My Favorites At Escolta Restaurant, Plus The Peninsula’s New Cupcakes

It’s a short list but these are exceptional, my favorites from the buffet at the Peninsula Manila’s Escolta restaurant.

I’m not a fan of buffets or, as they’re called now, interactive food stations, which is why I probably haven’t been to Escolta at the Peninsula Manila since it opened quite some time ago. A special family occasion warranted my initial visit there and it makes such an impression that I’m back two weeks later.

What I like about the buffet at Escolta is that it’s small and contained unlike other buffets that stun and stupefy me with choice. I have my favorites in this buffet, dishes I feel are executed especially well.

Lechon kawali
Tops on my list is the lechon kawali, something that most people don’t seem to know about because it’s tucked away in a corner. What hooks my attention is the hunk of meat hanging from a hook, an almost-burnished amber, its sheen highlighted by a layer of oil. What absolutely mesmerizes is the meat’s pocked skin: blistered beautifully, its bubbles bespeak of high heat, hot fat, and a thunderous crunch.

Which is literally what’s heard by my dinner companions upon first bite. “What the?!” Someone exclaims, situated too far from me to see what I’m eating. When teeth hit skin, there’s a resounding crrrack! as it shatters, and then a release of oil gushing onto the tongue, followed by a current of creamy fat. God, but it tastes good! It wobbles then melts as does my willpower. There’s some meat clinging to the fat but it’s almost secondary for someone like me who fancies fat and is out and proud about it.

On succeeding visits unfortunately, the lechon kawali isn’t always as “thunderous” as I’d like it to be. When that happens, I ask the chef to re-fry it for me.

The placard misleadingly reads, “pork longganisa wrapped in bacon.” It is, instead, a sausage commonly found in the local European delis — I’d even venture to say it’s the Cervelat variety. Whatever it is, it’s a good meaty sausage embraced by a thick strand of bacon and really, what doesn’t benefit from bacon?

Snickers ice cream (Escolta’s entire ice cream line, really)
The Peninsula serves some of the best ice cream locally but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, and Escolta’s ice cream selection shows it off exceptionally.

My favorite is the ube (purple yam), a tuber whose flavor is distinctive not assertive but when married with cream and sugar, assumes intense flavor notes entirely its own. I love this. Ube is always available but my other favorite, Snickers, is not so I tend to consume massive quantities of it when it’s there. A landscape of light tan is lashed with striations of dulce de leche, and somewhere, shrouded in the swirls of the scoop, are surprises of chopped peanuts. This is one of those flavors that I sit and slowly savor, giving new meaning to the term, revel in a reverie.

Photo courtesy of the Peninsula Manila.

King Oscar Cake

This is another item that isn’t on frequent cycle in the Escolta buffet but it should be. The King Oscar cake possesses a meringue crust similar to a sansrival but instead of sheets, it’s crushed up and a cohesive whole forms because of its high sugar content. Then a layer of custard reminiscent of yema is spread on, glistening stickily. A repeat of the meringue-yema layering, and then the masterpiece is enshrouded in a veneer of sliced almonds in varying hues of tan and taupe.

Eating a King Oscar is a fever dream for people like me who are thrilled by texture: the crunchy coarseness of the crust followed by smears of custard made gratifying with grits of sugar, and then those sliced almonds that fall onto the tongue like raindrops pattering on a window. So disarmed am I by this cake that when I’m told it’s a 35-year old classic of the Peninsula, I truly lament all the decades (!) I’ve been without it. I must make up for lost time. Immediately.

Escolta at theThe Peninsula Manila
Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, Makati
887.2888 / 810.3456

The Peninsula’s new cupcakes

I must admit that I’m surprised when I see cupcakes at the Peninsula Boutique. Charming little things, they’ve become so commonplace but I certainly don’t expect to find them in a hotel. Still, the appeal of these cakes is their immense canvas for creativity and who doesn’t want a cake all to themselves? What’s important to remember about the Peninsula’s cupcakes is that the term “cupcake” is loosely used. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

There are five flavors to choose from, each different and anointed with a clever moniker. The Pecan Tart (yes, that’s the name) reminds me of a moist rum cake or even a coffeecake laced with a caramel glaze and strewn with roasted pecans.

Li’l Miss Peanut Butter (such a cute name!) and Cookies & Cream are my favorites and – as I’m told – everyone else’s. My mouth sinks into the pillow-softness of a peanut butter-flavored sponge cake, the cushion on which sits a swirl of cream cheese icing. And because we can’t forget who’s boss, a peanut butter cup chunk holds steady, lording over it all. The Cookies & Cream is a cheesecake in cupcake form. A chocolate cookie (no, it’s not an Oreo) crust cossets an intensely creamy cream cheese batter awash in fragrances of vanilla and sugar. Crowning this creation is a thick swath of cream cheese frosting and a duo of chocolate cookies balancing precariously – careful! One move and they might topple from the deliciousness of what they decorate.

From bottom and clockwise: Chocoholic, Pecan Tart, Cookies & Cream, Li’l Miss Peanut Butter.

I haven’t tried the Strawberry Filled cupcake but I’ll tell you that I can’t recommend the Chocoholic. It’s a rather dry and depressed chocolate sponge cake which is a pity, because the chocolate frosting that crowns the top is rich and lush, worthy of a true chocoholic.

P75++ each.
Cupcakes available only at The Peninsula Boutique.
Open daily, 7am-9pm.
887.2888 Ext. 6769 / 6771

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