Food I enjoy at the Makati Shangri-La, Traders Hotel, and Fairmont Makati.
Inagiku at Makati Shangri-La
There are restaurants that Iâ€™ve heard about over several years but have never been to. Inagiku is one of them, a Japanese restaurant of high esteem where my mom celebrates her birthday this month. During the weekends, a special buffet is offered and upon perusal, Iâ€™m pleased to see that itâ€™s tailor-fit for buffet-averse people like myself. Similar to Impressions, the spread is compact but of the utmost quality.
Care and consideration has been placed on design and food selection with a dominant theme faithful to the Japanese aesthetic. Eating is paced and pleasurable with no overloaded plates and obnoxious diners who act like animals at a feeding trough.
The teppanyaki beckons: the soft-shell crab is exceptional and the chefs are truly helpful. In another corner, the sukiyaki station sends out its siren song, steam rising from the cast iron pot as bewitching aromas fill the air. The soba set-up (above) is lovely too, islands of noodles floating on tatami mats or curled up in loosely formed balls. Sauces to mix and match and squares of quivering tofu for added protein, perhaps?
Attention given to sushi is so exacting here. I watch transfixed as a chef glazes sushi rolls with a sauce finished on the teppanyaki grill.
I taste and ponder many things but itâ€™s Inagikuâ€™s sushi selection that I feel is outstanding, the very best in Manila, quite likely. The chefs have outdone themselves, letting their imaginations run free, their creativity translated into constellations of contrasting textures and colors. Mounds of rice pitch-perfect in consistency and stickiness are where slivers of fish repose, their bodies dotted with jewels â€“ masago, in orange and black and smeared with seduction â€“ dabs of Japanese mayonnaise or a burnished teriyaki, glistening. Also, Inagikuâ€™s range of aburi sushi (plate above) knows no equal, topsides of fish kissed by heat, be it by flame or grilled. Levels of temperature too, warm and cool, and always, always the taste of more.
To be lifted so high and then to see whatâ€™s for dessert is an abrupt let-down. Iâ€™ll grant that dessert is an afterthought here, with all energy devoted to the mains, but dessert is so uncharacteristically dismal especially for a restaurant of this caliber. Petit fours and forever-there-flourless somethings, and cotton candy â€“ itâ€™s amusing but unappealing. Thereâ€™s the teppanyaki ice cream (above): quite the novelty that is best savored visually and in the mind because once itâ€™s in my mouth, I feel like Iâ€™m biting down on a large and soft wedge of ube-flavored cheese. Um, no.
Of course if youâ€™re a mistress to dessert the way I am, this is inevitably going to be disappointing but thank goodness for my sister who frequents Inagiku. She asks our server if there are other ice cream flavors available. Yes, there are, though it seems to be the case of â€śonly those in the know, ask.â€ť The Green Tea, Red Bean, and Black Bean ice creams hit my yet-to-be-satiated sweet spot and Iâ€™m appeased.
2/F Makati Shangri-La
Ayala Ave corner Makati Ave, Makati
Lunch buffet on Saturday & Sunday
(02) 840 0884 / 813 8888
Coffee.com at Traders Hotel
Finding this place is purely the product of my Sunday morning ritual with my Bin. Frankly, I wouldâ€™ve passed this hotel by but stop we do because growing up, Iâ€™d always hear my dad talk about the many meetings he had here. On closer inspection, the hotel does strike one as very business-like.
Adjacent to the hotelâ€™s entrance is its rather arbitrarily-named coffee shop, Coffee.com. A 24/7 place that bills itself as a cyber cafĂ© (but looks like a gentlemanâ€™s book club) with the equally random slogan, â€śâ€¦your meeting placeâ€ť [ellipses theirs], it almost seems like a joke. BUT thereâ€™s one thing that catches my eye in the cafĂ©â€™s display window: Ensaymada Cake.
As Iâ€™m about to discover, if thereâ€™s anything better than an ensaymada itâ€™s an ensaymada cake. Nine inches wide and almost three and a half inches high, it sits regally, almost like a turban on a throne. I ask for a slice and am told that only whole cakes are served. Now, I have no problem being served and demolishing an entire cake in one sitting, but I try my very hardest to show restraint. And when I find out that an entire cake is only P199.00, bring it on, already!
Trader Hotelâ€™s Ensaymada Cake is what it says it is: a big â€“ no, make that an enormous ensaymada. Properly buttery â€“ as opposed to a bread dough brushed with butter â€“ its expansive coils conceal caches of macapuno chunks and ube paste. I ask that a slice be warmed and when it comes to the table with my cup of coffee, itâ€™s all I can do not to bury my nose in its fragrant folds. Not too sweet, every forkful is pillow-soft and punctuated with a tumble of shredded cheddar cheese, not queso de bola. Itâ€™s too good and we ask for another slice.
Muffins (P53) here are huge too, almost as tall as my coffee cup! And they taste good too (the muffins, not the cups).
At P199, the Ensaymada Cake is cheaper than most cakes I know, with ten times more â€śwowâ€ť factor. And oh yes, Coffee.com also has a terrific Chicken Salad sandwich (P110) with paper-thin slices of cucumber and lashes of paprika.
Lobby Level, Traders Hotel
3001 Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City,
(02) 708 4888 ext. 2939
Spectrum at the Fairmont Makati
The dinner crowd at Spectrum is animated. Jostling for space at the various food stations, theyâ€™re snazzily dressed and trying to maintain their composure while balancing stacked plates. The restaurantâ€™s lighting is amber, and suffused in its glow, everyone looks attractive.
My Bin and I are here with friends just for dessert, but the main buffet fascinates: I spy a pork pie and the oven-fired pizzas are replete with swirls of salmon strips and thick chunks of white cheese. An apiary of sorts â€“ yes, with real live bees, enclosed of course – is the star of the selection of honeys, but tonight, I only have eyes for dessert.
This evening, my friend and pastry chef, Miko Aspiras, is taking care of us. His domain is a wonderland of colors and steel, high-powered ovens calibrated to finish a la minute procedures to ensure a stunning finish.
The dessert station is divided into sections. On the left is the Mango Station, and thereâ€™s a sign that says so. Hereâ€™s the golden fruit in all its persuasions: I like the tiny sago with mango chunks and coconut milk chilled with pandan-flavored crushed ice, the mango crĂ¨me brĂ»lĂ©e, and the whimsical mango-Q, complete with grill marks.
On to other fascinations, I eat the bread pudding with murmurs of appreciation and keep a ramekin of crĂ¨me anglaise beside me to further glaze each forkful. I want to take the entire pitcher of custard sauce to my table, but as I said, I do so try to show restraint in public.
When you dine at Spectrum, please donâ€™t miss the crepes. I tend to overlook these limp discs, but Chef Miko makes me see them otherwise. â€śWe do them in the real French manner here,â€ť he explains as he deftly flips a crepe over and proceeds to demonstrate. Impeccably cooked, each one is lavished with pastry cream and then folded. Oneâ€™s desired topping is then set atop the now finished vision of glory and draped ceremoniously with oneâ€™s choice of sauce (and ice cream too, if you wish). Every forkful is a series of flavor impressions â€“ sauce, cream, fruit finished with that ethereal crepe. Mmm.
â€ťWe had some fresh peaches so I made these for you,â€ť Chef Miko tells me. Folds of warm puff pastry enclose peach slices close to its heart as pastry cream cloaks every crevice. Scoops of house-made ice cream to eat it with: vanilla bean and toffee.
â€śA tasting for your table,â€ť Chef Miko announces as he sets down a pizza peel with flourish. A striking spectacle it is indeed of macarons, the fuchsia one is my favorite, ensconcing a queso de bola buttercream. Atop are mini cannoli, their shells so transparent theyâ€™re almost like candy brittle. The absolute stars here and a revelation for me aside from the crepes, are the pate de fruit (pat de FWEE), crafted fruit jellies made from the finest fruit purees and sanded with sugar. Think: gummy candies for adults. The orange jelly is a robust burst of passion fruit, and the purple one, a riveting reverie of raspberry. Radiating a synergy larger than the sum of its parts, I look at this photo and bemoan that I donâ€™t eat more.
Another visit is in order, then.
1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue, Makati
(02) 555 9888