Some terrific things to eat this holiday season.
Bowls of black bliss at Ramen Nagi
It’s like a wish come true and granted at Christmas at that. Ramen Nagi opens today, December 16, in Manila.
More popularly known to Filipinos as Butao, the home of the Black King ramen (above), Ramen Nagi is its original name; it’s only known as Butao in Hong Kong, which is where I first try it.
On principle, I don’t usually accept restaurant invitations, but I had to make an exception for Ramen Nagi, so taken am I with it. The fifth country to welcome the revered ramen brand of Ramen Master Satoshi Ikuta after Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Indonesia, I’m thrilled to say that the local counterpart is a faithful, if not identical version of the original. The group that brought in Ramen Nagi was meticulous in their preparations: procuring the ingredients needed to produce the piquant broth, adjusting the alkalinity of the water to ensure the necessary tensile strength of the millimeter-thin noodles, etc.
Thus, expect nothing less but a bowl that will stir your senses, from customizing the Omotenashi sheet where customers opt for taste, sauce, garnish add-ins, noodle firmness, etc. Relish and revel in Ramen Nagi’s stellar selection of Butao (photo above), its creamy tonkotsu broth compels; while the Red King scintillates in spice topped with a fireball of miso-minced pork spiked with cayenne pepper. The Green King succeeds exceedingly in its fusing of Japanese and Italian, melding pesto, cheese, and olive oil. Finally, the boss of all bowls, the Black King, an electrifying synergy of sensations. Bask in it and believe. Read my description of it here.
5/F SM Aura Premier
Second store opening soon at SM Mall of Asia.
Hot Chocolate at Paul
It’s been an interminable wait for Manila’s first Paul Bakery, but everything feels too small for size. The tables (too many of them) are pushed up flush to the walls and should I want to get out of my chair, I have to tap the shoulder of the woman sitting behind me so that she can push her chair in. The menu, temptingly laid out, teases but fails on follow through as alas, not many items are available yet. The breads and vienoisserie (baked goods made from puff pastry) look somewhat petrified, as if they’re not yet ready to be displayed.
If there’s one thing I insist you have at Paul however, it’s the Chocolat Viennois (P185). Fancy name aside, this is hot chocolate with a spritz of whipped cream. Sans the fluffy top, it’s called Chocolat Chaud Paul (P180) but the former is better. (Both pictured).
To my absolute delight, this hot chocolate is just as good as the one I sipped on at the Paul Bakery in London. Deceptively simple – it’s just melted chocolate and cocoa powder and water, for god’s sake – but it’s sophisticated and smoky and satiates unbelievably. Fluid enough to be sipped not spooned, it’s only slightly sweet.
If When you order the drink with whipped cream, don’t stir it in. Rather, sip the hot chocolate through the cloud of sweet white. The cream smoothens the chocolate’s bravado, leaving you to literally hum in satisfaction. If you want something on the side, order the Éclair Framboises (raspberry éclair; P200). I don’t really fancy eclairs, but I’m fascinated to know that in French, éclair means “flash of lightning,” a supposed reference to the speed at which it’s consumed. And yes, the éclair at Paul really is lightning-good.
Upper Ground Floor, SM Aura Premier
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
(02) 777 7888 / 808 5324
Basket of bread at Hatch 22
Because breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I love all of Manila’s bakery-cafés … with a few exceptions. Any establishment that has the bravado to start their engines early to serve early birds like myself gets my respect.
I’ve been to Hatch 22 three times and I’m enjoying my exploration of their menu. A constant refrain on every visit is the Basket, a bread basket of which there are, ostensibly, three variations on the menu (P220-P250). I find that the items never truly hew to the menu description so it’s a marvelous, yeasty mishmash every time. The butters change constantly too, everything from cinnamon to apple, but the honey is always there, served in a mini jar and so charming.
From lower left and clockwise: Sticky Bun, Pan de Month, Spanish Bread, Cheese Pimiento, Walnut Cookie, Muffin Top.
My favorites from this bevy of bread include the Sticky Bun, so sticky it shuts my teeth down tight; and the Spanish Bread. Frankly, I’m alarmed at how attached I’ve become to this roll. Ensconced within is the customary filling of sugar, butter, bread crumbs, condensed milk, etc., and its glossy rub-down is thanks to a condensed milk sheen. In the morning light it glistens and gloats, “bite me.” With a cup of strong black coffee beside me, I do so, gladly.
Hatch 22 Bakery & Cafe
G/F Power Plant Mall, Rockwell (situated on the former spot of Crustasia).
Open daily 7am onwards.