IT may not be the newest avant garde dining concept to hit the table but farm-to-fork dining is here to stay. And now it’s made more palatable for those choice eaters who prefer the buffet style, also called the smorgasbord—albeit updated from its oh-so-traditional norms. Introducing The Pantry, Dusit Thani Manila’s new all-day dining restaurant, which opened recently to rave reviews.
Definitely not your run-of-the-mill restaurant, The Pantry dishes up orders to the tune of nine global stations, each one a sumptuous section that completes a symphony. For starters we recommend a new style of eating far away from the norms that most learned from their white masters. Wouldn’t it be nice to be free from your foreign yolk and manners…well, at least gastronomically speaking? First, dispense with the usual salad or soup and go straight to dessert, just a little. For this fault, a single scoop or two of gelato will be excellent to whet your appetite while not obliterating it. Why do we recommend ices over the usual fare?
It is a Western convention to have something hot for starters, and this “hauteness” is due to their harsh, cold weather up north. It isn’t apropos for the tropics. Fortunately, The Pantry at Dusit Thani Manila offers at least a dozen flavors of ice cream from blueberry to cookies and cream and dark chocolate, each tinged appropriately and whipped to classic perfection with just the right sprinkling of unconventional salt. It is dessert for starters, although it may not wholeheartedly be misconstrued as dessert at all. The salt is the difference and here we are correct.
While most gourmets often forget the basics that flavor should be perfected by a catalyst that contrasts with its flavor, Chef Nicholas Issel has made it a rule to follow natural chemistry. He plays the contrast. Issel, an epicurean expert, has over two decades of experience in the culinary field, nine years of which were spent managing food and beverage outlets and large-scale banquet operations in five-star luxury hotels in Australia, Canada and Singapore.
He believes in keeping ahead of trends and concepts to have a competitive edge. And we were right in thinking that his gelato, despite looking a little bit plain in southern light, was just a foretaste of things to come. If he can make gelato taste as sincerely sweet and salty as this, what more the stuff of the future, the alchemical birthright that is ours to enjoy? Of course, after starters, we were shooed to the carving station where Issel had perfected just the right way to make spit-roasted pig and all sorts of beef melt in your mouth. Now I was beginning to see a pattern: All things melt, even flesh; nothing can withstand the holy appetite.
And we scanned the Earth and saw that all was good. The Pantry, with its farm-to-fork dining concept, not only makes use of culinary technique but also offers diners the freshest ingredients put together by a synergy between local farmers and management. In return for cutting off the middle men—who are often unscrupulous food dealers known to employ child labor—this arrangement of farm-to-fork dining is a win-win for both the hotel and the farmer because middleman fees are cut out of the picture while produce is delivered straight to the consumer. It reminds me of my mother’s toy farm and country house in Tagaytay, where she picks the best of produce that is delivered straight to my scrutinizing palate.
But for The Pantry’s 280-seater, the food—incorporating influences and dishes from Mediterranean, Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino, Indian, Italian and Chinese cooking—is just the starter. There’s more. Where do you go after eating? Of course, to sleep. Where to sleep? Of course, on a bed. In a room. Hence, The Pantry is part of an ambitious overhaul of the hotel known famously as Dusit Thani Manila. This facelift includes a complete 360-degree metamorphosis that will renovate the façade, as well as all of the rooms, set to be completed by the first quarter of 2016.
But don’t let the bundle get the best of you. Dinner is still at hand. What are the other dishes to look out for? If one is a stranger to the location, one shouldn’t have a hard time looking for this melting pot of extraordinary flavors. The Pantry is tucked to the right side of the hotel as one ventures in.
One can immediately smell the slight raptures in the air. Hence, do not forget to sample the likes of The Pantry’s house smoked salmon incorporated on flat bread pizza, their adobo soya and vinegar braised pork belly, their piri-piri rotisserie chicken, their BB lechon Cubano sandwich, and their hot Spanish churros with rich silky chocolate sauce.
Staying true to every banquet, at the center of the rendezvous is a live lechon pit and carving station. Just a little further are the other stations, including include a cornucopia of seafood, a brick oven pizza area, a Chinese bao bar, an Indian Tandoor oven, a beverage studio, and a sinfully divine dessert section. A first of its kind in the city, The Pantry also features Grab & Go, a takeaway counter for people on the go.
Then last, it’s back to where we started. Remember that we recommended ice cream for starters? After indulging with all that goodness, it’s natural to end with something sweet yet salty, and the gelato of The Pantry acts as the alpha and omega of good taste.
Image credits: Samito Jalbuena