MANILA -- When Lolo Dad’s, the much-lauded fine dining restaurant at the corner of Quirino Avenue and Leon Guinto in Malate, stopped operating in 2014, its owners, chef Ariel Manuel and his wife, pastry chef Mia Ayuyao, quickly bounced back by opening Bistro Manuel in Poblacion, Makati City.
This September, Bistro Manuel will turn four and the couple cannot be any prouder that they have continued the legacy of Lolo Dad’s, which was named after Mia’s dad, lawyer Conrado Ayuyao.
Understandably, an entire page in the present menu of Bistro Manuel has been devoted to the popular signature dishes of Lolo Dad’s, like the baked fillet of Chilean seabass, the seared scallops and scampi, roasted lobster tail or the roast suckling pig and confit of pork belly.
However, just like most dining places, Bistro Manuel was forced to close in mid-March when the enhanced community quarantine was enforced in Metro Manila. For three months, the restaurant business was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was so devastating for all of us,” Ayuyao admits. “We were very worried, including the staff. We had to be very creative on how to go about the situation. We had no choice but to go with the flow.”
Many of the staff and crew were out of town when the lockdown happened. “We had to make the remaining staff live in the restaurant,” Ayuyao said. “We have a locker room for them anyway, so that was not a problem.
“We fed them their meals and we paid them a basic salary. We were also feeding some frontliners and we had ‘to-go orders’ especially for Mother's Day, birthday and anniversaries. It helped a lot.”
Aside from Manuel and Ayuyao, Bistro Manuel has a lean staff of 10 – four chefs, three waiters, chef de cuisine and two office personnel.
A number of events scheduled at Bistro Manuel had to be cancelled or moved to a later date. “In fact, some of those who reserved already gave a down payment, which they can will avail when things have settled down,” Ayuyao said.
The Manuel couple remain optimistic they will get through this pandemic season financially. “We will start slowly,” Ayuyao said. “We had to prepare for the health measures and the restaurant. We still have the ‘to-go’ menu, which is ready for delivery. And we have to retrain the staff for the health protocols.”
Bistro Manuel re-opened for dining last June 19 and Manuel and Ayuyao assured their customers they have taken important measures to cushion the impact of the pandemic.
“We have to be aware of the cleanliness for the kitchen and service staff,” Manuel said. “We prepared the restaurant for physical distancing. We learned that without batting an eyelash, everything can change and nobody is indispensable. This whole thing can change our life overnight.”
MET AT THE KITCHEN
Ayuyao, who took up nutrition at the College of the Holy Spirit, went to the US in 1987, where she studied at California Culinary Academy (CCA) in San Francisco for two years. After her classes, she stayed in California and did her on-the-job training. However, since she merely had a student visa, she returned to Manila in 1992.
“When I came back, I had to adjust ingredients-wise, freedom-wise, weather-wise,” Ayuyao recalled. “I had a choice not to come back, since there were American guys offering to marry me for $2,000, so I would get my legal papers and we’ll get a divorce in two years.”
While Ayuyao finished culinary arts in the US, Manuel was an architecture undergraduate at the Central Colleges of the Philippines and never got into it professionally.
Surprisingly, Manuel never took any formal culinary training, though he spent years working from one hotel kitchen to another. He was a working student at the erstwhile Hyatt Regency Hotel, and later moved to Peninsula Manila, Makati Shangri-La, Heritage Hotel and Mandarin Oriental Manila. His last hotel was Westin Philippine Plaza.
It was at the Makati Shangri-La, where Ayuyao and Manuel met as part of the opening team in the kitchen. They got married in 1997 and now have a 20-year-old son, Justin, who is taking up Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde.
They opened Lolo Dad’s in 2000, the start of the millennium.
“Mia gave birth to Justin on March 21, 2000," Manuel recalled. "When he was only four years old, he was already into foie gras. His favorite was lamb and salmon sashimi. But anything he eats, he wants to incorporate it with foie gras."
Fourteen years later, Lolo Dad's closed.
“It was hard to let go Lolo Dad’s,” Ayuyao said. “When Mommy said we had to sell the property, we had to let go of everything. Mom now stays in Vito Cruz near the Vietnamese temple.”
The couple did not manage a restaurant for two years, and concentrated on private catering. But when their partners suggested to convert an empty room in a building at Six Axis Center in Poblacion, Makati into a new dining place, the couple checked it out and was readily convinced to start a new restaurant.
Bistro Manuel, a 70-seater fine dining place that opened in September 2016, serving customers for lunch and dinner. The place is along Valdez Street, a stone’s throw away from A-Venue along Makati Avenue. Paintings notably by National Artist Arturo Luz adorn the walls of Bistro Manuel’s main dining space. There is also a function room that can comfortably seat 14 to 18 people.
Meanwhile, The Sippery Bar on the ground floor can accommodate around 25 people.
For appetizers, there’s baked brie de meaux cheese that consists of French lamb’s brie, roasted walnuts, tomato marmalade crouton and truffled honey. For the salad, there’s the spinach salad with warm mushroom dressing
A main course bestseller is the lamb and lamb with lamb, which is roast lamb rump, stewed lamb breast and fried lamb, sweet bread with sieved potatoes. For the sweet tooth, order the lemon meringue pie with chocolate ice cream, declension of mango and mascarpone cheese. The latter has vanilla frozen ice cream and dulce de leche sauce.
To cleanse the palate, diners are served with a small glass of lime sherbet, with a tiny shard of dry ice that makes one savor the smell, albeit shortly, right before the main dish. The taste can even pass up as one of the desserts.
While Lolo Dad’s had celebrities during its heyday, Bistro Manuel teems with mostly businessmen who either dine or hold their meetings in the restaurant. There were still a few popular names seen entering the Makati dining place. Actresses Amy Austria, Maritoni Fernandez with her family, even singer-songwriter Odette Quesada came in 2018 with her high school classmates and batchmates from the Philippine Women’s University.
While Bistro Manuel gets “locally sourced” vegetables from Bukidnon, 70 percent of the ingredients for the menu are imported, according to Manuel. “There’s a local source or importer that supplies to different restaurants and hotels. They are wholesalers. Beef wagyu has a supplier. US wagyu prime and black angus beef also have their respective suppliers,” he said.
The stove that was from Lolo Dad’s, was placed in Bistro Manuel’s open kitchen, where diners can see Manuel and his chefs in action. “The open kitchen stove, the equipment, the butter dishes, most of the equipment are from Lolo Dad’s,” Ayuyao noted. “We duplicated that idea for Bistro Manuel.”
The idea to open the kitchen is for the customers to see the action. “No magic while cooking in our kitchen,” Manuel insisted. “That’s why I don’t use microwave. To begin with, microwave is not actually part of an industrial or professional kitchen.
“That’s why when people say they have a small kitchen, it’s a microwave kitchen. A kitchenette. That’s a home kitchen. They can cook instant food. For reheating and cooking in our kitchen, stove talaga. Iba ang init sa apoy. Iba talaga kapag stove.”
While Lolo Dad’s had many memorable proposals, there had been a few proposals at Bistro Manuel, too. “Last Valentine’s, we were so full,” Manuel boasted. “My most dreaded day. We had a lot of preparations. Traffic was no joke. Most of the people were out, celebrating outside.”
The downside of managing and running a place like Bistro Manuel is having no time for the family. “On holidays, we’re still working, while others are celebrating,” Manuel explained. “This kind of fine dining restaurant is away from our home, so we still have to travel. The good thing about Lolo Dad’s, we lived just above the restaurant.”