta, okoy and the chicken galantina.

What’s great about the menu, though, is that it shows that through the years, Chef Sau has developed not only recipes but also friendships.

The best item on the menu, for me, is Chef See’s laksa.


Chef See Cheong Yan is the Culinary Head of Enderun Colleges. He is Malaysian and IMHO makes the best laksa in the Philippines. The problem is that his laksa is only available during rare events. It’s great to see that Chef See has allowed Chef Sau to use his recipe.

Now, if you ever need a laksa fix, as I often do, it’s just a couple of hours away.


While it will be difficult to resist trying everything on the menu, do leave room for dessert because the desserts here are yummy. Have the pandan sans rival or the jackfruit sans rival and allow yourself to go home stuffed silly.

Jill Tabora, Martin Licdao, Mary Andy delos Reyes, Goldee Salcedo, Nico Garcia, Margaux Salcedo, Jon Cruz, Pau dela Cruz, Isser Sugay

Cafe Fleur. L-463B Miranda St. Brgy Sto. Rosario, Angeles City. Open Tuesday to Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations recommended especially for lunch, call 045-3041301 or 0935-7616550. Visit

(Part 1 of 3)

Part 2: Downtown Cafe
Part 3: Everybody’s and Susie’s

Burnt Ends’ Chef Jeff Claudio Guests at Chef Jessie Rockwell

Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for

Chef Jeff Claudio at Chef Jessie Rockwell. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for enjoyed the cooking of Chef Jeff Claudio, a visiting Filipino-Canadian chef, at Chef Jessie’s in Rockwell that I wrote about it in the Inquirer last Sunday.

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the article:

Claudio currently works at Burnt Ends, a restaurant in Singapore’s Chinatown led by the brilliant David Pynt. (You must visit this if you can get a seat when you are in Singapore! It’s in Chinatown (Teck Lim Road). Here’s the number: +65 6224 3933.

He had previously worked at New York’s Per Se and staged in former World’s No. 1 restaurant Noma in Denmark. He was also executive chef at the much-acclaimed Yours Truly in Toronto. (The Toronto Star gave it a rating of Excellent! Read the review here.)

Here’s are some of his creations specially made for Chef Jessie that I’ve had the privilege to try:

1. This was a delicious salad using banana heart (puso ng saging). I loved how Claudio incorporated pomelo and cheese! I thought it was Noma-inspired.

Jeff Claudio for Chef Jessie Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for This was Claudio’s version of kinilaw. The noodles are meant to be mixed into the sauce. This had just the right touch of sour and was delightfully contrasted with coconut meat for sweetness!

Jeff Claudio for Chef Jessie Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for Claudio thinks that sugpo is one of the best ingredients that the Philippines has to offer. I thoroughly enjoyed this version with butter sauce and chili. This was my favorite dish at the press meal.

Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for went back again Tuesday and got to try what was actually served on the menu which is the sugpo but this time with XO sauce. I prefer the butter sauce but this XO sauce was excellent as well. In fact, I could eat the XO just on its own, haha!

Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for The reason why I made my way back to Chef Jessie’s was to try the native pig which had been teased to be with papaya and tamarind. Skeptic that I am, I thought that Claudio would not be able to pull off this pork dish – but he did. Must be the Filipino in him! The skin was crunchy without the pork getting overwhelmingly fatty. My only complaint about the sauce … I could’ve used more! And extra rice, please!I went back again Tuesday 5. The appetizers were mind-blowing as well, displaying Claudio’s creativity. This was a mix of blood sausage and chanterelle mushrooms. You would think that this would be “nakakaumay” (that you would tire of it easily) … on the contrary it is deceptively light that before you know it, you’ve finished the whole plate!

Chef Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Sincioco Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for This appetizer of crab displayed Claudio’s mastery of technique. It was, however, upstaged at our table by the chanterelles. But that is by sheer virtue of an affinity for strong flavors and nothing at all to do with the aspects of this dish, which were much appreciated as well.

Chef Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Sincioco Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for I think this was just thrown in for fun. It’s a kesong puti salad. It was brilliantly mixed already with what appeared to be caramelized bread so that the tart sourness and gooeyness from the cheese went directly against the sweetness and crunchiness of the bread. I hope Chef Jessie keep this on their menu.

Chef Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Sincioco Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for Was also able to try this steak … I confess though that I prefer the pig ;) Chef Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Sincioco Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for Jeff Claudio was mentored by Chef Jessie Sincioco fresh out of college. That was in 2002. Look how far he has come! Chef Jessie is truly inspiring … and has not only inspired Claudio but her brother, nieces and other members of the fam as well! Lookie – all of them now at Chef Jessie’s! What an adorable family of cooks!

Chef Jeff Claudio of Burnt Ends for Chef Jessie Sincioco Rockwell. Margaux Salcedo for Jeff Claudio will be helping a friend do a pop up in London later in the year. In the meantime, you can catch him at Burnt Ends! … And until July 10 (this Friday) at Chef Jessie’s Rockwell (call 8906543 or 8907630 to reserve).

Elena Arzak, World’s Best Female Chef, To Do Collab Dinner at Vask

arzak vask

Elena Arzak Gallery Vask Chele GonzalezIt’s confirmed: Chef Elena Arzak, in collaboration with Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez, is designing a menu at the Arzak laboratory using Philippine ingredients to be presented at Gallery Vask on the first evening of Madrid Fusion Manila, April 24.

Restaurant Arzak is one of the most respected and highly acclaimed restaurants in the world. It has maintained, to this day, the three Michelin stars it earned in 1989. Other restaurants lose a star or two along the way but Arzak has maintained its 3-Michelin Star status for 25 years. It has also consistently kept its place in the Top 10 of the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2006.

arzak vask
Throwback: Vask’s Chele Gonzalez with Elena Arzak

Chef Elena runs Arzak with her father, Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is considered the father of modern Basque cuisine. He is credited for spearheading the Nueva Cocina Vaska (New Basque Cuisine) movement that laid the foundation for a larger Spanish culinary revolution. Many chefs have been inspired by this movement started by Arzak, the greatest example being El Bulli’s Ferran Adria. Chef Juan Mari was honored with the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.


The restaurant is known for its avante garde, sometimes whimsical, dishes. It serves beer pudding literally on top of a crushed can of beer. Sardines are delicately placed inside a potato sphere. And for a trip to the sea with San Sebastian’s red mullet, the fish is served on top of a tablet that has a video clip of waves.

In an interview with Inquirer Sunday Biz at the Restaurant Arzak chef’s table last January, Chef Elena explained that every dish served at the restaurant begins not in the kitchen but in the laboratory, where the item goes through a process of tasting and testing until it merits Juan Mari’s and her approval. This process could take as short as six days but could also take as long as six months.

Which makes the April 24 dinner priceless.

Chef Chele, who worked in Arzak for a year and a half, has been applying the Arzak culinary philosophy of promoting local ingredients in an avante garde fashion to his creations at Gallery Vask. He started a degustation series he calls Kulinarya using ingredients he personally sourced from all over the country, going as far as visiting indigenous tribes in Kalinga and Bukidnon. For his Kulinarya menu, he has an appetizer of eggplants he found in Bukidnon; kinilaw of “uni” that he found in Sorsogon; and cochinillo slices with kalibangbang leaves from Pampanga.

Arzak Chele
Throwback: Vask’s Chef Chele Gonzalez working the Arzak kitchen with owner Chef Juan Mari Arzak, Lifetime Achievement Awardee of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards and pioneer of Spanish modern gastronomy

Arzak Laboratory

But for this dinner, it is the Arzak team in San Sebastian led by Chef Juan Mari and Chef Elena themselves who will be playing with Philippine ingredients. These ingredients will be brought this March to the Arzak lab in San Sebastian. The creations—or shall we say inventions—produced from the lab will be presented by Chef Elena and Chef Chele at the April 24 dinner at Gallery Vask.

The dinner will be priced at P9,500 a head with wine pairing. This is a bargain considering the tasting menu at Restaurant Arzak is already priced at 179 Euro without wine. Consider it a trip to Arzak without the plane ticket! Plus, your meal may be tax deductible as proceeds for the dinner will go to Fundacion Santiago, a private Filipino charity established in 1993 aimed at using the benefits of tourism for poverty alleviation.

Gallery Vask can only accommodate 40, so book a table now!

Arzak, Mugaritz Back to Back at Gallery Vask

If you’ll miss this dinner, not to worry. Vask is set to hold three special dinners on the three evenings of Madrid Fusion Manila (April 24, 25, 26). The 25th is Chef Chele’s night while on the 26th, Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, currently No. 6 on the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is also set to cook at Vask.

Gonzalez keenly points out, “I believe this is the first time in Asia that two chefs in the Top 10 of the World’s 50 best will cooking in an event. Madrid Fusion Manila, I believe, is a great opportunity to (make Manila) become a culinary destination.”

Mugaritz is a two-star Michelin restaurant in Spain but currently the No. 6 Best Restaurant in the World as ranked by the World’s 50 Best.

Aduriz is regarded as a genius, renowned for his culinary innovations. He was influenced by Chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli, which held the No. 1 rank for many years. Aduriz says that El Bulli, where he used to work, changed his life. (When El Bulli closed, Adria was quoted by The Guardian as saying that now the best chef in the world, aside from his brother Albert, is Andoni Luis Aduriz.)

Aduriz is passing on the inspiration to chefs who had in turn worked with him at Mugaritz. There was a Mugaritz tribute at Madrid Fusion where chefs who had worked at Mugaritz but now spreading their wings abroad were called on to the stage. Among these chefs was Vask’s Chele Gonzalez, of whom Aduriz is very proud. In an interview in Madrid, Aduriz described Gonzalez as an ambassador of Mugaritz and said that he was looking forward to exploring the Philippines with Chele.

The Mugaritz dinner will also be priced at P9,500 a head. Proceeds will go to the same charity that the Arzak dinner will help.

Chef Ivan Brehm of Singapore’s Bacchanalia, also a Mugaritz ‘grad’, will be doing a collaboration with Chef Jordy Navarra at The Black Sheep.

It’s going to be a hot culinary scene this April indeed on the week of Madrid Fusion Manila.

Gallery Vask
5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner 39th Street,
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. +63 917 546 1673. Reservations required.

Madrid Fusion 2015 Shines Spotlight on Philippines

Chef Myrna Segismundo will be a guest chef at Hotel Orfila during Madrid Fusion 2015

As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 11, 2015.

“We never thought this would happen in our lifetime,” Chef Myrna Segismundo said, sharing the news that she and Chef Margarita Fores will be cooking at Madrid Fusion in Spain this February.

Madrid Fusion-International Gastronomic Summit is one of the most prestigious gatherings of chefs and influencers in the culinary world.

It is an annual three-day event of food exhibitions, lectures, demonstrations and dinners prepared by celebrity chefs from around the world who are invited to cook at Madrid’s most renowned hotels and dining venues.

This year, Madrid Fusion will be held from Feb. 2 to 4 at the Campo de las Naciones Convention Centre and for the first time, the Philippines will be in the spotlight!

Kinilaw takes center stage

On Feb. 2, Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, one of the world’s best restaurants, will speak on the “Mechanisms of Creativity” in the morning; while Chef Elena Arzak, from her multi-awarded eponymous restaurant Arzak (and who has been named Best Female Chef in the world), will discuss “Leafy Cuisine” a little past noon.

But come 6:30 p.m., the Philippine flag will be raised high among these culinary greats as two Filipino chefs,  Segismundo and Fores, take the stage to talk for half an hour about a humble dish we all know: kinilaw.

“I made the Spanish organizers of Madrid Fusion taste kinilaw, among other dishes, when they were last here in Manila to do an ocular, and they really loved this dish so we were asked to present on it,” Segismundo explained.

“I think kinilaw is a great introductory dish to Philippine cuisine because it is unique to us,” she added.

They will present three versions of the kinilaw: the classic take on it using suka (vinegar), a modern version using cava and one using tabon-tabon.

Agriculture Usec Berna Romulo Puyat is curating the best of Philippine produce and products for Madrid Fusion 2015

It is not only the kinilaw that guests at Madrid Fusion will be exposed to, however.

As visitors enter, they will see a large Philippine booth showcasing the best of Philippine produce curated by Undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat of the Department of Agriculture. The booth will present Philippine products based on the five flavors of the Philippines: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and “linamnam” (our counterpart for umami).

These will include Philippine mangoes for the food category “Sweet”, chicharon for “Salty”, the Mindanao tropical fruit tabon-tabon for “Sour”, ampalaya for “Bitter” and heirloom rice such as Kalinga and Ifugao rice and taba ng talangka for “Linamnam”.

The booth will also present Filipino beverages such as Destileria Limtuaco’s Manille Liqueur, Philippine juices and tsokolate.

“This is a chance for the world to get to know Filipino ingredients like souring agents and heirloom rice,” Romulo-Puyat said.

This will be her fourth exhibition of Philippine products in Europe.

In 2013, she organized “Philippines, An Archipelago of Exchange” at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, where 10 Filipino chefs led by Fores impressed the French with their Pinoy cooking at the press luncheon and the cocktail reception for the French prime minister. In 2014, there was a Philippine booth at the Grünewoche International Green Week in Berlin in January; and another proudly Pinoy booth at the Slow Food Festival entitled Salone del Gusto in Turino, Italy in October.

“We want to show that the Philippines is not backward (in terms of produce and cuisine),” Romulo-Puyat explained. “In Paris, the French were initially skeptical with Filipino food but after tasting our food (as presented by Fores), they changed their minds. They said, ‘We didn’t know Filipinos have great food!’”

She is also very proud that in Berlin, with the Philippine booth placed between the booths of Japan and Korea, the longest queue was for the adobo with mangoes.

Madrid Fusion Manila

MADRID FUSION 2015. Madrid Fusion Manila. DOT Director Verna Buensuceso, Chef Margarita Fores, Chef Chele Gonzales, Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez, Jr., Mielle Esteban and Iñigo Casado of Arum.
THE TEAM that made it happen: (From left) DOT Director Verna Buensuceso, Chef Margarita Fores, Chef Chele Gonzales, Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez, Jr., Mielle Esteban and Iñigo Casado of Arum.

On the second day of Madrid Fusion, the Philippines will also launch Madrid Fusion Manila, which will be held from April 24-26 at SMX.

It is the first time that Madrid Fusion will be held in Asia—a brainchild of Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez. Fores was the force who convinced the DOT to participate in Madrid Fusion, but when she enticed Sec. Jimenez to set up a Philippine booth at the expo, he said, “Let’s take it a step further. Why not invite them to hold Madrid Fusion here in the Philippines? After all, we have a story with them and a relationship that lasted 333 years!”

In Sept. 2014, this idea became reality when Sec. Jimenez and Spain’s Secretary of State for Trade and president of ICEX (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior) Jaime García-Legaz signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Madrid Fusion Manila, with no less than President Benigno Aquino III standing as witness.

Tourism Director Verna Buensuceso is now diligently heading the project, with the help of Monette Iturralde-Hamlin of the Tourism Promotions Board.

Buensuceso stressed, “This is especially important as 2015 is Visit the Philippines year. We hope this will raise awareness about the Philippines and, as we present our products to both investors and gourmets, prove that the future of food is in the Philippines.”

Dining with the stars

#throwback Margarita Fores with El Bulli's Ferran Adria at Madrid Fusion 2007
#Throwback Margarita Fores with El Bulli’s Ferran Adria at Madrid Fusion 2007. Cut to 2015: Fores will be cooking at Hotel Ritz Madrid.

Aside from the exhibition, guests of Madrid Fusion (in Spain) are also given the opportunity to experience the cooking of guest chefs from around the world at participating restaurants and hotels in Madrid. Here is the breaking news: among the celebrity chefs cooking for Madrid Fusion 2015 are our very own  Segismundo and  Fores.

Segismundo will cook on Feb. 3 at the Hotel Orfila, a small palace from the 19th century, while Fores will cook at the highly acclaimed Goya Restaurant at Hotel Ritz Madrid on Feb. 4.

Right now, these two chefs are researching and practicing for this monumental event where they will present our flavors to the most discerning and acclaimed gourmets of the world.


This is definitely a milestone for Philippine cuisine that will certainly boost our tourism and agricultural industries. Our chefs are now poised to be called among those considered to be the best in the world and our produce and flavors are set to be recognized by a most discerning and influential international market.

Viva Madrid, Viva Manila!

For details on Madrid Fusion in Spain, please visit
For details on Madrid Fusion Manila, please visit and like their Facebook page Madrid Fusion Manila.

Best Food Gifts of Christmas 2014

Bob Sobrepena Fruitcake. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.

As published in Inquirer January 4, 2015.

Hello 2015!!!

So happy to welcome the New Year with gratitude in my heart for the many blessings in 2014. Thankful as well for the calorific and cholesterol-laden food gifts, as these were the most delicious ones!

Best foodies

Interestingly, while one would think that the most delicious food gifts would come from chefs and restaurateurs, in fact, some of the best “foodies” are businessmen and politicians.

Some of the best gourmet gifts are not expensive wines or chocolate but curious finds from the gifters’ own communities. Here are a few remarkable ones.

JFP Wines by Jaime Panganiban

JFP Wines. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.Corporate finance genius Jaime Panganiban is not only known in finance circles for his brilliance in mergers and acquisitions, fund and risk management, and investment strategy. He is also known to be an avid golfer and a wine aficionado.

So into wines is he that he went through the process of creating his own label, JFP Cellars. He started with bottles from Napa Valley: a 2009 vintage that is 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. He had this blend created to his liking and later, a few barrels were produced, bottled and shipped to Manila. This is purely for his personal appreciation, although every now and then he gives a bottle to friends and family.

“Not for sale,” he stresses, “But a gift only for friends getting married and giving birth.”

Right now, he is working on another 2009 vintage, but this time from the Bordeaux region. He hopes to be able to produce this in 2015 and he will name it after his newborn grandson, Jaime Ricardo, born Dec. 12, 2014.

Bliss Fruitcake from Bob Sobrepeña

There is a general aversion to fruitcake, to the point that the Huffington Post has labeled it “the most hated cake in the existence of baking.”

I, however, love everything that they hate about it: The fact that it is dense, packed with candied fruits and aged with rum.

Lissa Sobrepeña, wife of Fil-Estate chair Bob Sobrepeña, makes the best fruitcake ever and, while not for sale, has packaged it as “Fruited Bliss Cake.” As mentioned in last Wednesday’s Biz Buzz, the family has been gifting this to friends and family for the last 32 years and she has perfected the recipe.

Bob Sobrepena Fruitcake. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.One of the reasons why it is so good is that Lissa does not scrimp on ingredients. For nuts, she uses pecans and walnuts. For raisins, she uses dark, golden and crimson raisins. And to bejewel the fruitcake: Dried apricots, cranberries, dates as well as candied red and green cherries (the green cherries are truly blissful!).

This fruitcake is also not aged with rum but with brandy, resulting in an incomparable depth of flavor. It will truly put you in a state of bliss!

Atty. Liza Marcos’Cafe Cacho

Liza Marcos is known as the “better half” of Senator Bongbong Marcos. But, while a priceless catch, she is no trophy wife. In fact, she leads (at least by way of spelling, in case the other partners argue) the law firm MOST (Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio, Tan). A spritely, charming, effervescent lady, she is also quite the gourmet, annually gifting friends with food finds from Ilocos. One year, it was a jar of Ilocos salt. Recently, it’s been coffee from the family farm.

Called Cafe Cacho (her mother’s maiden name is Milagros Cacho), it is 100-percent mountain-grown Arabica coffee. Some of the best coffee beans in the country come from the Ilocos and Cordillera regions and this one from their own farm is a sip of sunshine that is sure to make you wake up to a good morning this New Year!

San Juan’s Chicken Kinulob

Aside from being in public service, the Ejercitos are known for their fine taste in food.

Doña Mary Ejercito (mom of former President and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada) was a known home cook and pastry chef in Manila society, even making the wedding cake for the daughter of the late President Elpidio Quirino. The former president is known for cooking a mean bacalao and the adobo from No. 1 Polk Street can compete with the best in the country.

As the former mayor of San Juan who brought the municipality to cityhood, Senator JV Ejercito sure knows the best food finds in the area. One of these is an awesome chicken kinulob simply labeled as “Kinulob na Manok by JC’s mom.” It is a whole chicken whose flavors seemed to have seeped even into the meat.

Chicken Kinulob. JV Ejercito. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.It was actually Tricia Tensuan, vice president for Admissions of Enderun Colleges, who first told me what chicken kinulob is all about.

Her family hails from Pola, Bulacan, and she recalls in an article for Amy Besa’s book “Memories of Philippine Kitchens II” what this heritage dish is all about: “Chicken Kinulob is native chicken stuffed with ginger, onions and pork stomach, topped with cabbage, celery leaves and leeks, eggs from “inahen” and chicken blood and rice cakes, slow cooked in a palayok over open charcoal fire, tightly covered with banana leaves. The dish produces a flavorful broth which is served on the side; also served with a rich liver sauce balanced with the acidity of kalamansi and saltiness of patis. There are variations to the recipe … ”

The kinulob from Senator JV via “JC’s Mom” has the chicken already sitting on the sauce, with chorizo and pork on the side, too, for added flavor. It is truly something to look forward to every Christmas.

Mike Toledo’s Pili Tarts

Mike Toledo is now the not-so-secret weapon for communications of Manny Pangilinan’s MVP Group of Companies. But his secret weapon is a dose of sweetness: Pili Tarts. For several years, he has been gifting friends and family with what he calls “the best pili tarts in the galaxy!” Note that while the best pili tarts in the Philippines are from Bicol, the best “in the galaxy” are from Mike Toledo.

Gourmet library from culture advocate Felice Prudente Sta. Maria

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria is not only an author, she is also an advocate for the preservation and promotion of our cultural heritage. A Gawad Alab ng Haraya Awardee, she has championed the need for professionalization in museum work.

As an author, her research is intensive and exhaustive and her books are always a great source of information and valued tribute to our heritage. My personal favorite is “The Governor General’s Kitchen,” which I find myself constantly referencing in my articles.

A couple of years ago, I received a copy of her paperback on Rizal’s life as a foodie entitled “The Foods of Jose Rizal,” an easy read that will make you realize that Rizal is not just a statue but also a person who also went through life’s struggles and, well, ate like the rest of us!

Last year, I received a very practical book by her, “A Cultural Worker’s First Manual,” a 2001 publication. It is not for the “cultural worker” alone but also for all lovers of culture and protectors of heritage. It advocates the preservation of museums and other cultural and heritage sites, and stresses the role of leaders and citizens in addressing this monumental challenge.

This New Year, as we look forward, let us not forget to look back as well and honor the very things that define our culture and nation. It’s a great gift to pass on. Published by Anvil, it is very affordable, too.

Kitanglad Coffee from Sustainable Living Advocate Chit Juan

Another tireless advocate is Chit Juan of EchoStore. She goes around the country to find and help promote local farmers, especially coffee farmers. Last year, she brought to our awareness coffee from Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon. What a great feeling to get your dose of caffeine and support a farmer, too.

Manille Liqueur de Dalandan from Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat

INQUIRER liqueurAnother person supporting local farmers is the indefatigable undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat of the Department of Agriculture. One of the products she has been supporting is local liqueur label Manille. It is produced and bottled by Destileria Limtuaco but Usec. Berna was instrumental in pointing the company to Mindoro calamansi farmers as a source of calamansi rinds.

Aside from supporting Mindoreño calamansi farmers, the Department of Agriculture also linked up Destileria Limtuaco with Mangyan tribes from Mindoro Oriental.

They have become involved in the processing of the liqueur, using a hand-pressing method so as not to damage the calamansi rinds. Destileria then purchases the rinds at a price equivalent to the whole fruit and some of the proceeds help finance a Mangyan Center for Learning and Development that seeks to educate the children of over 20 tribes in Mindoro and to preserve the Mangyan culture and language.

Usec. Berna shares, “After the Manille Liqueur de Calamansi, Olive Limpe Aw (of Destileria Limtuaco) and I thought of other proudly made Philippine products. She thought of dalandan and I looked for suppliers. We are still coming up with more flavors with the concept that it should come directly from local farmers to help increase their income.”

Let’s drink to that!

Bangus from Pangasinan, lobster from Palawan

When you want to experience the best food products of a Philippine city or province, ask its local government head or representative. It is a lucky day when you receive Dagupan bangus from Rep. Gina de Venecia. This bangus has so much taba! It is an even luckier day if you get Puerto Princesa lobster from former Mayor Ed Hagedorn. So fresh and juicy!

Priceless gifts

So you see, the best gifts will not necessarily cost you a fortune. Other great gift products are the artisan vinegar (suka) by Claude and Mary Ann Tayag, sold at Bale Dutung in Pampanga; maliputo, a freshwater fish, from Taal; and my gift of choice this Christmas, full back fat chicharon from Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

To tweak Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez’ line: It’s not only more fun in the Philippines, it is more delicious, too!

May 2015 be another delicious year of exceptional food finds … Happy New Year!

Porky Gifts for the Holidays

Bulacan chicharon. Photo by Margaux Salcedo.

As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday, December 14, 2014.

Margaux Salcedo First Class Inquirer Pork Options December 14, 2014 SundayNow that the P2.6-trillion national budget with redefined savings for 2015 has been passed by Congress, let’s roll with the theme of pork for our Christmas gifts!

Here are a few suggestions for your pork-loving colleague or boss, or for that wacky Christmas party.

Bai’s Boneless Lechon Cebu

It has been argued that Cebu lechon is the best in the country. It has had this reputation since time immemorial. My personal favorite is Rico’s lechon, cooked traditionally, with all the ingredients that make for an awesome Cebu lechon. A few years ago, the sterling reputation of Cebu lechon was sealed worldwide as famous blogger and Zubuchon founder Marketman introduced celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to Cebu lechon. Bourdain called it “the best pig in the world.”

But how do we get a taste of this famous Cebu lechon without flying in the whole pig?

Bai's LechonEntrepreneur Dexter Ding has come up with a solution. Ding hails from Cebu and his father loves lechon. Based in Manila, they were likewise faced with the challenge of satisfying Cebu lechon cravings.

Not wanting to fly the entire lechon from Cebu all the time, Ding created Bai’s Boneless Lechon Cebu.

These are chopped rolls of lechon, looking like a porchetta. However, all the delights of Cebu lechon are there: The beautifully crispy skin and the meat beautifully flavored with lemongrass and other Cebu lechon spices. Since it tastes just like Cebu lechon, there will be no need for lechon sauce or vinegar to go with it.

Ding confesses, though, that the pork he uses is not local but comes from Canada (so think Canadian bacon). It has a very clean taste. Ding also makes sure that this is pork of the highest grade and with just the right amount of fat.

A cut that is good for 10 to 15 pax is sold by the box. Call 0917-5825333 for orders.

Bacon Cookies by Sweet Sally Desserts

Imagine a chocolate chip cookie but, instead of chocolate chips, there are bacon bits instead. That’s what these cookies are like. It has all the sweet delights of a cookie but it is punctuated with bacon. Highly addictive! Order to believe it. Call 0917-7962731.

Bella’s Bacon Jam by Aimee Fuentes

Margaux  Salcedo Bella Yuchengco Aimee Fuentes Bacon Jam December 2014Daughter Aimee Fuentes, who now makes this and accepts orders, calls it Mom’s Famous Bacon Jam. No wonder it’s famous—this is pure indulgence in bacon. It’s a recipe of hostess with the mostest Bella Yuchengco. Aimee shares that they first tasted this when her mom served it with macaroni and cheese, and everyone’s been obsessed with it since.

I had tried bacon jam before but, while it had the salty soul of bacon, it was still mostly just jam. Aimee’s version, though, has a lot of bacon. Each teaspoonful that you dig out of the bottle will offer you the deliciously salty crunch of itty-bitty bacon slices.

Aimee shares that the recipe is really basic—she uses maple syrup and bourbon for the jam—except she doesn’t scrimp on the bacon. That makes a world of difference! I had mine with just scrambled eggs and later with toast. If you are a bacon lover, this is to die for! For orders, call 8077900.

Bulacan Chicharon

Chicharon—those sinful deep-fried slices of pork back fat. Little swirls of cholesterol heaven. Oh, the sound of that crunch as your teeth break the pig skin … music to the pork-lover’s ears!

Don’t be chicken and have those weak, airy versions sold near the MRT. You might as well just have kropek. No, if you are going to have chicharon, get full back fat!

Margaux Salcedo Bulacan chicharonCall me biased, but I dare say you have not tried chicharon until you have had chicharon from Sta. Maria, Bulacan. There, almost every other corner has a chicharon stand. And you get to choose whether you want chicharon that has full back fat or just semi back fat. Of course for pork lovers, it’s a no-brainer, go for full back fat! (That will directly translate into your own full back fat … but who cares!)

This is the best chicharon in the country. Mabuhay ang Sta. Maria, Bulacan! For orders call 0915-8636262.

Cirkulo’s Cochinillo

For good ol’ cochinillo, my go-to is Cirkulo. Call 8102763 for orders. If they are swamped, as they usually are come Christmas time, try La Tienda on Polaris Street, Bel Air. Call 8904123.

Pepita’s Stuffed Lechon

Bloggers have been all the rave for several years now about the lechon of Dedet dela Fuente, who calls herself the “lechon diva.” She had ovens customized in her backyard and she has become known for her stuffed lechon. Lydia’s also has lechon stuffed with paella. Dedet makes the stuffed lechon her signature, though, with her very creative stuffing. She goes “around the world” with a French stuffing of truffled rice; a German stuffing with apricots and chestnuts; a Chinese stuffing of machang; a Filipino stuffing of binagoongan; and the classic Spanish stuffing of paella. Her lechon is de leche and it’s really nakaka-leche in a delicious and delightful way. Call 0917-8660662 for orders.


To my mind, it’s still the best lechon out there. Order it in the morning, the skin will remain crispy until your party at night with the fat glistening from underneath the crispy orange skin. Call 7317551, 7317552 or 7324116 for orders. Order early as even the biggest VIPs are turned down for orders come crunch time a few days before Christmas.

Have a porky Christmas! (Except to the House of Representatives, which already has too much pork.)


Pablo: Hip and Happening in Salcedo Village

Foie gras paella. Pablo. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious. December 2014.

Originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday, December 21, 2014

First Class, Inquirer, December 21, 2014I like to think of Salcedo Village in the Central Business District as the country’s own little Manhattan. Offices and residences blend together. There’s a park in the middle. You can walk anywhere. You feel safe walking alone even in the middle of the night. And best of all, the dining scene is pretty damn good.

Central Business District dining

There is always a good restaurant here. Back in the 1990s, Chef Myrna Segismundo reigned supreme with Sign of the Anvil at the top of the PCI Bank Towers. Then Chef Jessie Sincioco responded with Top of the Citi at the Citibank Tower, where you would find Romulo Mabanta bigwigs like Lawyer Perry Pe relaxing at the end of the day.   When we greeted this millennium, the happening place was Il Ponticello, with many a band playing Dave Matthews covers as guests enjoyed great Italian cuisine. Around a decade ago, Chef Ed Quimson— may his soul rest in peace—reigned with Chef Ed’s. A couple of years after that, we saw the birth of Japanese bistro Nanohana and Elbert Cuenca opened the very high brow Elbert’s Steak Room on dela Costa.

Some restaurants that now have several branches started in Salcedo as well.

New Bombay Cafe had its humble beginnings as an Indian cafeteria with authentic cuisine in the Sagittarius Building on dela Costa. And Apartment 1B, which now has a branch in Rockwell and an organic sister resto named Kitchen 1B in Legazpi Village, was born on Sedeño St., near Makati Sports Club.

Restaurant row revival

Now, a new restaurant row has come alive. It started with the opening earlier this year of Toby’s Estate, a coffee house that has received very good press. Soon after, Wildflour, of cronut fame, opened next door. Recently, La Creperie, a cutesy version of Cafe Breton, joined the list.

margauxlicious PABLO 3 interiorsBut the latest addition to the lineup is by far the best addition to the row.

The old Brasserie Boheme has closed and in its place in the Picasso boutique hotel has risen Pablo, a bistro with a very unique menu.

With a name like Pablo, after the legendary Español artist, one would think that the restaurant served Spanish cuisine.

margauxlicious PABLO 2 FOIE GRAS

But David Collado, the restaurateur who made this space come back to life, says he and his partners deliberately avoided labeling their food “Spanish” so as not to be confined to what the cuisine is traditionally understood to be.

“We are a bistro. A bistro is a small space where you serve good food and drinks. That’s all,” he explained.

For the “good food” part, Collado partnered with Apartment 1B’s Marivic Diaz-Lim. A third partner is Cecilia Mañosa.

It was an excellent decision. While the restaurant prior was very French frou-frou, with an expensive menu whose items the waiters could never pronounce or describe accurately, this one is homey yet hip.

Everything seems simple yet nothing is ordinary.

Foie gras fanatic

First of all, the basics are simply executed well. The lobster bisque is definitive in flavor and not like the half-colored version that other restaurants on a tight budget present.

The pork belly is fork-tender as it was braised for 24 hours. And the lamb riblettes have just the right bounce of gaminess in the mouth.

Then there is the worldly Pablo—the Pablo who seems to have trotted around the world and developed an obsession with foie gras.

First, they serve a very, very generous slab of pan-seared foie gras. It is three times larger than what is usually served at fancier restaurants for a lesser price. It is soft, rich, creamy, with all the dreaminess foie brings with it.

Margaux Salcedo margauxlicious Pablo foie gras paella

The love doesn’t end there. For mains, a must try is the duck and foie paella.

It comes in a rectangular baking dish instead of a paellera and comes evenly distributed instead of in a mound but, as paella-maker Nico Garcia pointed out, the socarrat—the crust that forms at the bottom of the pan when cooking paella—is just right.

Paella is already addictive on its own. So it is hard to imagine how foie gras can up the ante on this already well-loved dish.

It obviously adds another dimension to the flavors of the classic Spanish dish but best about it is the creamy texture offered by the duck liver.

When you take a bite, flatten the dice of foie gras against the rice in your mouth. Your savoring will become sinning!

As if that wasn’t enough foie-ing, they take the classic ensaymada and stuff it with duck pate. Indulge by pairing this with a sweet Sauvignon blanc on a hot Saturday post-payday afternoon.

margauxlicious PABLO 4  ENSAYMADA DUCK PATE copy

Other options

There are healthier options on the menu, of course. Try the yellowfin tuna served with tomatoes and a very refreshing, generous portion of burrata cheese. This is a meal in itself and a healthy way to overload on protein.

margauxlicious PABLO 1 TUNA AND BURRATA

They’ve also got you covered from early morning to late at night.

Being the restaurant of the boutique hotel Picasso, it offers a hotel breakfast menu, You can wake up to Yardstick coffee, which the resto carries. But it also has a hip and happening bar, and I was delighted to learn that two familiar faces now work at Pablo: Fe, now restaurant manager, and Rod, a bartender—both from Martinis of the old Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

For the martini-loving executive, try this one: half Belvedere, half Bombay Sapphire. Guaranteed to make you forget about office politics.

Have more than two and you will hear shards of glass when you hit the sheets. Have more than three and you will need to get a room at Picasso.

But don’t get too drunk.

The business community is small and you will likely find lawyers in power suits and top executives with offices in Salcedo winding down here.

The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences
G/F 119 Leviste St. cor. Toledo
(beside Velasquez Park), Salcedo Village
Tel. 4030626, 8867876. Mobile 0998-5352068 or 0917-8123301.
No reservations required.
Parking available on the street or underground.
(Note: don’t park by the curb, your car will get towed.)
Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Tasting Room at the City of Dreams

52-degree Egg. Tasting Room, City of Dreams. Photo by Margaux Salcedo by margauxlicious.

As published in Philippine Daily Inquirer December 28, 2014.
Additional photos from author Margaux Salcedo. .

First Class Inquirer December 28, 2014This coming 2015 may be the year when the Philippines will make it to the culinary world map.

Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez is bringing Madrid Fusion to Manila, with no less than Mugaritz Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz doing demos. At the same time, critically acclaimed restaurants are opening at the City of Dreams Manila.

Executives will be happy to know that Nobu, the renowned dining destination of the stars created by actor Robert de Niro and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, has already opened at the Nobu Hotel.

But Nobu is not the only star in the City of Dreams.

Tucked in the Crown Towers (another hotel at COD scheduled to open early next year) is a decadent French affair called The Tasting Room.

Valued Vino

Upon entering, you might notice a splash of burgundy, an understated piece of art just behind the receptionist. It is a hint at what this restaurant has to offer: the best wines.

margauxlicious tasting room burgundy

However, more than a credit card, you may need a bank loan for some of the wines on its list!

The bottle of 1982 Chateau Latour, for example, may be appreciated for P397,000. Is that too much? You might opt instead for the 1990 Chateau Lafite Rothschild at P243,000.

Restaurant manager Damien Planchenault joked, “May I offer you a 1982 Latour? We have a promo offer of just P50,000 per glass.” “Why yes,” I chuckled, “May I give this heirloom earring in exchange for a bottle, please?”

But don’t be intimidated. The list is not limited to pocket-painful vintages and runs the gamut from incredible to approachable. It carries Clarendelle wines, a brand created by no less than Prince Robert of Luxembourg to respond to the challenge of creating a more accessible bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion. You may also order by the glass, at an average of P500 to P800 per glass, for a complete experience of a wine-pairing dinner.

Gigi Varua, Assistant Restaurant Manager, is a US-trained sommelier, and can guide you very well.

Basque chef

With a wine list like this, you will need a menu that can rise to the occasion.

Basque chef William Mahi has created just that.

Chef William Mahi gamely posed with me and  Goldee Salcedo, my very expensive date.
Chef William Mahi gamely posed with me and Goldee Salcedo, my very expensive date.

Mahi arrived four months ago from Shanghai, where he was Chef de Cuisine at Papillon at Lan Club at the Bund. Before that, he was at two-Michelin starred Spondi in Athens. But he has also worked in the kitchen of Joel Robuchon as well as at the renowned Plaza Athenee of Alain Ducasse. It seems, though, that he has always had the gift for flavor as a quick Internet search will reveal that at the young age of 14, he apprenticed at Table des Fréres Ibarboure and just two years later, he was given the honor of being recognized as Best Apprentice in France.

Blessed with a kitchen customized to his preferences at Tasting Room, the chef does not hold back. Truth be told, the menu is at that level that if you order the lesser wines, it may outshine the vino. Nevertheless, you can also have the menu with just still water and still be blown away by the food.

Amuse Bouche

Chef Mahi makes an entrance with his amuse bouche, a trio that instantly tells you what he is capable of.

Goat cheese is ornamented with tiny sheets of caramelized syrup that contain pork. Pork? I asked in disbelief. The chef, a bit more relaxed on my second visit, shared that it goes through a process where the pork is flattened then put in a machine that converts it to powder form, which is then sprinkled on the caramelized syrup before it becomes this delicate sweet glass that dresses the goat cheese. The chef apparently dabbles in molecular gastronomy.

margauxlicious Tasting Room Amuse Bouche

After he captures you with the cheese, the hello is given a crescendo with foie gras. But this is no ordinary foie gras starter. It’s a dollop of liver captured in chocolate, presented as a lollipop to remind you of the happiness of your childhood. It is pure bliss.

Then to snap out of it, a limoncello jelly. As if to say, “Now that you know what you’re in for, let’s begin!”

Create-your-own degustation

The concept of the Tasting Room is “create-your-own degustation.”

The menu is divided into several sections: Beginnings or the starters section; Rare and Unique for slightly unusual items like pigeon; Organic and Sustainable for items like organic pork; Contemporary; Aqua for seafood; Tierra for beef, including duck and lamb; then there is dessert and cheese.

You can choose to order a five-course dinner, which the restaurant teases as Damien’s Delight. Or indulge in six, seven or eight courses. But a five-course menu is enough. By the fourth course, you may be full. You also don’t have to order by section. You can grab all five courses from just two sections, e.g. Beginnings and Organic, if you wish.

52-degree Egg

margauxlicious Tasting Room EggThe must-try dish of the restaurant is the 52-degree Egg. It’s not just an egg yolk. This yellow ball of gooey delight was poached in olive oil for an hour. That is one flavorful yolk! In the bowl are some stellar supporting characters: Iberico ham, caramelized onions, and (drumroll please) shavings of a winter truffle from Perigord. On my first visit, I witnessed celebrity designer Rajo Laurel come out of the private dining section to exclaim to our table, “Did you try the egg!? My Goddddd!”

The restaurant is in fact quite generous with truffles. I was delightfully surprised on my second visit to find that the Mushroom Ravioli is also laden with this most precious ingredient. It is pure indulgence.

Michelin-worthy menu

For a second course, try the Duck Liver Terrine. First for the sheer value of the foie gras but more importantly for the chef’s art. Foie gras is just foie gras, I thought. Wrong. At Tasting Room, Mahi wraps the liver in a thin roll that looks like chocolate but is in fact wine jelly! And then, understanding that the guest may nevertheless get tired of the taste too soon, he accents the plate with port wine reduction, a dot of strawberry sauce, a pinch of raspberry powder, plus lychee jelly and an apple-and-honey crisp. It’s magical!

Margaux Salcedo ManilaSpeak Tasting Room Foie

Continuing on the theme of amazing, the chef puts the same effort into a dish of salmon. This is no ordinary salmon-and-capers dish. Salmon is marinated for 36 hours before being served accented with salmon and herring roe. To take you from city to the sea, the chef creates a sauce from fish stock and a selection of green herbs that is bursting with umami. You will also have fun starting off the course by nibbling on a little oyster leaf, which will puzzle you: how does this leaf taste like an oyster?!

margauxlicious Tasting Room SeafoodFor your main course, try the Barbarie Duck (served medium rare). The chef playfully puts curried popcorn on top. This dish shows the playful side of the chef, who explained with a wink that he put popcorn because ducks eat corn; and the side of filo pastry has smoked eggplant polenta to maintain the theme of the happy duck.

First-class ingredients

It is not only the chef’s skillful execution of creative concepts that distinguishes this restaurant. The quality of the ingredients used is remarkable as well.

margauxlicious tasting room lobster

The lobster is Brittany lobster. The pigeon is a free farm range pigeon from France. The pork belly comes from an organically grown French piggy. And the beef for the steak is a 21-day dry aged Wagyu.

These first-class ingredients are then presented in a way that will make you nod your head with each bite and say, “Damn. I live the good life.”

Take the pigeon. So thick, you will feel like the Prime Minister being served in The Hundred Foot Journey (a must-watch film for every foodie). This is appreciated with a side of pigeon liver cannelloni. A truly decadent main course that might be overwhelming for more conservative eaters.

margauxlicious tasting room pigeon

Then there is the pork belly, which is likewise a thick slab. The chef pairs this with pork trotters, flattened to become like a chicharon chip but using the sticky gelatin from the pig’s pettitoes. Tell your CEO to bring his Lipitor.

Best of all is the steak. There are few restaurants in the country that have succeeded in offering dry-aged steak. But I have confidence that this one is here to stay. It is a very beautifully executed blue steak: charred on the outside, beautifully soft on the inside. A must-order for your five courses.

Full menu

Upstaged, because of the wow factor of the dishes earlier mentioned, is the Marseilles bouillabaisse, which must be credited for its tasty 72-hour slow-cooked broth. It is also easy to overlook the San Sebastian calamari, where the head is cooked tempura-style. Or the Atlantic crab wrapped in turnip instead of a filo pastry.

margauxlicious tasting room bouillabaisseBut this only highlights the fact that while the hotel has yet to open, Chef Mahi already has an extensive menu that is ready for the discerning palates of Manila’s best executives.

You may not have room for dessert. But if you do—and if you can take the alcohol—make space for the Absinthe Cold Espuma: dices of Fuji apples drowned in Absinthe. At this point, you will have to let go of that glass of red. But it perfectly caps a wicked meal.

Check, please

While this is the City of Dreams, remember: dreams here do come at a price. Try not to fall off your seat when you get your bill! Remember that each bottle of Aqua Panna poured for you is being charged. And when the waitress says, “I will make you try so-and-so wine” and it is poured, that glass is not necessarily on the house “to try” but may be billed as well.

margauxlicious Tasting Room Cheese TrolleyThen charge it to experience—a good one, anyway. The 52-degree egg, with the Perigord truffles, could well have been a dish at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong whose Chef Umberto Bombana was voted in the Miele Guide by Asia’s top chefs as the “Chef of Chefs.” The duck terrine can compete with the starters at the Four Season’s Caprice. And the pigeon is something you might order at Plaza Athenee in Paris.

Mahi has just upped the game in the Manila dining scene. He is the crown jewel of Crown Towers. If he continues to bring his A-game, alongside Nobu, the City of Dreams will undoubtedly be the dining destination for 2015.

The Tasting Room
Ground Floor, Crown Towers, City of Dreams
Reservations recommended. Tel. 8008080. Open for dinner only from 6 to 11 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Degustation Menu is presently priced at P3,200 for 5 courses; P3,600 for 6 courses; P4,200 for 7 courses; and P4,500 for 8 courses.
Parking and Valet not yet available at Crown Towers but available at the main casino/retail building, then they offer a buggy ride to the Crown Towers lobby.

Photos c. Margaux Salcedo 2014.

Blackbird Sees Colin Mackay Flying to New Heights

Blackbird. Scotch eggs. Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.

As published in Inquirer Sunday Biz on December 7, 2014.

Here’s a bit of trivia for the executive jet set: Philippine Airlines mounted its first flight not from the Manila (now Ninoy Aquino) International Airport, but from the City of Makati.

It was 1941 and the very first PAL flight, bound for Baguio, took off from what used to be the Nielson Airport on Makati Avenue.

margauxlicious. Old Nielson Tower. Source: Wikipedia. When airport operations were moved to Villamor Air Base, the property was then returned to its owners, the Ayalas. The runways were then converted into the roads we know today as Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Avenue. The passenger terminal and control tower, however, were kept intact.

Today—almost 70 years later—the airport facility has come alive once again, becoming the restaurant Blackbird.

Jetset sleek

The restaurant no longer feels like a terminal at all. But it is interesting to note that the bar and lounge section, right by the entrance, is where the departure area used to be, while the second floor dining section used to be the control tower.

Thanks to the genius of designers Damien “Coco” Anne and wife Baby Imperial-Anne, the interiors today reek of sleek. The lounge, with its teal and purple hues and art deco pieces, could make you feel like a Gucci model should you find yourself having a cosmopolitan there.

But don’t mistake the place for stylish jetsetters alone. It is also quite the venue for a power lunch, with power visitors like former Transportation Undersecretary Dante Velaso to business tycoon and possible presidential contender Manny Villar, spotted with the Ivanka to his Donald Trump, Camille Villar.

East meets west

That celebrities and tycoons flock to this space is not due to the design alone. There is also the exceptional menu prepared by Colin MacKay, one of the most revered chefs in the industry.

Blackbird. Scotch eggs. Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious. Take his scotch eggs, a simple English picnic favorite. It’s a boiled egg, chopped in the middle, sometimes wrapped in meat, before being dipped in raw egg and bread crumbs then deep

fried. MacKay, however, exhibits his worldliness by merging this with the concept of the Thai Miang Kham. Hence the egg arrives not alone but sitting on a betel leaf, with a coconut chili sambal for extra bite.

His genius is evident throughout the menu: MacKay serves crispy soft-shell crabs, a joy to eat on its own, with a delightful apple chutney and a cauliflower puree. Salad that is hearty enough with just lettuce and parmesan cheese is given a smile with caramelized pecan nuts and the light sweetness of apples, and then further given character by something the kitchen calls a “green goddess”—a sauce composed of a variety of herbs that are kept secret lest the goddess lose her mystery.

margauxlicious margaux salcedo blackbird duck ragu 2A pappardelle is made savory not with beef or lamb, but with duck. The shreds of duck meat is beautifully balanced by the chef with arugula. And a flat iron steak is served with kimchi!

The mains are more on the lines of comfort food, presented in servings large enough to share. There is a generous plate of lamb rendang. The fish pie of salmon and trout is another hearty and homey dish.

The great thing about MacKay is that he is confident in his stride and stands on his own. While restaurant newbies jump on the Wagyu ribeye bandwagon, he presents a hanger steak. Though a good ribeye will have the most distinguished gentleman stick his tongue out for more, MacKay proves that you don’t necessarily need this cut for a tender yet flavorful meat.

Blackbird. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for

The only setback is the service, which may not be good sometimes. They have rotating managers. Pray that you chance upon the alert lady manager and not the grumpy man with bad English, who is quite the snob. Also, bring a driver, especially now that the weather is often wet. There is no valet service—perplexing for such a high-brow establishment—and parking, while available in the lot right beside the restaurant, becomes limited for a weekday business lunch.

On a date night, ask for the second floor. It’s far more romantic than the see-and-be-seen dining area on the ground floor.

Aviation enthusiasts

I am told the restaurant was named Blackbird by MacKay after the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which held the world record as the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft since 1976. It seems MacKay shares the love for aviation of Laurie Reuben Nielson, who built the Nielson Airport in 1937.

Nielson should be happy to know that the tower he built continues to stand tall in the hands of a fellow aviation enthusiast—who just happens to be a brilliant chef, as well.

Blackbird. Makati Avenue cor Ayala Avenue, Makati. Reservations strongly recommended. Walk-ins accepted but they are usually fully booked. Tel. 8284888. Mobile 0917-8892782. Parking limited though there is a pay parking lot right beside the restaurant. Wheelchair accessible. Major credit cards accepted. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., extending to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

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