TO eat is human, to drink is divine, especially in the off chance you find yourself lazing in your sweet, suite life, and then later prowling for good wine and dine at the Bellevue Manila.
My friend Julia had early on told me that what really gets top-of-mind recall among everything that you can get around these parts is the ensaymada, which, she told me, hardly ever failed to get her saying “Oh, sweet Jesus, Joseph, Mary!” and still gets her saying “Oh, sweet Jesus, Joseph, Mary!” every time.
So on this gourmand food trip my girlfriend KC and I had been warned: “Never lay a finger on that ensaymada,” she said, and she said it as if this coveted object is kissed with some witch’s spell.
I don’t know about that, I used to think that the things surly old wives so constantly warned us about are the things that are actually so good they are prohibited. Sex, drugs, alcohol were as far as it went, and now the list includes Bellevue Ensaymada.
“Screw it,” I said, “let her sulk.” So when our host Alexine went out of her way to finally get us four ensaymadas at the hotel’s Pastry Corner, we immediately excused ourselves and scoot toward our suite with the contraband, if only because some of the joys in life, indeed, like sex and drugs, are rather much preferred to be enjoyed in secrecy and behind closed doors, and of which experience, really, is something you don’t want to talk about in public.
Apparently the only problem with the ensaymada is that the supply easily disappears from the shelves. And every time it’s always as though the Pastry Corner without the ensaymada is Jollibee without the Chicken Joy, Krusty Krab’s without the Krabby Patty. Here the news would crash, here you’d pee in your pants, here you’d take the cudgels to start a movement.
It was just that, when we came back later to the Pastry Corner to ask for each of our third. Of course, it didn’t sit well with KC. Tickled pink, she was literally on the verge of crying when I stoked her in the arm and said it was OK, as we were offered other best-sellers delivered, if it’s of any consolation, to our romantic little nook at the hotel Pool Side.
Ham and cheese, chicken mushroom, a bun hammed end-to-end with Beef Salpicao. The shreds of protein zing worked best when enjoyed al fresco, when the sun is about to set and there’s a glass of sparkling piña colada. The Salpicao is my favorite; cut in few bulky pieces, and chunks of meat easily corn and tear so much so that there’s hardly a need to chew them. Even in few bits and smidgens the bun weighed heavy in the stomach, but the heaviness is more to whet the appetite rather than to let the dinner pass.
We were torn between Bellevue Manila’s Oriental: its signature Phoenix and the Japanese Hatsune. It breaks the heart to miss on the sushi, but it was the time of day that demanded the mood for an all-Chinese. Instead of MSG, the atmosphere is pervaded with a sense of affinity even at the Phoenix’s roomy pavilion, one that is punctuated with mandarin graces and infinite jest. Where there is no a gathering in a family table, there are what intricate Oriental details. And, up ahead, there’s an even more elite isolated fancy round table hosting some business tête-à-tête.
We were welcomed and smitten by a bowl of warm nuts, which swelled and exuded an unmistakable hint of cinnamon. We gave Wilson, our attendant, the liberty to order us whatever made the restaurant a blockbuster in this part of town, while KC was very particular with the standard Lechon Macau, and I with the coconut pudding.
What was readily sheer and noticeable is how well the wait staff knows how to anticipate. Was it Wilson (and every restaurant and Bellevue hotel staff, for that matter) or was it just me? After Wilson arrayed piecemeal our ensemble of Hot Prawn Salad, Deep-Fried Prawn with Cereals, Lechon Macau, Lo Ham Choi Fried Eggplant, Steamed Crystal Prawns Dumpling Hakao and—give me a moment to catch my breath—Steamed Watercress Dumpling, he made beeline to another table to the next, then came back to impeccably explain how the Hot Prawn Salad was cooked. They know how to make an entrance because they know when to make an entrance, specifically when you have finally exhausted all necessary remarks and stuck pinpointing every scintilla of nuances.
Bellevue’s choice of local diners also includes the thematic Cafe d’ Asie. I was at the buffet restaurant on a Friday luncheon, and the order of the day was seafood. Its constant is that it never does away with the Korean and Japanese Corner, no matter it becomes East or West-End in different times of the week. I loaded up most profusely the caff’s Thai Chili Crab and Shrimp in Coconut Milk, but never went easy in getting my dibs on the US Roasted Rib Eye and salmon.
If a live-music beer bong is a gourmand’s way of ablution, Bellevue Manila’s Vue Bar is upbeat into the wee small hours of the morning with its cult mob of bands and retro songstresses, humming, dancing in different repertoires against the backdrop of Alabang’s urban specks of light and skyline, as the only five-star bar in the South is characteristic of a 360-degree view of the city, and there’s always every reason to gulp Absolut or the bar’s seasonal signature White Christmas Eve (a merry mix of Tosca, milk, cream and Amaretto) by the window.
Or, if it is lesser champagne, you can be lost in the same skyline, ensconced in the elite exclusivity of the Signature Lounge, sipping glasses upon glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s hardly the din of loud music, only the occasional drone of hushed voices, which in a puddle of light, translate to a reverberating “ohm,” puncturing the expensive silence when you can finally afford to be alone with your thoughts.