Story & photos by Gretchen Filart Dublin
‘HALF body lang ah [only],” celebrity Chef Luigi Muhlach jested, as we flicked our cameras for his portrait. Hearty laughs filled the room, a telling prelude to what will be a night of more laughter and tasty Filipino-fusion fare.
It was a nippy Saturday noon in Tagaytay and all eyes were on him and Amacena, One Tagaytay Place Hotel Suites’s newest restaurant—of which he has been recently appointed as the executive chef. The redesigned 40-seater space, filled with immaculate linens, fresh mums, ornate wheat and chopped mahogany rings as placemats, exuded a tone, as earthy, sophisticated and comforting as the dinner thereafter.
Formerly known as Azalea, Amacena is a collaborative endeavor between the multiawarded chef and One Tagaytay Place Hotel Suites President John Ross Francisco, who envisioned the restaurant as a standalone venture, worthy of frequent visits even by nonstaying hotel guests.
“The notion is that, if it is hotel food, it’s the typical coffee-shop items, so [people] go out to look for more items. We are trying to take away the notion that it is just a hotel outlet. Here, you can enjoy good food; the company of friends over food,” Francisco shared.
A play on two Spanish words, amar (profound affection) and cena (supper), the Amacena concept revolves around an immense fondness for food—a fondness that grew among us, grub partakers, as we forked on 15 whopping dishes over the next two hours.
Comfort fare with delightful modern twists
According to Muhlach, Amacena’s gustatory offerings reflect his kitchen inspirations: rich flavors, good fat and crispy meat.
Spending five months of rigorous research and countless kitchen trials, Francisco and Muhlach—who trained under Marriott Hotel Manila’s culinary team—designed a menu that caters to discerning tastes, the restaurant’s distinct edge over competitors in Tagaytay’s thriving food and beverage scene.
This extensive menu of protein-packed comfort fare merges familiar Filipino flavors with a contemporary Western approach. Dining becomes a thrilling adventure, as one finds sprightly entrées, such as three-cheese-smothered Longganisa Mac and Cheese, Kaldereta Pot Pie and Honey Bagoong Chicken Wings.
Also on the menu are Tagaytay favorites, including Crispy Beef Short Rib Kare-Kare—a bowl of US short ribs slow-cooked for 24 hours, deep fried and topped with peanut sauce; and mushroom sauce-drizzled Sizzling Bulalo Steak, a playful take on bulalo.
Other Amacena mainstays include Lechon Kawali with monggo purée, Adobo and Kesong Puti Bruschetta, and Aligui Rice. There’s also Tawilis Pizza—the first of its kind in the country—and Crispy Pata, which Chef Luigi reconstructed into a crispy roulade.
For a sweet end note to a filling meal, be sure to order its Leche Turon with vanilla ice cream.
Launched on March 14, the restaurant promises to bring more savory surprises in the coming months. “The 15 dishes we presented [at the launch] is only half of the whole menu. Some of the items are to be released periodically. That’s one thing people can look forward to. People tend to visit and come back in two to three months. We’re giving people a reason to keep coming back and more often than every two to three months,” Francisco added.
Bringing life into the hotel scene
One of the most top-rated full-service hotels in Tagaytay, One Tagaytay Place Hotel Suites features 120 opulent suites equipped with luxe amenities, such as snug mattresses, en-suite bathrooms, minibars, coffee and tea makers, and LCD TVs with DVDs and premium cable channels. Big groups can choose between one-bedroom and penthouse suites overlooking the city.
With corporate travelers comprising one of the hotel’s largest markets, facilities that help manage work away from home are in place. Work desks and in-room Wi-Fi notwithstanding, there’s a well-furnished business center, as well as conference rooms for business meetings. For bigger events, the Aurora Grand Ballroom—able to accommodate up to 200 persons—is more suitable.
Enjoying a quiet spot on the Tagaytay-Calamba Road, away from the city’s hubbub, the hotel is within easy reach of Tagaytay Highlands and People’s Park, both prime tourist destinations. For a panoramic view of Tagaytay City and neighboring Laguna, troop to the outdoor pool and kiddie pool.
While the hotel hosts such extensive in-house leisure facilities, Francisco shared that they offer more than just a place to stay. Beyond sating hunger, he added that creating Amacena is a step toward bringing fresh perspectives, which will excite the palate and add more vibrance to the customary hotel experience.
“What I observed is that guests stay here all day, in the function rooms, talking about work, and it’s really food that can bring energy to them.”
With a dedicated president and chef, both learned in the art of spawning kitchen secrets that inspire a collective fondness for food, clearly Amacena is well-equipped to do that and more.