MANILA -- Olive Garden opens its first store in the Philippines at the Mall of Asia on Monday.
The iconic Italian-American concept is known for its famous breadsticks, unlimited salads, and menu filled with a lot of pasta. The Bistro Group, known for their international franchises like Italianni’s, Denny’s, Hard Rock Café, Randy’s Donut, etc. spearheads the brand's Philippine expansion.
“We want to bring variety into the market, and when we look at restaurants abroad, we look for restaurants that have a very good name and are iconic in people’s eyes Olive Garden was at the top of our list, and they were expanding into Asia, and we are grateful that they chose us to be their partner,” said Josh Boutwood, corporate executive chef of the Bistro Group.
The Mall of Asia location feels distinctly different from the other Italian-American restaurants in Manila, including Bistro Group’s own Italianni’s. There’s wallpaper on the ceiling, slated window treatments, rattan wall dividers, olive green-colored upholstery, and a big al fresco area looking out into Manila’s famous bay.
In this location, you’re welcomed by a bar area with limited seating up front and when you turn left, you’re greeted by the main room and lots and lots of seating, enough for 300 people — perfect for a casual family dinner, quick lunch, a first date and even, thanks to the view and the open concept, a wedding.
If you’ve never partaken of the Olive Garden’s menu overseas, here’s some of the dishes that you can look forward to ordering at the Olive Garden at Mall of Asia.
1. Lasagna Fritta
Lasagna loaded with the works — meat sauce, alfredo sauce (cream), lots of cheese, and then cut into squares — battered and deep-fried and topped with more cheese and sauce. A slice was considerably hefty, but surprisingly not greasy. Kid-friendly. It comes in a sharing portion (five slices, P795), and a small portion (two slices, cut in half, P450).
2. Never Ending Dipping Sauces for Breadsticks
Olive Garden is famous for this. Order this and you get a bowl filled with breadsticks and your choice of sauce — homemade marinara, alfredo, or five cheese marinara. It’s never-ending, but you’re going to be served one bowl at a time (P195). Must try.
Soups are not really a big thing in the Philippines, but in the Olive Garden, they’re one of the staples. There are two options to have your soup -- have it with unlimited soup, salad, or breadsticks (P495), or just a single of those (P395). The minestrone was nice and tart, herby without being too overpowering with the works — beans, vegetables, and pasta. Do not forget to ask for a topping of freshly grated parmesan cheese on top.
4. Chicken and Gnocchi
Another one of the soups, this one is for the cream lovers with spinach, soft gnocchi, and chicken, of course.
5. Tour of Italy
Feeling particularly hungry? Take the Tour of Italy (P1,245). Top of the list in Olive Garden's entrees (all of which comes with a never ending first course of soup or salad and breadsticks), the Tour of Italy is enough for a party of two or three, or an extremely ravenous one. At the two sides of the plate, there’s crispy chicken parmigiana and a slice of lasagna classico, both smothered in tomato sauce and cheese. In the middle, there’s their signature Fettucine Alfredo — no meat — just the sauce. A good choice for your first time at an Olive Garden.
6. Grilled Chicken Margherita
I’m going to come back for this one. It’s simply grilled chicken with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil pesto, and lemon garlic sauce, alongside a parmesan-crusted zucchini. Available for sharing (P845) or solo (P645).
7. Shrimp Scampi
Not a lot of people serve Shrimp Scampi in Manila. This one has angel hair pasta, tossed in with shrimp, garlic, asparagus, and tomatoes. Lightly spicy. (Solo P675, Sharing P875) Not a fan of shrimp? There’s a chicken version.
8. Chicken Alfredo
It’s chicken with Olive Garden's rich and creamy alfredo sauce. It’s a restaurant bestseller for a reason. (Solo P725, Sharing P925)
9. Warm Italian Donuts (Zeppoli)
Freshly fried donut rectangles covered with vanilla-powdered sugar, we had them with chocolate, but I would come back for the raspberry sauce.
There are drinks aplenty from cocktails to iced teas. The latter available for a never-ending refill option, of course. Everyone loved the Italian Margarita (P275, Jose Cuervo Especial Silver tequila, triple sec, amaretto) frozen or on the rocks. This author was more enamored with the unlimited glasses I had of Peach Raspberry Iced Tea and the Mango-Strawberry Iced Tea. (P150 for unlimited refills)
There’s a lot more we didn’t taste at the Olive Garden including pizzas, their stuffed ziti appetizer, and their desserts (tiramisu), so we will be back.
Olive Garden Manila is found at the 2nd level of the South Wing of SM Mall of Asia, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.