When I’ve finished working in China, I sometimes like to finish my tour with a short holiday in a neighbouring country. Last year it was Viet Nam, but this year I quite fancied the Philippines which were only two hours on the plane from Chengdu. I only had a few days though so these posts can hardly do this huge archipelago of seven thousand islands any justice. I saw a lot in a few days though.
I chose a hostel in Makati which is the safe, sanitised part of Manila, and the financial capital of the country. Two of its main streets, Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas, were once the runways of Manila’s airport in the 1930s. Other than a small red light district, there’s no atmosphere of any kind, just miles of shopping malls.
I chose to stay here because of its proximity to Ninoy Aquino international airport. The plan was to dump my work bag and head off somewhere totally different while not worrying about getting back to the airport in the rush hour which is deadly in Manila. After a couple of nights in the area though, I couldn’t wait to leave.
Most of the restaurants I went to while in the Philippines were gleaned from the Lonely Planet 2012 guide which seems to be aimed at sports fanatics rather than foodies and the Makati section in particular appears to have been written by a jock. I presume they sent him here because that’s the kind of customer the bars seem to cater for, as well as seedy old blokes of all nationalities who are here for the hookers and girly bars on P. Burgos Street. Or perhaps they come for the midget boxing and lady boy wrestling…
I disagreed with the LP writer’s reviews on several occasions although that might be a bit unfair as I suppose he had to find something good to say about a place. The people at the hostel (see bottom of page) were great but otherwise, the reviews are about the best of a bad lot:
Grilla Bar & Grill (Intermediate B), corner of Kalayaan Ave and Rockwell Drive. Open till 1 a.m.
After 4 weeks of Chinese food I felt a serious need for a large chunk of meat, so I went straight for the Filippino classic; Crispy Pata. It’s a knuckle of pork that is first simmered then dried and deep-fried. It pressed all the buttons for me with tender flesh flaking off the bone and plenty of crackling, although this was a bit softer than I like (A-). It came with a garlic and soya sauce dressing but I thought it tasted better without.
The most frequent ‘local’ beer in the Philippines you will see is San Miguel (they have eight varieties!) which I usually avoid at home but the just about any cold lager tastes good when the weather is hot (B). The Pale Pilsen, in small stubby brown bottles. is the best in my opinion (B+).
To finish, a large plate of Leche Flan, which a was much larger portion than anything of the same name that you’d get in Spain, but tasted pretty much the same (B).
This was my first night here and my first experience of Filippino waiters. To call them inattentive would be a complement! They can disappear for ages and never make eye contact till you wave at them with both your hands above your head. However, in general the people are very polite here and call you ‘sir’ all the time, in the American fashion.
Corner Cafe (Intermediate B+), 150 Jupiter Street (not in Fort Boniface as stated in LP).
After the meat fest of the previous night I came to this vegetarian cafe to balance things out (I’m lying, I got the address wrong and thought it would be a burger bar but I was starving so I stayed). It’s a nice relaxed place and very popular with heaps of awards for its food.
There are veggie dishes from all over the world but I kept to the Pinoy (Filippino) dishes starting with Lumpias; two deep fried spring rolls. They were great (A), but I preferred them without the soya sauce, vinegar and garlic dip they came with.
After this Kare Kareng Gulay, a veggie stew with lots of greens in peanut sauce which was fine as veg dishes go (B). With it came with a dish of Bagoong sauce, usually made with fermented shrimp but made here possibly with Tausi beans (which we know as Chinese black beans). The sauce tasted pretty disgusting by itself but worked well when mixed with the stew.
The banana/mango/pineapple smoothie and the unsweetened lemonade with a pot of honey on the side were good too (B). Total cost 445 pesos and a farty bum all afternoon.
Ziggurat (Intermediate C-) on a tiny side street connecting the bottom of P.Burgos with Makati Avenue.
Found out today that I had a job interview for a six month contract in New Delhi and spent much of the afternoon on the internet checking out the Delhi food blogging and restaurant scene, so needless to say was craving a curry by the end of it.
I wouldn’t agree with LP’s description of this place as ‘a culinary gem’ but they are right in that it would be a nice place to sit outside and enjoy an after dinner hookah, although they couldn’t provide one on the day I went.
The huge menu (far too big to be good in my opinion, although it has lots of historical facts on the back) covers classic dishes from the whole of the Middle East and parts of Africa and Northern Indian cuisine, that is, wherever the ancient Islamic empires spread to.
I went with what I knew and although the yogurt marinated Chicken Tandoori had certainly been inside a tandoor, it had a strange after taste that spoilt it for me (C+). I couldn’t eat the Mixed Veg curry it came with as it was laced with far too much coconut (D) and possibly coconut oil which is hard for me to like, so I took it away to give to someone who needed it.
I got a Chicken Tikka to replace it and that wasn’t much different (C). The Basmati Rice and Yogurt (they make their own) Raita were good but they are hard to get wrong (B). At least I was full when I left. The best things were the San Miguel Super Drys (first time I’d had them, much better than the usual) which hit the spot as they came with a frosted glass (B+).
Casa Armas (Advanced C), 132 Jupiter St
Having a bit of cash left over on the last night of my stay and hardly having eaten any European food for five weeks, I thought I’d treat myself to this Spanish restaurant for a final blowout but was very disappointed. This was the local Makati branch, their main one in Malate is probably better as it gets rave reviews elsewhere.
I ordered two Jamon Croquettas while I was choosing other things from the menu and they were great (B+), but unfortunately things went downhill from here.
The Gambas a la Plancha (C) were well prepared but in my humble opinion, prawns from warm waters just do not compare to cold water ones and these were no exception being tough and tasteless.
This of course is not the restaurants fault but the next dishes were. The Patatas la Cason came with a piquant but rather oily sauce which was tolerable but the nearly raw potatoes were not and I had to leave most of them (C/D).
I also had two canapés, the Montadito d’Lomo was fine(B) but the Champigon ala Plancha turned out to be another montadito with a single Prawn, Mushroom and Olive stapled to a thin slice of loaf with a cocktail stick. It barely covered a third of the bread it was served on and tasted pretty rubbish (C). Most un-Spanish.
To finish I had the Churros which were crispy but didn’t have the slightly doughy centre you would get in Spain (B). The chocolate sauce they came with was barely adequate to dip half the portion in which was a bit of a letdown (C).
Casa Armas markets itself as a top notch place so I have judged it that way. If it had been less pretentious and the food more reasonably priced, it might have got a better score. The roast pork sounds really good but you will need someone to share it with as it has to be ordered in advance.
I checked out most of the bars in the area that were listed in LP (non of which are on P. Burgos to their credit) and out of all of them Howzat at 8471 Kalayaan Avenue had the best atmosphere in my opinion. It’s a sports bar like all the others but people seem to come here to meet friends rather than hookers and the staff are friendly with no ulterior motives.
I stayed at Our Melting Pot which has moved from the address given in LP. It’s now on the 4th floor of the Mavenue Building at #7844 Makati Avenue but the door is around the corner on Guerrero Street. A taxi from the airport should be around 400 pesos. The rooms are clean but quite small and the breakfast is ok but nothing special. However the young staff are very friendly and hospitable and you can use their office phone to make free local calls. A good base for going elsewhere.