By Chris Dwyer
Jul 26, 2022
DAZZLINGLY DELICIOUS, endlessly inventive and always surprising, dishes from Manila’s chefs wow even the most jaded of palates. That’s thanks in large part to their embrace of brilliant, often unfamiliar native ingredients and age-old techniques. But don’t forget to add beautiful plating, world-class global culinary experience, brilliant service and endless passion and pride into the mix. You might dream of honeymooning castaway in idyllic Palawan, but when the occasion of, say, your anniversary rolls around, dinner at an atmospheric Manila restaurant provides its own special kind of romance.
While historically the country’s food has rarely had the global respect it deserves, the past decade or so has changed that greatly, with the first Michelin star recently being awarded to a contemporary Filipino restaurant in Chicago, Kasama.
These six fine-dining restaurants in the actual Philippines are sure-fire winners, so book your flights to Manila, book the tables, and kain na! (let’s eat!)
Old-school hip hop classics like A Tribe Called Quest’s Can I Kick It? provide the soundtrack at Toyo, a spot that has remained one of the Philippines’ most exciting places to eat since opening in 2017. The young team clad all in black busy themselves in the open kitchen as woks are fired up, produce is fermented and pickled and smoke reminds diners that flame is a key ingredient in their brilliant tasting menus.
Chef-owner Jordy Navarra says of his nation’s cuisine that: “We need to get our food culture understood and respected by our own people as well as those around the world.” He is leading the charge in making that happen on both fronts, winning global critical acclaim from Asia’s 50 Best and others. Dining here is a lesson in the Philippines’ incredible native produce and techniques, such as a sensational bowl of rice porridge called lugaw, made with creamy crab roe and burnt squash called kalabaza with coconut vinegar. A must-visit.
Courtesy of Metiz (2)
At an extremely fair U$75 per head, the tasting menu at Metiz in Makati sees chef Stephan Duhesme and team work their magic across a succession of breathtakingly inventive and tasty courses. From a Filipino-French family, Duhesme worked for years in the Colombian capital of Bogota, so has a truly global palate.
A refreshing welcome sets the mood with papaya, mangosteen sorbet, tamarillo, pineapple, cucumber and kombucha, a brilliant reminder of how fermenting and pickling are critical techniques in the Philippines. Then lumpia, the local take on spring rolls, bring together tofu and fermented mangosteen with a funked-up mushroom sauce. For desserts, a combination of ubod, saba, gatas and bilo may be unfamiliar, but what arrives is a fabulous mix of ice cream, condensed milk, caramel and heart of palm.
Since opening in 2019, chef de cuisine Miko Calo has made modern French spot Metronome run just as smoothly as its name suggests. Her lightness of touch but focus on flavor runs throughout the elegant restaurant, whether you’re eating in the bar, main dining room or their private dining room. You can choose from small plates and mains à la carte, but if it’s a special occasion, definitely go for their multi-course Discovery Set, a great expression of the work this restaurant has been doing to stand out in Manila.
It starts with a bite of a beautiful foie gras tart with tamarind and hazelnut, before flawless takes on sunchokes, served both as a gratin and a purée, bought together in a cream with truffle and Comté cheese. A main of Iberico pork came under a lovely ginger barbecue glaze, alongside spiced vegetable ragout. Chocolate textures and petits fours from patisserie chef Ginno Hernandez finish things in style.
The Black Pig
Alabang may be a cab ride from the heart of the city, but the journey is worth it for dishes from Spanish chef Carlos Garcia, who has multiple Michelin-starred spots in Europe on his resumé. The casual restaurant quickly became a local favorite after opening, but now foodies across the vast metro Manila area seek it out, normal day and special occasion alike, for his authentic renditions of Spanish classics and global comfort dishes done right.
Start with their impressive charcuterie board featuring chorizo, lomo Iberico and salchichon, before pork continues in the main event. The Philippines knows a thing or two about suckling pig, with lechon being arguably the national dish. Rodrigues serves it with a carrot and cumin puree and an orange salad to cut through all that decadent, fatty goodness of crispy skin and soft pork.
Courtesy of Ember (2)
There’s a good reason we chose Ember as one of the hottest new restaurants in SE Asia right now: chef Josh Boutwood’s mastery of extracting maximum flavor. The Filipino-British maestro sports one of the country’s finest moustaches along with an impressive international resumé, but it’s in Manila where his star has shone brightest thanks to a series of stellar openings.
His latest restaurant, Ember, sits in the upscale design hub of Manila called Greenbelt, where the à la carte menu is certainly special but also simple: “There’s not a tweezer in sight,” chef tells us on the occasion of our visit. “It’s a very honest concept, focused on creating delicious memories.” That translates into beautiful sourdough with smoked butter, charred octopus with harissa and lemon, flawless steaks and decadent desserts—especially the sticky Swedish chocolate cake.
Gallery by Chele
Another Spanish chef making waves in Manila is Chele Gonzalez, someone who embraces the country’s remarkable bounty of ingredients found across its more than 7,000 islands. He has crisscrossed the nation in search of inspiration that he turns into dishes at Gallery by Chele, voted second best restaurant in the Philippines in our Asia’s Best Awards, and located in Bonifacio Global City, a burgeoning Manila district full of dining and entertaining options. As he says, “We are moved to showcase the beauty of the place we call home—and share the gastronomic soul of the Philippines.”
In the six-course tasting menu, Spain and the Philippines meet in dishes like pil pil that combines the belly of bangus fish with garlic and collagen emulsion. Not your usual store cupboard ingredients. The more familiar eggs and ham, ‘huevos con jamon,’ uses local peas, organic eggs… and Spain’s proud export of jamon Ibérico, natch. Desserts are another highlight and if you’re after a burnt Basque cheesecake, one of the most en vogue of the past couple of years, none in the capital can match his.