Mangetsu is currently my favorite Japanese restaurant, and the fact that I can walk over from my office has nothing to do with it. That everything always tastes so fresh here is not lost on me nor is the high number of Japanese nationals eating here who always seem to be ushered upstairs to some secret chamber I assume, with a password necessary to enter.
The Nama Uni Sashimi (not pictured; P345) is something I like to slurp and savor (yeah, sounds crass, no?) but the Spicy Tuna Sashimi (above; P380) is a star starter. Sushi-grade tuna is slathered in a startlingly roe-orange sauce, the product of Japanese mayonnaise, high quality soy sauce, and what my research reveals to be Sriracha hot sauce and a suggestion of sesame oil. Thickly-sliced chunks are soft and cool to the mouth, obscene in texture and creamy-spicy, and then ooh, a hit of yuzu at the tail-end. A sip of hot rice tea to reboot, catch my breath, and start again.
The Unagi-don / Una-don isn’t on the menu but I urge you to order it. Freshwater eel is briefly steamed and then dipped in a light soy-based sauce before being grilled. The cooked fillets are then lovingly laid on a bed of hot, short-grain rice then brushed with a (usually secret) sauce, a combination of mirin and soy sauce simmered with the unagi head and bones. Scintillating, slippery and succulent, at times, sweet on smoky too, and oh mercy, how that fatty belly slays me!
I believe that Mangetsu serves the best unagi-don in Manila. It’s apparently so esteemed that every order is personally served by the assistant to the Japanese master sushi chef. The bowl is ceremoniously placed on the table along with a bottle of kona-zansh?, a Japanese pepper powder which is the standard spice for sprinkling on this dish.
A caveat: the Unagi-don is P1,600 per serving. Whenever I order this, the server will approach my table at least twice to confirm that this is what I want. I suppose this is because there are other (lesser) unagi items on the menu – temaki sushi, nigiri sushi, fillets (no rice), etc. But I patiently smile and nod in assent and anticipation.
This restaurant takes its cue from the Italian word for circle: cerchio, thus the corresponding and clever design elements in interiors and table. This is a very large restaurant with the second floor most fitting for private parties. Cerchio is a sister establishment of Romulo’s and Relish, and of the three I like this one best. I can’t quite tell you how to pronounce its name, however. I say “ser-SHYO”; I’ve heard others say “ser-KYO”; and my mom says “sergio” (!)
Whatever the pronunciation, a quick scan of the menu makes evident that there’s an evident flirtation with fusion going on here, some Filipino and Italian with a sprinkling of Mediterranean. I seem to always end up coming here with my mom and she prefers Filipino food, so that’s what we have.
Grilled Shrimp Salad with Pomelo (P250) is easy on the eyes and an easy salad to love. Mango chunks and pomelo segments gambol in a garden of greens as a cluster of tail-on shrimp keep close watch. A thick dressing with zip and zing keeps me eating and wishing that all salads could be as delicious as this.
At Cerchio, every table orders the Singaporean Crispy Squid Heads (P180). They look more like oversized dilis to me but the appeal of this finger food is undeniable. Its tremendous crunch is what keeps ‘em coming back coupled with a sweet-salty synergy. “Here Lori, try some of the squid heads on your [pomelo] salad,“ Mom says as she spoons a few onto my plate. Turns out it’s a terrific twist, try it when you’re over here.
Though my mom is a health nut, the Kapampangan in her won’t say no to a good sisig. Cerchio’s Pork Sisig (P230) is imaginatively presented (and portioned out!). The sisig is barely crispy, a touch creamy, and thoroughly “more-ish.” Each mound is topped with a fried quail egg cooked just ‘til opaque. Pierce lightly and witness the fluid fall.
The Long Bar at Raffles Makati & The Fairmont Lounge
I’m not much for hard drinks but I do adore having cocktails and wine. Good times I have at The Blind Pig, Exit Bar, Salon de Ning, Las Flores, Draft, and Barcino. My only gripe is that these watering holes are just so damn dark that it’s almost impossible to take decent pictures.
When I’m at bars, I’m attracted to the drinks’ descriptions because they read like exotica to me. At the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, I relish its proprietary concoction, the Classic Singapore Sling (above on the right; P380), and its ingredients are no less tantalizing: Bombay Sapphire, Cherry Heering, Cointreau, lemon and pineapple, Angostura Bitters, and “a whisper of Benedictine.” Mango Ginger Lemonade (above, left; P300) suits my best friend, Bal, just fine since he avoids all alcohol.
The Long Bar’s classy air of dark wood and old-world sophistication is lent a colonial vibe by – look up – the swinging ceiling fans. It’s customary here to nibble on peanuts and fling the shells to the floor but my neatnik nature doesn’t allow it. Better to lay all cares onto the Long Bar Cheese (P500 / P700; small / large), a cheese board accompanied with grapes, a baguette (we order another one), and apricot confit. I’m told that the chili and tamarind rubbed pork rinds are absolutely devilish here but tonight I don’t feel like crunching through my conversation.
Naturally, après cocktails, we need dessert, so Bal and I amble over to the Fairmont Lounge. Spectrum is already closed but we’re told we can order from Café Macaron.
I’ll just say this. Sometimes, it’s not the sweets that matter nor the oddly entertaining teapot that reflects my image on its gilded girth. What does matter is that I’m able to cherish time spent with a treasured friend where our laughter is absorbed by the luxurious surroundings and our every request is responded to with an assured, “Certainly.”
I imagine that there’s nothing more wicked than mainlining molten cheese straight into the mouth by the spoonful. Yet, I believe that my imaginings should be brought to life, including the cheesy ones. Old Swiss Inn’s cheese fondue has me bubbling with glee and now, so does Achiote’s Queso Fundido (P225).
I’m a manic Mexican food fan having grown up on this cuisine, so it puzzles me why more Filipinos don’t like it as much. Even my Bin isn’t a fan. But he’s married to me and has no choice so when I yearn for Mexican and melted cheese, off to Achiote we go.
The burritos and enchiladas here are massive and pleasing as are the margaritas. But they’re supporting players to the star which is the queso fundido. There are four variants: Verde, Chorizo, Mushroom, and Just Queso, which is my choice. A combination of Mexican cheddar and goat cheese, it’s fired until it reaches its apex of amber doneness, then it’s served hot with swirls of a roasted pepper vinaigrette. Viewed from above, it’s like a Pollock-esque postcard of desires made edible.
Truth be told, the flavor of the cheese alone is somewhat bland, not even all that salty. But when spooned onto a chip, stringy strands holding onto it for dear life, and piled on with fresh guacamole and a chipotle salsa, bland becomes bedazzling.
Yeah, yeah it’s “just pancakes,” and IHOP is like, so ordinary in the States, and so they say. But hey, breakfast is a big deal for me so I have to try it.
My Bin and I come here on a weekday because it’s impossible at any other time, especially on weekends. Having been to an IHOP in the States, I’m surprised to find that its Manila counterpart is satisfyingly similar. I like that the black coffee comes in a carafe and is, believe it or not, more than decent.
The regular “undressed” pancakes taste a little too floury and from-the-box for me, so I’ve gotten quite attached to the Cinn-A-Stack Pancakes (P235). They taste like one big cinnamon roll tethered together with a gloriously gloppy cinnamon-sticky filling and cream cheese frosting. I quite like the cinnamon fire that lights up in my throat afterwards.
One thing I like about these foreign chains is that they offer food not commonly available. Take biscuits, for instance, a bready bonanza that I love unabashedly and bake quite often at home. IHOP’s Biscuits and Gravy Combo (P295) is served up the way it’s done in the southern US, smothered in gravy. Yeah, it’s reconstituted Campbell’s probably, but I’m grateful to be eating biscuits that I myself didn’t have to make. The sausages that come with the biscuits aren’t bad either.
And oh, one last thing. IHOP is probably the only place where I get nostalgic pigging out on hash browns and fried eggs suffocated in ketchup. It reminds me of how I used to eat as a kid, and how much I miss eating with such little restraint.
Addresses of establishments mentioned:
38 Jupiter St.
Bel-Air Village, Makati
(02) 478 3292
76 Sct Limbaga
South Triangle, Quezon City
(02) 355 0998
1 Raffles Drive
Makati Avenue, Makati
(02) 555 9840
G/F Power Plant Mall
Lopez Drive, Poblacion, Makati
(02) 822 1242
W Global Center, 30th St corner 9th Ave
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
(02) 687 5611