Manila’s 10 Best Desserts, 2007: Part 2
This is a list that I should be spinning out annually, really ”“ and I have ”“ except for 2006, which I missed out on. (My bad). After all, if I were asked to write the story of my life, it would be told in chapters of dessert: Chapter 1: “Butterscotch Pudding”; Chapter 2: “Chocolate Chip Cookies”; and so on. The current chapter in my life would be called “Chocolates and Cheesecake,” because those are precisely what comprise my most-loved desserts of the moment. On this list alone, there are three chocolate cakes and four cheesecakes. It sounds a bit repetitive initially, but you’ll see soon enough that they all deserve their individual places of merit on this list.
On this website, I speak for no one but myself, so the desserts here are my Top Ten, and not necessarily anybody or everybody else’s. The same desserts can’t please everybody, but they sure as heck have pleased me. Here, in no certain order, are Manila’s Best Desserts, 2007. For a look back, click here for Manila’s 10 Best Desserts, 2005.
1. Chocolata of Sweet Bella
I met Cristina Santiago-Rivera in the boxing ring at the gym, believe it or not. Like all fans of the sugar-obsessed, we began talking about dessert, and in between jabs and upper cuts, I found out that she’s the pastry chef and proprietor of Sweet Bella, a cakes and pastries company. As part of the family that owns Melo’s Steakhouse, Cristina parlayed her dessert expertise into the family restaurant melding classical desserts with innovative design.
Cristina’s Chocolata is the first of two of her desserts that are on this list. Yes, her sweets are that good. The description of her trademark Chocolata is simple enough: “Moist chocolate cake layered with rich chocolate ganache.” In reality, it’s a dense cake with resounding notes of chocolate that echo in every bite. It’s moist beyond belief without crossing the line to being gooey or underbaked. And that ganache, oh that ganache — that fills the spaces between layers and glazes the cake — never have I tasted anything quite like it: substantial but light at the same time, yet chewy and full-bodied.
2. Strawberry Charlotte of Sweet Bella
To say that Cristina Santiago-Rivera’s desserts are gorgeous is like saying that foie gras is just liver. Sweet Bella’s desserts are perhaps the apotheosis of edible beauty usually finished with a crown of sumptuous chocolate curls, or in the case of the Strawberry Charlotte, a cluster of imported strawberries sparkling in their lush fullness.
Unlike the traditional charlotte which is a sponge-lined pudding made in a mold, this is a torte of four nougatine layers interspersed with the fluffiest, most delicate cream sweetened with a light hand. A most majestic, luxurious dessert, this one will undoubtedly have family members fighting over every last piece, as mine did.
844-0680 / 844-9905 / 0928-5025027
1730 Banyan St.
DasmariÃ±as Village, Makati
3. Virginity of Sucrée
Its name is quite the attention-getter, yes? But I kid you not when I say that there’s a cake out there with that moniker. Sucrée is a café-bakery that specializes in cakes with lyrical labels such as Caramela and Melania Meringue along with all-time favorites such as the Oreo Cheesecake and the Orange Rum Bundt Cake. The café-bakery recently moved to their new digs on Scout Borromeo in Quezon City after a few years along nearby Times Street, and they’ve also expanded to another branch in Robinson’s Place Manila.
Anyway, the aforementioned Virginity is what I’d expect in a cake tagged with that appellation. It’s pristine in color — almost white actually, (virginal!) ”“ a sponge cake perfumed in vanilla caressed by the lightest layer of dulce de leche. Occasional bursts of macadamia praline add textural interest and keep the mouth enticed. Truly, while this cake is purely immaculate in looks, there’s nothing virginal about it in taste.
#19 Scout Borromeo, Quezon City
Open: Mon-Sat, 7am-9pm
4. White Chocolate Cheesecake of Apartment 1B
I’ve been to Apt. 1B more times than I care to count, and while I always order something new every time, I always have their White Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert. Sometimes, it’s my only reason for eating there, truth be told. A rather unassuming, squat piece of pie, the cheesecake sits off-center on a plate decorated with strawberry-puree hearts. That same “coulis” ”“ if you will””dots the top of the cheesecake that’s somewhat obscured from view by its peek-a-boo cloak of whipped cream.
What begins as a rather adequate cheesecake transforms into a treat that tantalizes once my teeth capture and crunch into the white chocolate chunks. Immediately recognizable as Toblerone white, the familiar flavor glides and rides upon the velvetiness of the cream cheese, turning up the vanilla note of the dessert. Touches of sweetness round out the harmony and then there’s that graham cracker crust that beguiles with its straightforwardness and substantial thickness.
Apartment 1B: Gourmet Comfort Food
One Lafayette Square
132 L.P. Leviste Corner Sedeno St
Salcedo Village, Makati
5. Chocolate Cake of Celine
It’s a somewhat strange but true fact in Manila that some of the best chocolate cakes are bought at gas stations. Shell Magallanes has Polly Garilao’s Chocolate Cake, and the Caltex at the corner of Buendia and Pasong Tamo has a chocolate cake made by someone I only know as “Celine.” I’ve never met this Celine nor do I even know how to order from her and what else she may sell, but I fondly call her cake the “Celine Cake.” This is the cake I buy when I’m feeling stingy but want an immediate, ultimately gratifying hit of chocolate.
That this cake is also sold at a gas station automatically invites comparisons to the Garilao cake, and both have their attributes. The Celine Cake is denser, with a more robust crumb, its swarthy chocolate frosting is fudgey and moist ”“ the type that sticks teasingly to the fork, dissolving only after a few insistent licks. But what I like most about this cake is it’s sheer lack of frippery: with fork in hand, I jump in and the flavor comes up to greet me. It’s a splurge of chocolate flavor that’s sweet and uncomplicated, a cake that satisfies on all levels, and icing that has just a glimmer of vanilla.
Chocolate Cake of Celine
Caltex at the corner of Buendia and Pasong Tamo, Makati.