They say Cebuanos love food so much they eat five times a day. Can’t blame them. They have great options to choose from: Cebu lechon, their spicy, tomatoey, hearty linarang soup, the tuslob buwa, the binignit, the variety of fried street foods called pungko pungko accessible to everyone from all walks of life. If they want to go a little fancy, there’s Josh Atherton’s Pig & Palm at Negros Road, the Chiongbian-owned Cur8, and Chele Gonzales’s Enye at Crimson Hotel.
But the most talked about addition to Cebu’s wealth of dining options these days is hands down Mott 32, the Cantonese import which opened at the mammoth Nustar Resort in October. Right now in Cebu, says a popular Cebuano designer, “there’s really nothing as upscale as Mott.”
“Cebuanos are so lucky they can eat here everyday,” I overheard a female colleague say during the recent presser the restaurant hosted. It was the launch of the lunch menu and spring/summer menu, and after having my fill of the offerings, I could only second her sentiment. Revise all the Cebu travel itineraries drawn up before October 2022, and in between a visit to Magellan’s Cross and a trip to Sumilon, squeeze in a meal at Mott 32.
Mott 32 is one of the most recognized modern Chinese restaurants in the world, frequented by serial travelers always on the lookout for what’s best wherever their Rimowas take them. It started out in Hong Kong in 2014 and is now also in Bangkok, Dubai, Las Vegas, Seoul, Singapore, and Vancouver. It is famous for giving traditional regional Chinese cuisine a more international approach, using only the best available seasonal ingredients.
Creating the menu and overseeing all eight Mott 32s in the world is the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Lee Man Sing, Group Chinese Executive Chef of Maximal Concepts which runs Mott 32. Chef Lee is highly regarded in the world of Chinese cuisine. He was once head chef for the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong where he was part of the team that won for the hotel a Michelin star in 2012.
The Chinese Culinary Institute alumni says the past six months have been a delight for him and his crew giving their guests in Cebu a top notch dining experience. When asked what the most popular dishes are so far in this Mott 32 outpost, the Barbecued Pluma Iberico Pork (P2,550) comes up on top, along with the crowd pleaser Apple Wood Roasted 42 Days Peking Duck (P5,500), and the Signature Smoked Black Cod (P2,280).
It was quite a privilege to have been served the Peking Duck on my last evening in the city. It is, after all, flown in especially, is very meticulously prepared, in limited daily supply, and must be reserved in advance. We enjoyed its delectable crispy skin, and the sinful, sweet and savory fatty meat. According to the menu, it is carved “using a unique technique that locks in all the juices developed by our founders, making it a true feast fit for royalty as it was intended.”Another colleague bravely ordered a whole duck she intended to have for lunch the next day, which she originally planned to finish by her lonesome; good thing she was convinced to invite two new acquaintances to join her in its devouring. Much fun, I heard, was had by all.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our Mott 32 day began with lunch, the highlight of which is an incredible selection of extraordinary dimsum that included the crunchy and rich Chicken Prawn Taro Croquettes (P450 for 3 pcs); the Hot and Sour Shanghainese Soup Dumplings with Scallop and Prawn (P450 for 4 pcs), a dream bundled up in orange and came in a cute little bamboo basket; the multi-faceted delight that is the Signature Soft Quail Egg Iberico Black Truffle Siu Mai (P400 for 2 pcs), and something called Prawn, Crispy Rice Paper, Asparagus (P650) which, when bathed in the house’s light soy sauce, becomes a party of gorgeous textures in your mouth. Let’s not forget the Garoupa, Chopped Chili, Prawn, Vegetable Dumpling (P500)—which looked like colorful floral-painted balls wrapped in textured, translucent jelly bags. What actually gives that painterly effect is the assemblage of fish and colored veggies that make up the dumpling.
There’s more dimsum in the menu but these selections do a good job in proving just how creative one can get with the ubiquitous siu mai. How such a humble little pouch, roll, or wrap can be a showcase of modern ideas, refinement, and quiet spectacle in the hands of experts, exciting one’s tastebuds in small, unexpected ways. An old article from the New York Times archives describes Hong Kong dimsum as “works of art” and “among the world's finest hors d'oeuvres.” Mott 32’s dumplings certainly live up to these descriptions.
Before we enjoyed our dimsum extravaganza, our table of four was already quite giddy with the Shredded Peking Duck Salad, Beetroot, Crispy Taro, Citrus Truffle Dressing (P980), a beautiful salad that threw in—surprise!—Cebu mangoes in the mix for that local flavor. And then there’s that daredevil of a starter called Cold Free-Range Chicken Szechuan Peppercorns, Chili Sauce (P1,280), both spicy and numbing on the tongue, with a slight crunchiness that made for a truly well-rounded dish.
A lunch, or any meal at Mott 32 for that matter, is never complete without drinks—these guys take their cocktails very seriously—and I picked something light enough to allow me to get back to working with a clear head after we’re done with all the pleasantries and the desserts (those were fabulous, too!). I must say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, at least where alcoholic drinks are concerned: I asked for the Forbidden Rose (P580) which turned out to be deliciously sweet and, like the restaurant’s interiors, very sophisticated. It had vanilla-infused Pisco, passion fruit, lychee, chili and lemon. After my first few transportive sips, I proceeded to recommend it to every person in the room who looked my way and cared to listen.
Beginning this April, Mott 32’s lunch offerings will be available four days a week, Thursdays to Sundays, from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Book now because, as Harry once told Sally, “When you realize the best dimsums are just a one-hour Cebu Pac ride away, you want to get to them as soon as possible.” Or something like that.
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