When it comes to a businesswoman’s/businessman’s lunch, pace (it’s got to be snappy) and space (ambiance conducive to conversation) are ideal. Value is, inherently, the bottom line.
The Peninsula Manila’s Old Manila has launched a Rib-Eye Lunch Buffet ”“ four words that induce gasps and glassy-eyed visions of slabs of meat with fat that shimmers like Queen Nefertiti’s crown. I’m tantalized with a carnivorous greed that borders on the pornographic. Because it’s billed as a Businessman’s Lunch, the buffet is lean, a stark contrast to its counterparts that are paeans to excess. An adequate amount of appetizers and starches are supporting players to the star that is the beef.
I consider a starter plate of smoked salmon spiked with spicy mustard and caper berries; a salad of mesclun and bitter arugula; two types of cold salads ”“ potato and pasta, the latter boasts large chunks of the tuber. Generous lashings of freshly cracked black pepper, salt, and some cream of white asparagus soup. The soup is a bit salty today but I taste the fineness of the white vegetable and cream. Ah! My stomach is now properly primed and lined.
A waiter asks me and my two dining (working) companions how we’d like our steak done: medium for them, medium-rare for me. While waiting, I pick up a plate of cheese and what appear to be oversized raisins. “They’re Muscats,” my friend tells me, picking one up from the lot and nibbling on it. Known as a dessert grape, Muscats are a special variety selected for eating raw and also for making into wine. I pop one into my mouth and bite, jolted momentarily by the hard crunch I hear. There’s a pit in each Muscat so after the initial surprise, I pick up each one and nibble around the offending seed. It pairs well with the pumpernickel bread, its coarseness a good foil for the sweet Muscat followed by a bite of triple-cream brie.
It takes much longer than I expect for our steaks to arrive, but boy, are they a sight to behold when they finally do. The meats are a canvass for the expertly-crafted grill marks crisscrossing their surfaces. This is chilled (never frozen) US Angus Beef that tantalizes with promises of oozing juices, its meaty magnificence trembling at the threshold of bovine greatness.
I take a bite. And then I die a tiny, wordless death. The meat’s been cooked to medium-well, cavorting dangerously in the neighborhood of well-done, a far jump from my preferred (and pre-stated) medium-rare. I take another bite to confirm but I know it to be an irrelevant effort. I voice my disappointment to my companions and while one agrees with me, the other is just too titillated with the idea of all the steak he can eat that he can’t care less how it’s cooked. Because the buffet encourages repeat visits, we ask a server to bring us another slice of steak — just a small one, yes ”“ and this time, cooked to a true medium-rare, please.
Just like the first round, the second steak takes between 10-15 minutes to be served. I wonder why it takes this long since I see the chef slice some almost immediately. And it comes to table lukewarm meaning that it’s been given ample time ”“ perhaps too much time — to rest. Still, this second cut is more moist but not red enough for me. Hell, maybe I’m just a cannibal, in which case I should tell the chef: “Just lightly seared on both sides please, and if it doesn’t moo, then it’s overcooked.”
We finish the meal French style, that is, with cheese and fruit. The hotel’s Executive chef, Adam Mathis, who knows only too well my devotion to dessert sends out a special plate each for me and my friends: a dessert selection of five personal-sized sweets: (photo above, clockwise): white chocolate ice cream in a tuile cup, chocolate ravioli, chocolate parfait, a warm flourless chocolate cake sporting a mint sprig, and a chocolate rum ball with the surprise addition of chopped almonds and raisins.
Note: This dessert plate is not on the menu, but do tell the chef if you’d like to order one.
The Peninsula Manila is one of the few hotels that I have quite a connection with, both personally and professionally. It was witness to more than a few of my dates in high school and college when sweet nothings whispered in my ear meant more to me than sugar. The Lobby was also the place where my Bin and I had our first date ”“ you could say I sealed his fate with the Choco Loco. Heh. In 2001, I wrote a piece about one of The Peninsula’s restaurants, Old Manila, which incidentally, is the restaurant I’m eating in today.
This is a gorgeous place basked in warm light that makes all the diners look lovely. Equally dazzling is the main mural done by renowned Filipino artist, Impy Pilapil — a glass relief fused with hand-blown glass pebbles and rippled etchings. Adorning the walls are large canvasses with bursts of bright colors, and in unexpected corners, hand-blown sculptures made of white marble and glass imbued with vibrant hues.
I love Old Manila and have never had a bad meal here so I know that the lackluster one I have today is just that ”“ it lacks luster, but only for today. Criticism isn’t constructive unless it’s shared with someone who can do something about it, so I ask for Chef Adam. We talk as my two friends stare aghast at my white chocolate melting into a puddle. Right now it doesn’t matter; as I always say, take responsibility for your dining experience. Speak up if something’s not right.
I’m going back to Old Manila again next week for the Rib-Eye Lunch Buffet. I’m confident that it won’t be anything less than stellar. You can’t keep meat eater me from a good piece of meat.
Rib-Eye Lunch Buffet at Old Manila
P1,600++ (full buffet)
P950++ (appetizer buffet)
Monday-Friday, 11:30am ”“ 2:00pm
The Peninsula Manila
Corner of Makati and Ayala Avenues, Makati
For reservations and inquiries, call 887-2888 ext. 6748/6749