Lola Dad’s was an unusual name for a restaurant, a fine dining one at that. It was located at the Malate compound of the Ayuyao family, the former office of the family patriarch Dodo Ayuyao, renovated to become one of the city’s top fine dining destinations. The eldest Ayuyao grandchild used to call her grandfather Lolo Dad and when husband-and-wife culinary tandem Ariel Manuel and Mia Ayuyao Manuel decided to put up their full-service restaurant, they took the moniker of Mia’s late father.
You may also like:
- Manila’s café culture may have begun with a simple cup of chocolate-eh
- We found one of Mayor Isko’s favorite ‘tumbongan’ in Tondo, and met his fans along the way
- This vegan restaurant in Poblacion can make any meat-eater reconsider
- Revisiting Old Swiss Inn: once serious dating place, now a classic at 73
Lolo Dad’s Café was on the corner of Quirino Avenue and Leon Guinto Street, facing a busy main road. The moment you walked through the front door, however, you left all of the bustle outside and you were immediately transported into someone’s elegant home. Starched white linen tablecloths, crystal, dark wood, and a feeling of warmth were features I remember. The coveted chef’s table faced a glass window with a front seat view of the kitchen, the only one in the house. There was no hidden working kitchen elsewhere, no secrets. Everything was pristine and you knew exactly how your food was prepared. Chef Ariel Manuel was always in the kitchen, rarely missing. Service felt personal and the food was consistently top notch.
The restaurant’s signature dishes endured through over a decade, taking on the status of iconic. The Baked Oyster with Foie Gras, Angel Hair Pasta and Parmesan was legendary. Served on a half shell, it was ordered by the piece. Its origin was largely accidental. Justin, the only Manuel son, was a gourmand at a very young age. Offered a baked oyster by his father, he requested that it be served with foie gras. Manuel obliged and was surprised to discover that it made a perfect combination. A few tweaks later, it became a part of the Lolo Dad’s menu. It was the most sought-after dish and the restaurant’s main attraction. Quality carried with it a hefty price tag but somehow, no matter how much your bill came to, you always felt like it was all worth it.
The friendly BYOB policy was a great come on. There was no other fine dining establishment that allowed you to bring and consume your own bottle of wine with your meal for free. I frequented Lolo Dad’s and was very sad when it closed in 2014, after almost 14 years. The Ayuyao matriarch sold the property that the restaurant stood on.
Manuel did not go the usual chef’s route to a professional career. He was a working student, studying for a degree in architecture. He was in the housekeeping department of a 4-star hotel and eventually found himself in the kitchen. It was there that he found his true calling. Without a formal culinary education, he rose through the ranks, honing his skills in the kitchens of the Hyatt Hotel, The Peninsula Manila, joining the opening team of Shangri-La Hotel Manila where he met his wife-to-be Mia, moving to the Heritage Hotel Manila, then The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Manila, and finally the defunct Westin Philippine Plaza. He left his hotel career to put up Lolo Dad’s in 2000.
Manuel’s professional career is studded with awards. There was a period where he led the Philippine team that participated in prestigious international culinary competitions, winning in the MLA Black Box Culinary Competition in Australia (2005) and Dubai (2008). He was also the team captain of Les Toques Blanches Philippines that bagged the Highest Gold and Best of the Best awards in the Hong Kong International Culinary Classic Gourmet Buffet Challenge in 2007. Chef Ariel Manuel represented the country in Shanghai, China for Bocuse d’Or. His Lolo Dad’s Team also represented the Philippines in the Asian Market Basket category, where the country won gold.
In 2016, the Manuel couple opened a three-restaurant concept in Poblacion, Makati—The Sippery bar, Filipino-Spanish tapas bar Taperia Poblacion, and the fine dining Bistro Manuel. While Bistro Manuel was envisioned to have its own identity separate from Lolo Dad’s, regulars clamored for their favorite dishes. There was no getting away from the nostalgia.
Classics from the Lolo Dad’s menu are now available at Bistro Manuel. The baked oysters still occupy a stellar position, aptly named Lolo Dad’s Baked Oyster with Foie Gras. The Double Espresso Soup, two separate espresso cups of heart-warming tomato and mushroom cream soups, still pay tribute to Mia’s creativity. Manuel is a genius with lamb and his Bistro Manuel original Lamb and Lamb with Lamb—roast lamb rump, stewed lamb breast, and fried lamb sweetbread with sieved potatoes—is a testament to that genius.
The Duck Leg Confit is perfect—fat, crisp, and loaded with flavor, but it is the side of Mediterranean Duck Foie Rice that takes the dish to undefined heights.
The U.S. Rib Eye Prime Steak, a generous 300-gram cut that is cooked to your preference is topped with morsels of crisp rendered steak fat, a feature Manuel humorously says is his version of sisig. Only the prime loin of seabass is used for the Baked Fillet of Chilean Seabass, which comes with Crab Fat Potatoes.
Desserts are still Mia’s realm, all original, all a delight to the senses.
At Bistro Manuel, a function room that seats 14 to 16 persons is available for private events. Parking is on the street or at the A. Venue Mall across Makati Avenue. The chef’s table is a bar counter facing the glass encased open kitchen. As of this writing, Ariel and Mia Manuel are set to open Metro Café, a casual restaurant that will
be located at the new Met Live on the corner of Macapagal Avenue and EDSA in the bay area. We look forward to experiencing his new concept. But in the meantime, we'll be enjoying Bistro Manuel. Admittedly, it is not Lolo Dad’s, but the quality of the food and service reputation that the Manuel couple built through the years still remain.
Bistro Manuel, Six Axis Center, 4347 B. Valdez Street, Poblacion, Makati City, (0926) 734-1067
Photographss by Jar Concengco
Lolo Dad’s photo courtesy of Lolo Dad’s Café Facebook page