Text and photos by Chef Dino Datu
Discovering our country’s cuisine through its top chefs is such a welcome development. Not too long ago, being a top chef here meant training abroad and bringing home what you’ve learned.
Imagine Aguinaldo enjoying Chateaubriand, or Pedro Paterno savoring his Saucisson de Lyon in Malolos. Not that our forefathers weren’t nationalistic—they were ratifying our national independence at that banquet. But at that time, being civilized meant knowing your Hollandaise from your Mornay, so to be internationally accepted, our lolos had to forego the lechon and went French.
A few more years later, free from Spain but making a case for Philippine Independence from America, President Manuel Quezon hosted a dinner in Washington D.C., at the Willard Hotel. In a gathering of generals and congressmen who could be influential in Philippine affairs of the time, French food was again served. Wanting to show that Filipinos were as cultured and civilized as our American brothers, Quezon too went French.
While the local dining scene of today looks more international—with popular Asian franchises reaching our shores and Spanish cutting edge cuisine dominating the curious diner’s consciousness, it is nice to revisit the standard in fine food. Being trained in classical French cuisine, I may have my biases, but looking back at history, it seems that so did all those important people, #influencers of the time, if you will, in today’s jargon. So my visit to Impressions and Chef Cyrille Soenen was understandably very special to me. Master Chef Cyrille Soenen, to be more accurate, has been showcasing the fine art of French cuisine in the country for years.
Having a venue such as Impressions is only fitting for his stature and diners are fortunate to have the chance to sample his creations nightly.
The dinner I attended, Impressions’ Seafood and Wine Night was part of a monthly wine pairing promotion. Each month, Impressions holds either a wine and cheese, wine and beef or wine and seafood event, letting guests enjoy the best dishes with the best wines. These buffet dinners are a little less formal, a perfect opportunity to just let one’s hair down and savor the food and drink, all meticulously curated and prepared by Chef Cyrille and his team.
As soon as my friends and I arrived, we were greeted by the sight of fresh oysters, prawns and scallops. Now, seafood is a common sight in most hotel buffets.
But being at Impressions, I knew we were in for something special. Only the best seafood and the best accompaniments make it to the grade. Even before we started eating, we had a sense that we weren’t going to have pieces of tiny overcooked oysters baked to death and covered in generic processed cheese. This was Chef Cyrille Soenen, the only Master Chef of France in the country. We were in for an epic seafood feast.
While my friends attacked the fresh oysters and had some prawns freshly cooked, I wanted to try each dish, starting with their cured salmon and tuna carpaccio. I also had some tuna tartare and of course perfect with white wine, the caviar served on top of pillowy blinis. The breads and dips were also impeccable. Moving on to the baked seafood, I sampled baked oysters and scallops, each with their own sauce, broiled to perfection. Whether you want your seafood poached in court bouillon, doused in beurre blanc or blanketed in bernaise, the chefs will gladly prepare the seafood to your liking. Having had a few of the cooked dishes, I then had some fresh, plump oysters with just shallots and vinegar.
On the other side of the buffet spread were a selection of cooked seafood dishes such as seafood black rice paella, crispy fried calamari, a braised squid dish, three kinds of tempura and a rich and intense lobster bisque. There was also an orzo pasta “risotto” dish which I loved. Chef Cyrille even offered something off the buffet menu, a sea urchin risotto which, as full as I was, I just had to try and ended up finishing. To wash down all the fresh and exquisite seafood were Argentinian wines. I opted for a bottle of the Pampas Torrontes 2015, crisp and dry, perfect with the briny and rich seafood we had.
Impressions’ Seafood and Wine Night is great introduction to the quality and sophistication of French cooking. With the best wines paired with the exquisite food, the dinner offers exceptional value. I’ll be sure to watch out for upcoming events from Impressions and so should you.
■ Impressions is located at the 3rd floor of Maxims Hotel, Resorts World Manila