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 karenskitchen.com.ph or call 0917 539 4968 or landline (02) 555 0555 or (02) 555 0111 to order.


Donate blood on Valentine’s Day (Photo: livestrong.com)

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!!

New York-based Pinoy Bartender Shows MasterChef Skills at New BGC Resto

Francis Balbarin, New York-based Filipino bartender takes over James and Daughters kitchen


There is a new restaurant in BGC called James & Daughters.

It is by the same group that created Le Jardin. But chef-owner Jonas Ng emphasizes that this time around, he is just cooking from the heart; no more stuffy classic fine dining frou frou recipes. “This is me,” he says. The restaurant serves “no borders cuisine”.

The place is beautifully designed, with touches of the old Le Jardin, like the faux balconies. There is one private dining room and high seats for those who care to just drink.

Best of all, there is parking!

If you would like to check it out, it is on the side of Essensa.


NYC Bartender Proves Kitchen Skills

But here’s the thing: I did not go to check out Jonas Ng – though I will definitely come back to try his new style and see how he is flexing his kitchen muscles this way.

In fact I had not heard of James & Daughters before my friend of 14 years (since my sabbatical in NYC) Francis Balbarin told me about it because he was doing a pop-up at the resto and cooking a full 8-course dinner for the first time for a public Manila audience.

I always knew that Francis can cook and cook well. After all, he co-founded Burgers & Brewskies in BGC. And truth be told, the B&B hits are his recipes: the Walk of Shame, a huge burger with a sunny side up egg on the top toast; the Call the Nurse burger, a burger with mac & cheese alongside the patty between the buns; and the Cuban Missile corn on the cob, inspired by the corn on the cob of Cafe Habana on Prince Street, one of our favorite hang outs back in the day in New York, even if the line was horrendous.

Francis Balbarin, whom we fondly call Kiko, executes an excellent 8-course dinner at James & Daughters
New York-based bartender Francis Balbarin, whom we fondly call Kiko, executes an excellent 8-course dinner at James & Daughters

Bartender Cooks Like A MasterChef

I was blown away, though, by how much he has improved as a cook. He could very well compete with today’s top restaurateurs in the industry.

Dinner started with grilled octopus with arugula and patani. But my I was especially impressed by the second starter: Kitayama beef heart and rib eye tartare with quail egg. It’s hard to find good tartare in Manila, a dish that is harder to execute than it seems (Tonyboy Escalante still makes the best but you have to go all the way to Antonio’s Fine Dining in Tagaytay). And I loved the incorporation of ox hearts into the dish.

His third dish, thanks to the Tiger Milk Gang’s campaign, was the ever-trendy ceviche. Francis used barramundi and scallops for the most part. It was beautifully seasoned with fresh lime juice and cilantro, as is the usual case, and Francis added kaffir leaves for character. But I also loved how he added white corn for texture, sweet potato to contrast the acidity, mango for some sweetness, and on top just a snip of barramundi skin for crunch. It was a very cohesive ceviche and every bite was pleasurable.

His fourth dish, dedicated to his lovely wife Mayone, was likewise exceptional: squid ink pasta because it is one of her favorite dishes. But Francis upped his squid ink pasta game by using shallots, anchovies, and (best of all!) taba ng talangka for his pasta sauce. And then the dish was finished with lemongrass “para mawala umay”, he explained. It was so good, I could have finished a larger bowl of it.

This was followed by duck, which reaped the approval of Swiss-trained French cooking expert Aleth Ocampo. And a little piece of pork with the crunchiest skin. Then, finally, two courses of elaborate desserts, such as a dalandan ice cream with strawberry coulis, meringue and a rosemary parfait, all in one plate.

Pop Up

It was a really great, well thought out menu and you could see Francis’ passion for cooking with every dish.

Unfortunately, Francis does not have a restaurant with such dishes on display just yet. He is in fact going back to New York in a few days to continue his bartending career.

Hopefully, we can convince him to come to Manila more often and do more of these dinners!

Happy tummies with (standing) Francis Balbarin (in the bandana) and Jonas Ng of James & Daughters.
Happy tummies with (standing) Francis Balbarin (in the bandana) and Jonas Ng of James & Daughters.

In the meantime, check out these upcoming events at James & Daughters:

January 18 – Salsa Night with Don Papa Rum

January 25 – Jazz Night with Ferdie Borja

February 7 – Blues Night

February 13 – Singles Night


James & Daughters by Le Jardin. G/F Westin Residences Manila Sonata, 21st Dr., Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. +63 917 817 6584. Open Monday – Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm.