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10 Restaurants to explore in Manila

Everything from classic Filipino dishes to nostalgic milk bars and modern cuisine.

01. Grace Park

  • Margarita Fores

    Margarita Forés, doyenne and global ambassador of Filipino cuisine.

The 75-seater farm-to-table restaurant is a labour of love for F&B doyenne Margarita Forés who brings produce from her hometown, Negros, to the big city. The two-storey eatery in the swanky Rockwell neighbourhood was renovated sustainably with salvaged furniture and building materials. Dine on heavily armored river prawns cooked in crab fat and anchovy butter; slippery razor clams; and fried pitao or tiny ‘sugarcane’ birds caught in Negros Occidental. There’s also gamey lamb adobo and a weekly Sunday roast of organic lechon (roast pig) from Bacolod. End off with creamy local avocados in a graham cracker pie crust.

Rockwell Dr, Makati, 1200 Metro Manila, Philippines, +63 2 843 7275

02. Toyo Eatery

  • Toyo Eatery

    Jordy Navarra cooks elevated Filipino cuisine at Toyo Eatery.

Jordy Navarra serves an elevated locavore menu in his 40-seater restaurant priced from just PHP1,600 (S$43). The chef uses a traditional charcoal-and-wood open fire to cook his signature dishes including bangus (milkfish), garden vegetables and barbeque. Just two doors away is Panaderya Toyo which opened last year, which bakes sourdough from scratch (no processed yeast). Look out for their very own farm in the next one to two years which will grow staples such as onions and raise organic chickens.

The Alley at Karrivin, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati, 1231 Metro Manila, Philippines, +63 917 720 8630

(RELATED: Labyrinth’s Han Li Guang to collaborate with Manila’s rising culinary star, chef Jordy Navarra)

03. Helm

  • Helm

    Helm.

One of the hottest chefs in town, British born and half-Filipino Josh Boutwood relocated to the Philippines in 2010 from Sweden. The once-nomadic chef is the captain of this 10-seater intimate dining ‘ship’ that completely changes its thematic degustation menu every four months. Priced at PHP 4,500 (S$120) per head, Chef Boutwood borrows from his stints at Noma and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons to create themes based on nursery rhymes, locavorism, and his latest – a ‘reverse’ multi-course meal which starts with ‘dessert’.

Arya Residences, G/F, McKinley Pkwy, Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines, +63 906 234 1900

04. Mecha Uma

  • Mecha UMA Bruce Ricketts

    Mecha Uma.

Nicknamed Chef ‘Broosy’, Bruce Ricketts showcases his unique style of Japanese-inspired cooking at his 26-seater eatery. Mecha Uma means ‘absurdly delicious’ in Japanese, but don’t expect anything resembling Edomae sushi here. Using mainly imported Japanese produce from Osaka Central Fish Market, the Filipino chef (self-taught through cookbooks and Youtube videos) serves up freestyle ryori that will dazzle for its sheer creativity.

G/F RCBC Savings Bank Corporate Center 1634, 25th St, Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines, +63 2 964 9605

(RELATED: What is Edomae sushi and how does one recognise a chef who has mastered this cuisine?)

05. Balay Dako

Balay Dako

A 1.5 hour drive to Tagaytay is a bit of an expedition, but the breakfast at Balay Dako or ‘Big House’ is worth the trek. No reservations are allowed so guests start taking numbers from an early as 6am. Owned by Antonio Escalante aka Chef Tonyboy, this Filipino mansion serves a heaving buffet showcasing its famous corned beef, make-your-own omelette and fried rice. There are 10 kinds of bread and even more types of jam and cheeses, sweet meats, champorado (chocolate porridge), and eight desserts, priced at PHP700 (S$19). If you’re not rolling out the door yet, grab some freshly made piaya (flatbread filled with muscovado) downstairs at the Comedor which starts flipping them at 10am.

Tagaytay – Nasugbu Hwy, Tagaytay, 4120 Cavite, Philippines, +63 46 413 4866

06. Milky Way Cafe

Milky Way Cafe

At this nostalgia-fuelled 17-year-old eatery, an international spread is available but it’s the Filipino offerings originating from Pampanga which are the real standouts. You can’t go wrong with baby crispy pata, Milky Way kare-kare, US bistek tagalog, and signature halo-halo done like it’s 1962, topped with homemade ube ice-cream. It’s very rare to find operators still churning original ice-cream flavors, but that’s what you get here. After all, Milky Way began as a humble dairy bar, and continues the tradition till today.

2nd floor, MilkyWay Building, 900 Arnaiz Avenue (Pasay Road), Corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City, 1200 Philippines, +63 2 843 4124

07. Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Located in Cubao, Quezon City, this is the go-to market for top international chefs, and where the late Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode of No Reservations. Walk through aisles of meat, local fish, organic salted eggs, live seafood, different grains side by side, local handicraft and heaving piles of tropical fruit including mangoes, giant avocados and exotic durio graveolens from Mindanao that are mini durians with sunset-colored flesh. Eat like a local and have your produce prepared at the market’s food court.

General Araneta Avenue, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines

(RELATED: These 5 Singapore producers are supplying the growing locavore trend in high-end restaurants)

08. Antonio’s

Antonio's

Also owned by Chef Tonyboy Escalante’s group, this fine dining jewel sits in a black and white house in a massive compound. Traditional French cuisine is served by liveried staff who deftly fetch and carry. Such topnotch service and a three course meal sets you back a mere PHP1,700 (S$46).

Purok 138, Barangay Neogan, Tagaytay City, Philippines, +63 917 899 2866

09. Rural Kitchen of Liliw Laguna

Rural kitchen of liliw laguna

Homestyle Ilocos cuisine is served in a modern setting, and it’s a gem for the heirloom recipes that are rarely served at restaurants. Share plates of original Laguna hits such as ukoy – crunchy deep-fried baby shrimps, and fork-tender lamb kalderetang and liver. Relish the complimentary bell-shaped pan de bonete that’s sourced from Liliw and comes with homemade dips (look out for inalamangan santol). The signage is notoriously difficult to see, so look out for the 7-Eleven on Rada Street instead, and it’s just next door.

104 Rada St. HRC Centre Legaspi Village, Makati, Philippines, +63 2 779 8073

(RELATED: 4 Singapore-based chefs summarise the country in a dish)

10. Abe

Abe

The brainchild of prominent restaurateur Larry J Cruz, Abé has been around since 2006, serving mostly Kapampangan cuisine that’s heavily infused with Spanish, Malay and Mexican touches. Perennial favorites are crispy pata or deep fried local pork knuckles with a side dip of soy sauce and vinegar; klassik kare-kare (oxtail stew), lamb adobo, biringhe (a version of paella) and halo-halo made from scratch.

2nd floor North Veranda, Entertainment Mall,SM Mall of Asia, Bay Boulevard, Pasay City, +63 2 556 0608

(RELATED: Dining in Manila: is the capital of the Philippines the next great food city?)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: Jill Sara, Grace Park, Toyo Eatery, Helm, Mecha Uma, Balay Dako, Milky Way Cafe, Farmers Market, Antonio’s, Rural Kitchen of Liliw Laguna & Abe