Olive Garden, one of the largest American-Italian restaurant chains in the United States, is opening its doors to Philippine diners on Monday, September 12. It is located at Level 2, South Entertainment Mall, SM Mall of Asia.
Darden Restaurants Inc. sealed the franchise deal with the Bistro Group (Italianni’s, TGI Fridays, Las Flores) sometime in 2019, and Olive Garden was supposed to launch in Manila first quarter of 2020. The pandemic slowed things down, however, and the restaurant’s launch was pushed back.
“Now, as everybody is beginning to bounce back from the pandemic, Bistro is ready to build the brand and move forward. We're happy to be here to support them,” Greg Balogh, Director for Darden International, tells ANCX. The 40-year-old brand has 900 branches all over the world.
The restaurant may be right at the corner of MOA’s Level 2 (better to get down at the Seaside entrance) but it’s hard to miss with its huge signage, rustic stone passageway and olive green accents. Upon entrance, guests will be welcomed by a cozy bar offering a wide selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
The brand is popular for its unlimited first course—and they brought that tradition to Manila as well. Diners can enjoy its unlimited garden fresh salad and freshly baked garlic breadsticks or unlimited soup and breadsticks with a choice of entrée. But don’t load up on the starters because the menu boasts plenty of tasty American-Italian offerings.
For appetizers, we had the Shrimp Frito Misto—breaded crispy fried shrimp, onions, and bell peppers—which comes with marinara and spicy ranch sauces on the side. The Lasagna Fritta was quite filling—crunchy parmesan-breaded lasagna topped with meat sauce and loads of cheese.
If you want meat and pasta in one plate, try the Tour of Italy, which has Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna Classico, and Fettucino Alfredo.
If you want something not too indulgent, try their Chicken Margherita (grilled chicken breast, served with roasted cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cheese, pesto, and lemon garlic sauce), or their Shrimp Scampi (sautéed shrimp, asparagus, and tomatoes, tossed with angel hair pasta in a creamy garlic sauce).
We capped off our meal with some fried doughnuts sprinkled with vanilla sugar and served with a chocolate sauce.
“We have something for everyone. There's lighter, healthier entrees and there's very indulgent entrees as well,” says Balogh, adding that fans can look forward to the familiar Olive Garden menu. “We didn’t want to make a whole lot of changes,” he says. But their culinary team made sure they adjusted the recipe to suit the Filipino palate and to make use of available produce in the Philippines. “All our ingredients are sourced here,” he offers.