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The Best Manila Eats Now

Where to Eat in the Philippines’ Metro Manila Now
by John Webber

From rustic Filipino cooking to classic European cuisine, the dining scene in the Philippine capital has never been more exciting.

Both Raffles and Fairmont Makati share this sun-soaked, all-day dining venue. It’s also where the hotels serve breakfast, and where travelers who are not familiar with the local cuisine should get their introduction. A Philippine breakfast is a heavy affair that usually involves rice, and Spectrum prepares a few different kinds—including garlic-fried rice, which Filipinos pair with meat and eggs to start the day. The Vigan Longganisa is an especially tasty option: a little sweet, a little garlicky, a little spicy. Those with a sweet tooth can opt for champorado, a sort of chocolate risotto that can be topped with condensed milk or fish flakes. 1 Raffles Drive Corner, Makati Ave.; 63-2/555-9027

The Lobby at The Peninsula Hotel
Manila’s grand dame hotel (which locals call Manila Pen) actually has a few eateries, including the recently renovated fine-dining restaurant Old Manila. But for Philippine food, the soaring, four-story lobby with its towering palm trees offers a truly opulent setting for a refined take on the national cuisine. The menu combines traditional recipes (like the rich peanut butter–based stew Kare Kare) and reinventions of classics including the addictive, street food-favorite turron, a caramelized sweet plantain–and-jackfruit spring roll that’s paired with a scoop of jackfruit ice cream. Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues; 63-2/887-2888

Gallery Vask
Originally from Bilbao, Chef José Luis ‘Chele’ González cut his teeth at a few of the world’s most notable culinary gems (including El Bulli and El Celler de Can Roca) before landing in Manila with his very own restaurant. This minimalist dining room (simply decorated with paintings by Filipino artists) is a culinary playground where chef Chele mixes international cooking techniques with Philippine ingredients sourced from obscure destinations, such as Adlai, a grain native to the highlands that resembles rice. His sour ribs are made from Wagyu beef slow cooked in a jus deepened with soy sauce and calamansi—a very popular combination of flavors in the Philippines. His hard work officially paid off this year when Gallery Vask was named one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants at number 39. 5F Clipp Center, 11th Ave., at 39th St.; 63-917/546-1673

A favorite among the local ladies who lunch, this designer space inside Greenbelt 5 (the luxury shopping mall in Makati) is considered by many to be Margarita Fores’s best dining concept. (Fores, who was named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016, oversees four different restaurants in Manila.) At Lusso, she creatively refines casual Italian and international comfort dishes like the much-talked-about burger, made richer by stuffing it with foie gras; the brunch hero eggs en cocotte topped with Bottarga di Muggine; and pan-seared salmon with champagne cream and orange salt. Inside Greenbelt 5; 63-2/756-5893

Kafe Batwan
At this modern-looking eatery in Rockwell, chef JP Anglo gets creative with time-honored Philippine classics. His palabok, for example, turns the sautéed noodle dish on its head by cooking it crab stock and crab fat before topping it with crispy crablets, chicharon, and squid. (The original doesn’t usually include any crab.) It’s also customary in Philippine cuisine to use every part of an animal. To that end, chef Anglo’s arroz caldo (very similar to congee) is topped with grilled pork belly, chicken skin, and pork and beef innards. Joya Tower, 28 Puaza Dr.; 63-2/625-5166

Blackbird at the Nielson Tower
The black-and-white glamour of this new restaurant in Makati (the spiral staircase in the middle of the dining room is stunning) has made it a major destination for local movers and shakers since it opened in 2014. Scottish chef and restaurateur Colin Mackay’s international menu pulls its inspiration from just about everywhere. He transforms the Thai snack Miang Kham, for example, by stuffing a betel leaf with a mix of deep-fried quail egg, prawns, and sweet coconut sambal. Elsewhere on the menu is a straightforward grilled seafood platter with a flavorful Nước chấm dipping sauce. Nielson Tower, Ayala Triangle Park; 63-2/828-4888

Grace Park
Inspired by the farm-to-table movement that has since swept the American dining scene, Margarita Fores’s Grace Park sources most of its ingredients from Philippine farms. Meanwhile, the loft space in Rockwell goes for a shabby-chic vibe with mix-material staircases, bare stone walls, and floral-upholstery chairs. The kitchen’s equally rustic menu marries comfort recipes with refined techniques, as demonstrated by the incredibly popular muscovado beef belly, coated in a slightly sweet glaze and cooked until perfectly tender. There’s also the ever-trendy organic Scotch eggs, which here resemble the Philippine embotido thanks to a layer of ground meat underneath the fried breading. One Rockwell, Hidalgo Dr.; 63-2/843-7275

Located 50 miles south of Manila in the popular day-trip town of Tagaytay, chef Tony Boy Escalante’s highly lauded fine-dining restaurant is largely considered by locals to be the top foodie destination in the Philippines. (In 2015, it was the country’s only entry on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, landing at number 48.) Surrounded by lush gardens and a farm that provides the kitchen with produce, chef Escalante’s genteel dining room indulges with an international menu: Garlicky Escargots à la Bourguignonne are joined by blue crab and cod ravioli as appetizers. The meaty selection of main courses (though there are also great vegetarian dishes) includes grilled short ribs soaked in a citrus-apple marinade and a porterhouse dry rubbed in cardamom. Purok 138, Barangay Neogan, Luksuhin-Mangas Rd., Alfonso, Tagaytay City; 63-918/899-2866

Atelier Vivanda
This months-old restaurant (it opened in February 2016 in Bonifacio Global City) from Michelin two-star chef Akrame Benallal is a casual, bistro-style eatery where meat is king. The 50-day dry-aged Holstein bone-in steak is the house specialty, but the Black Angus rib eye and the Iberico ribs are equally crowd-pleasing. What’s meat without potatoes? Thankfully, Atelier Vivanda offers unlimited potato sides, the best of which is the Pommes Dauphines, utterly addictive fried balls of mashed potatoes, Comté cheese, and butter. U-A8 Forbes Town Center, Forbestown Rd., Taguig; 63-2/848-2632

“Do not go where the path leads, travel instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  @wbbrjp

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