Yes, I know the year is only two months old but this dessert has me at “Happy Birthday.” Among other things.
The Fireplace has been my Holy Grail of restaurants for the past three years. I’ve always wanted to go but its location (bowels of Manila) and the price (about P5000/head) always gave me pause. But when my birthday came around, I said to hell with it! and went.
The Fireplace is so named because of its open kitchen, its centerpiece – the gleaming wood-fired oven that seems to lord over the guests. Beech Ovens Australia trumpets the shining plaque. The chefs tell me that the oven is powered by a combination of wood and gas, with the center housing the grill. It’s a truly impressive set-up.
There’s everything to love about this restaurant, it draws me in, assuring me that my expectations will be met; and on my birthday, they’re especially sky-high. Dark wood, brass paneling, smartly-attired servers with impeccable serving skills – I’m all set.
- The Fireplace’s house bread, an excellent sourdough with a tomato confit dip
People who have told me about The Fireplace insist that I must order the Millionaire’s Salad (P1,200) of which Lolo Dad’s Bistro serves a similar version. It’s so named because the ingredients that compose it are all luxe, thus only the moneyed being able to afford it. A mélange of microgreens are served in an organized tousle, anointed in a pleasingly piquant raspberry vinaigrette. The berry’s essence seems to have been distilled so expertly that it’s almost like the fruit itself is in my mouth, bolstered with a spot of vinegar and olive oil. Naturally, my Bin and I equally “divide the wealth,” that is, the prawns (in lieu of lobsters, I suppose), a slab of foie gras, slices of Portobello, and scallop rounds. With the exception of the mushroom, I feel that the “moneyed set” have all been slightly overcooked, a touch too chewy are they. It doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the salad however. Perhaps the salad on my next visit will be better.
My Bin has an inordinate love for French onion soup, something he ate incessantly when we were in Paris. It’s something he orders whenever he sees it on the menu and The Fireplace’s version (P378) has him purring in pleasure. It’s a sizable serving this soup, its receptacle that of heavy ceramic and equally impressive depth, both literally and figuratively. Gruyere cheese clings tenaciously to our spoons as we dig through the fragrant murkiness created by beef broth and caramelized onions, twin products of patience and skill. The soup is sweet, its bready cover is soft. Satisfying sustenance.
For everyone who’s ever shared a meal with me, there’s no doubt that I’m a meat-and-potatoes girl. I prefer the machismo of meat to so-called “she-food” (seafood). Whether it’s poultry, pork, lamb, and especially beef, meat is my thing. The Fireplace specializes in quality meat cuts, either US Angus meat or Tajima Wagyu from Australia. My Bin and I decide to depart from our usual rib-eye and go for the US Angus T-bone (P3,100). A steakhouse favorite, this cut is said to have the best of both worlds as it has portions of both the tenderloin and the striploin. It’s a weighty 25-ounces this steak, and a little over one inch thick. It’s manly and frankly assertive with a haunting smokiness begotten only through a union of wood and searing heat. The tiny T-shaped bone is a demarcation of sorts – one side has the tenderloin, tender but subtle; the other is the Striploin State, slightly chewy, infinitely succulent, it incites voluptuous imaginings to fill my mind as I eat my meat.
The side dishes that come with a steak aren’t merely decoration; they have purpose and I choose them deliberately. Meant to alleviate satiety, they provide a counterpoint. Tonight, there’s a potato gratin, thin slices of the tuber baked just ‘til opaque then cosseted in an exceptional mouth-coating béchamel. Creamed spinach (P220), neither freighted with cream or fibrous stalks, is comforting and crave-worthy. The mushroom risotto (P700) is – surprise – made with long-grained rice. It has a delicate creaminess that abounds where Parmesan shavings tiptoe around and asparagus stalks lay claim to a kingdom also inhabited by portobellos and button mushrooms.
Because it’s my birthday, the hotel’s Executive Chef, Josef Miklavc, comes out to see me. Amiable and easy to talk to, his eyes twinkle when he says, “I’ve got a dessert platter for you.” I feel my own eyes start to sparkle. “Oh, but I hope that includes the Chocolate Soup,” I interject with a big smile. “And you shall have that too,” Chef Josef replies before he swoops back into the kitchen.
As I wait, I nurse my glass of red, a Chateau Lamartine 2007. It’s ripe with a slightly round palate and undertones of plum. It’s making me feel very mellow. An attraction of The Fireplace is its wine library replete with over 800 vintage wines that someone more knowledgeable than I can truly appreciate.
The dessert platter appears, a fleet of fantasies fulfilled in one fell swoop. Strawberry tarts, a cheesecake prim and proper and not too sweet, on which is propped a quenelle of cream and a chocolate cigarette. Then there’s what I call the heart-shaped “choco mallow.” It’s a thin layer of sponge cake hoisting twin mousses – dark and white and enshrouded in a chocolate cover that’s been sprayed on, making for a crackly exterior. Its dark heart has been poured on, the center of which lies a golden pulse. It arrests me.
But my heart – my own heart – has been changed by the Chocolate Soup (P370). A dessert with a cult following, it’s like eating chocolate cake batter. Its crusty edges belie a melting pool, a concentration of chocolate and sugar and cream, a vehicle of vivid flavors, all smoke and sweet. This is a hot dessert with a whip-cold clash of cream, not at all demurely luscious, just an all-out, revved-up takedown. I feel a twinge in the back of my neck. That must be where my self-restraint resides, and that too has flown out the window. I want to soak in this soup.
5/F Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila
1588 Pedro Gil St. corner M.H. Del Pilar St., Malate, Manila