Old Manila is The Peninsula Manila’s grande dame of a fine dining restaurant, a rarity among the metro’s top flight hotels which are opting for more casual restaurant concepts rather than the classic white tablecloth affairs of years past. But Old Manila still proudly brandishes its fine dining cred, but has constantly updated its look and menu in keeping with the times. Just two years ago, Old Manila took the “radical” step of hiring a Filipino, Allan Briones, as its Chef de Cuisine. Since then, the 30-something chef has flourished as the 42-year-old restaurant’s first Filipino chef.
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As Briones has settled into his new role as Chef de Cuisine, I had the chance to try a few new items on the menu that exemplify his dynamic approach to fine dining, as he combines luxe elements in unexpected and even, yes, fun ways.
This bite-sized starter happens to be just the thing to show that Old Manila isn’t your lolo’s restaurant anymore. Foie gras, sure, but topped with caramel popcorn, really? But the popcorn does work and when the dish is plated as elegantly as it is, the popcorn really doesn’t look out of place anymore. Most importantly, Briones makes sure the flavors and textures of the dish stay balanced, in this case—sweet, unctuous, smooth, crunchy, with a tempered aubergine jam to round out the flavors.
There aren’t a lot of places left in Manila that still prepare this French classic. Perhaps locals are squeamish about the raw beef, but they’re missing out, as beef tartare brings out a more mellow “beefiness” in flavor, that you won’t find if the meat is cooked. If you’re curious to try it even just once but are worried about the safety of the beef, then it’s best to order it at Old Manila as the kitchen only uses high quality beef that’s handled properly by trained chefs. Briones serves this excellent version with an egg yolk poached in beef fat, garlic confit, and sourdough crisp.
Both the Foie Gras Tart and Beef Tartare were paired with this fizzy refreshing cocktail, a mix of Bombay Sapphire Gin, Granny Smith apple, lemon, Japanese cucumber, and Prosecco, a creation of The Peninsula’s new Beverage Manager Federico “Rico” Deang.
Briones’ Magnum desserts have become a bit of a signature since he took over Old Manila. And this new uber-rich version has managed to top his popular Key Lime Magnum, thanks to its red velvet cake inspiration. What lingers in the palate and my memory most are its distinctive cream cheese tanginess, subtle sweetness, not to mention the bright red color. Fair warning: one serving is quite generous, so unless you’re unusually selfish, this dessert can be shared.
Old Manila, The Peninsula Manila, corner of Ayala Avenue and Makati Avenue, (02) 887-2888