Last call for Mandarin's Tivoli before hotel closes

By Joko Magalong

Posted at Jul 14 2014 06:41 PM | Updated as of Jul 15 2014 02:43 AM

The Tivoli, the acclaimed fine dining outlet of the Mandarin Oriental Manila. Photo: Handout

MANILA -- The Mandarin Oriental Manila continues its long goodbye with characteristic style and grace ahead of the hotel’s closure later this year.

After its popular Chinese restaurant Tin Hau bowed out last Sunday, the spotlight is now on its acclaimed fine dining outlet The Tivoli, with the “MeMOries: Best of the Best in The Tivoli” promotion, which begins on Wednesday and ends on July 25.

To kick off the nostalgic culinary journey, the hotel’s well-loved former executive chef Norbert Gandler returned for a once-in-a-lifetime degustacion dinner last July 11, assisted by former executive pastry chef Ernie Babaran and ex-Tivoli sous chef Kenneth Cacho.

Former Mandarin chefs Norbert Gandler, Ernie Babaran and Kenneth Cacho. Photo: Handout

All three chefs are now with the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM), while Gandler also owns the well-reviewed Aubergine Restaurant and Patisserie at the Bonifacio Global City.

Both Gandler and Babaran found great success during their stint at the Mandarin Oriental Manila, dominating the country’s premier culinary competition Chefs on Parade. Babaran also joined -- and placed -- at the prestigious Salon Culinaire in Singapore.

“Tivoli was the training ground for everybody. That was the beauty of it,” Gandler told guests last Friday.

The one-night-only event was a celebration of the hotel’s culinary legacy as the nine-course dinner included The Tivoli’s best-loved dishes.

Millionaire Salad. Photo by Joko Magalong for

The dinner started with an amuse bouche of a profiterole with a nicely salted espuma. This was followed by one of Mandarin’s classics, the aptly named Millionaire Salad. The dish was held together by a rich foie gras ice cream that coated the tongue and married the luxurious textures and tastes of crab, salmon roe, thinly sliced duck breast and mesclun greens with a walnut-sherry vinaigrette beautifully.

Tivoli Bouillabaisse. Photo by Joko Magalong for

Soup was, of course, the famous Tivoli Bouillabaisse, with shrimp and fish in the bouillabaisse froth, and a nice stick of thinly sliced bread with pan de tomate and salmon tartare, which were both nice acidic counterpoints to soup.

Braised Veal Cheeks. Photo by Joko Magalong for

The third course was Port Wine-Braised “Mulwarra” Veal Cheeks. The port gave the fork-tender veal just the right tinge of sweetness, kicked up a notch by a wonderful butte- fried sweet sage leaf. The green pea risotto was creamy, and the gremolata gave a nice herbal, lemon kick.

Taste of Land and Sea. Photo by Joko Magalong for

The Taste of Land and Sea featured a beautifully seared scallop with a thin slice of truffle on top, and a tortellini stuffed with Portobello mushrooms and spinach, topped with a bit of tomato concasse, complementing the sauce Vierge, made of olive oil, tomatoes, basil and a bit of lemon juice.

An entremet called Blackberry Tonic with a tangy blackberry sorbet, Grey Goose vodka ice and tonic water arrived on your table with a liquid nitrogen sizzle.

Saltbush Lamb. Photo by Joko Magalong for

With palettes our refreshed, we moved on to the main entrees, starting with the 52-degrees Australian Bultarra Saltbush Lamb, a kalamata olive-crusted lamb loin, accompanied by a stacked “present” of eggplant and lamb shoulder, a couple of haricot verts for crunch, while the green apple, celery and mint chutney balanced the salty mouthful.

Beef Strip Loin and Baby Lobster. Photo by Joko Magalong for

The Roasted Nebraska Prime Angus Beef Strip Loin and Butter Poached Baby Lobster was a study of textures with melt-in-your-mouth lobster and rustic beef, and a tart of sweet caramelized onions, a delicate truffled potato celeriac mash, and Pedro Jimenez (a Chilean wine) jus. While Surf and Turf during the 1970s (coincidentally the same decade that Mandarin Oriental Manila opened) was a dish for the middle class, these days, this can be decadent and luxurious, making it a perfect entrée for The Tivoli.

Personally, this writer was most looking forward to the dessert course. Having worked for a few months at the Mandarin’s pastry kitchen in 2005 -- sadly after Babaran’s time -- I was always regaled with stories about his brilliance.

Textures of Valrhona. Photo by Joko Magalong for

Paired with Madeira wine, his dessert named Textures of Valrhona was a testament to his famed skill. This was a complex multi-layered cake similar to an Opera but with chocolate instead of cake, which was further elevated with additional nuances when eaten with a mouthful of goldenberry, raspberry, blueberry or strawberry. A praline and buttered popcorn ice cream gave another dimension to the dish, a cold and creamy sweet component that completed this remarkable dessert. Chef Babaran did not disappoint.

Carrots and Cheese. Photo by Joko Magalong for

The last course was Carrots and Cheese, featuring a slice of Pont-l’Eveque, a nutty and creamy French cheese, tangy yogurt ice cream, and a remarkable carrot sorbet that marries savory and sweet, ending the degustacion, paired with a great digestif of Calvados Coquerel.

“Good food and good service, that’s Mandarin Oriental, and a great team from the management to the kitchen,” quipped Gandler, when asked what he will most remember about the Mandarin.

I may have only walked the back-halls of the hotel for a few months, but I wholeheartedly agree. A memory resurfaced of a conversation that I eavesdropped on between housekeeping staff in the service elevator. One of them proudly remarked that the Mandarin building might be old, but the hotel is still one of the best. She said this with so much pride and belief.

Which brings me to why a lot of people wax maudlin on the hotel’s closing. For almost 40 years, the Mandarin Oriental has continued to be relevant mainly because of the love and care that every one of the hotel’s past and present employees have put into their jobs -- from executive chef Rene Ottlik, who came up with the idea to bring back Gandler for the Tivoli’s habitués, to the server who never failed to top my water goblet that night, or to the valet that gave me back my car at the end with a smile. A great team from management to the kitchen to the rest of the hotel, giving us countless wonderful experiences though the years, much will be missed.

“MeMOries: Best of the Best of The Tivoli” begins July 16 and will run until July 25, the last day of the restaurant. On July 18, the hotel’s executive chef Rene Ottlik and chef Margarita Fores of Lusso and Cibo fame will join forces for a one-night only dinner at The Tivoli. The seven-course Degustation menu includes: Foie Gras Carpaccio, Acquarello Risotto with River Prawn and Latume Sac Ciccioli Crumble, Pappardelle Al Duck & Lardo di Colonnata Ragu, and Beef Tenderloin a la Griglia. It is priced at P2,400+++. Limited seats are available.