The Next-Wave of Chinese Restaurants Invades Manila
Whether executed at fine dining establishments set in luxurious rooms that are ornamented with porcelain tableware, crystal centerpieces, and silver-tipped chopsticks, or at hole-in-the-wall eateries replete with plastic-covered utensils and self-service beverage freezers, celebrating Chinese cuisine has never been this much fun.—ALICIA COLBY SY
The Chinese invasion is here. Not planes and warships, fortunately, but hordes of well-trained men wielding knives—cleavers, to be precise, to carve up tofu, abalone, beef, and even foie gras into delightful, bite-size morsels to be consumed in some of the city’s finest dining-rooms.
Entirely by coincidence, the city’s moribund Chinese food scene has been transformed, almost overnight, as five new luxury restaurants have opened in quick succession. While fine dining in the Western manner is waning, and expensive restaurants are shying away from opulent interiors and formality in favor of low-key, unimposing spaces with a deliberately relaxed and informal vibe, Chinese restaurants, with their ever-more luxurious salons and gilded chopstick holders, have no such compunctions. In fact, they’re more eager than ever to distance themselves from the greasy spoons and brisk, rude fluorescent-lit cafeterias with which the idea of a “Chinese restaurant” has been associated. —CLINTON PALANCA
CANTON ROAD, SHANGRI-LA AT THE FORT
A recent addition to an increasing collection of upscale, pan-Chinese establishments in Manila, Canton Road offers patrons a rich dining experience in an opulent setting. Designed by the Hong Kong design firm of Steve Leung, the space is awash in an elegant combination of celadon and violet. Gracious and grand, the restaurant is highlighted by towering ceilings, embroidered, luxurious textiles, and oversize windows that bring in abundant natural light during the day. At night, the glistening crystal chandeliers and the city’s magical glow create a sumptuous atmosphere in which to enjoy your meal.
The menu is a modern marriage of Cantonese and Huaiyang specialties and the intense and delicate Guangdongcai flavors are evident in the seafood, dim sum, noodles, and soups. All dishes perfectly pair with the bespoke teas created especially for the restaurant by Mingcha, a Hong Kong-based brand of fine teas.
Must Order: Steamed Iberico pork dumpling with abalone and black truffle, roast suckling pig, calamari infused in X.O. sauce, baked pumpkin puff with black truffle and chicken, Yangzhou soft bean curd soup with Yunan ham, Mignan five-spice marinated pork belly wrapped in dried bean curd sheets, pork belly tower, Fujian seafood fried rice, and almond tofu in coconut cream. 30th Street corner 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, 820.0888.
Steamed Iberico pork dumplings with abalone and black truffle at Canton Road
Har gow at Canton Road
Mignan five-spice marinated pork belly wrapped in dried bean curd sheets at Canton Road
CHINA BLUE BY JEREME LEUNG, CONRAD MANILA
One of this year’s most exciting Chinese restaurant openings, it boasts spectacular modern Chinese interiors that complement the style of cuisine served. Offering picture-perfect views and a plush atmosphere, the sophisticated interiors are a true departure from the tried and tested spaces that Filipino diners have become accustomed to when dining at Chinese establishments. Also novel and much appreciated are the whimsical hand-painted porcelain tableware that dress the table. Leung, renowned as a pioneer in introducing modern Chinese cuisine to the dining public, was born and raised in Hong Kong and circled the globe as an executive chef for many luxury hotels. His Shanghai-based food and beverage consultation company has created concepts for clients in and around Asia, including two other concepts for Conrad hotels.
Must Order: Marinated sour plum cherry tomatoes, steamed truffle mushroom buns, goose liver mousse cherry with squid ink crumble, eight-hour golden broth soup with seafood, shiitake mushrooms with sweet vinaigrette, Shanghai soya braised fish, fried shrimp with wasabi and mango salsa, beef tenderloin with asparagus and Hunan pepper, black gold egg custard buns. Conrad Manila, Seaside Boulevard corner Coral Way, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay.
Black gold egg custard buns at China Blue
Shanghai soya braised fish at China Blue
Steamed truffle mushroom buns at China Blue
CRYSTAL DRAGON, CROWN TOWERS
Intimate and elegant, this polished dining room serves premium Cantonese and classic Chinese cuisine with the occasional highlight of regional specialties as executive chef Bong Jun Choi and his team draw upon their collective culinary heritage. The restaurant’s paneled walls are covered in exquisitely painted and embroidered fabric, while its elegant tables are set with crystal centerpieces and fine porcelain. At lunch, an interesting dim sum menu is available, while the chef’s recommended set menus are available for both midday and evening meals. A high-quality, varied selection of Chinese teas is also available to pair with the restaurant’s signature dishes.
Must Order: Crispy barbecue pork buns, deep fried pumpkin dumpling with black pepper duck, golden prawn dumpling with salted duck egg yolk, crispy pastry roll filled with cod fish and foie gras, congee with Beijing dough stick; braised scallop dumpling with black truffle in supreme golden brown broth, wok-fried Boston lobster tails with spices, salt and pepper, braised baby abalone, sea cucumber with bean curd in clay pot, Peking duck served two ways, crispy pancake filled with lotus paste and X.O. ice cream, and chilled, sweetened mango sphere with coconut mousse. City of Dreams, Aseana Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard, Entertainment City, Paranaque, 800.8080. —A.C.S.
Sweetened mango sphere with coconut at Crystal Dragon
Wok-fried Boston lobster tails with spices, salt, and pepper at Crystal Dragon
LUNG HIN, MARCO POLO HOTEL
A stellar pan-Chinese restaurant located in the heart of Ortigas center, Lung Hin is a must for those who wish to quell a craving for upscale Chinese cuisine in the area. With a battalion of chefs who have worked in Hong Kong, the dining room is perched 44 floors above street level and
is an elegant space that offers gorgeous views of the city. Our favorite tables are ones that line the windows and are designed to give diners extra privacy as they are somewhat secluded. Private dining facilities are also available for larger parties.
As expected in any restaurant of this caliber, service is swift and attentive. The managerial staff is found in and around the dining room at all times and most of them are fluent in both Mandarin
and Fookien. Certain dishes that require tableside service and last-minute preparation are finished with elegance by a well-trained staff.
Must Order: Drunken chicken, baked barbecue buns, pan-fried radish cake, salted egg-battered squid, crystal duck terrine, chicken consomme with chrysanthemum tofu and matsutake mushrooms, steamed king prawn with egg, deep-fried lapu- lapu fillet with sliced mango and sweet chili sauce, stir-fried squid with mashed salted egg, deep fried pork spareribs in black vinegar sauce, salted garlic spare ribs beef in black pepper sauce with goose liver, roasted duck, lobster and cheese with buttered efu noodles, and hot walnut cream. Meralco Avenue, San Antonio, Pasig, 720.7777.
Drunken chicken at Lung Hin
Deep-fried lapu-lapu fillet with sliced mango and sweet chili sauce at Lung Hin
Crystal duck terrine at Lung Hin
A popular Chinese eatery among newly relocated Chinese immigrants and mainland tourists to Manila, this simple and non-descript restaurant specializes in dishes from China’s Sichuan province. Situated on the second floor of a low-rise building along Makati Avenue, it has become known for its liberal use of chilies, packing each dish with heat that is definitely not for the faint of heart. The service is friendly and attentive, and it is recommended that newcomers engage with the wait staff to ascertain the level of spice desired to maximize the dining experience. All dishes are best paired with an ice-cold Tsingtao beer.
Must Order: Hot pot (lamb roll, pork roll, kidneys) mapo tofu, stir-fried chicken with chilies, spicy and sour noodles, and roast fish. Jupiter Suites, Juno Street corner Makati Avenue, Bel-Air, Makati.
Chicken with chili at Hot Space
Hot pot shown with lamb roll and liver at Hot Space
Spicy and sour noodles at Hot Space
XIU FINE CANTONESE DINING
If a Chinese restaurant can succeed in Greenhills, where the market is awash with excellent Chinese establishments of varying types and sizes, you know that it is doing something right. Although it has only been open for a few months, by all accounts Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining has become a favorite among its local Chinese patrons. Brought to Manila by the same restaurateurs that operate the group of Lugang Cafe establishments and their partners from the West Villa restaurant in Hong Kong, Xiu’s winning proposition is a fine dining establishment that serves traditional favorites and modern but respectful interpretations of Cantonese classics, accompanied by skilled service in a posh setting.
Must Order: Honey-glazed prime cut char siu, salt and pepper squid, soy sauce Hong Kong chicken in clay pot, stewed beef short ribs, Chinese lettuce with shrimp paste in clay pot, elephant clams with truffle, wok-fried lobster or crab served typhoon shelter-style, taro with scallop and truffle, baked black ink rice with seafood, mango sago with pomelo, and black sesame buchi. 115 Connecticut Street, Northeast Greenhills, San Juan, 650.7189.
Black squid ink rice with assorted seafood at Xiu