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One Fine Dine

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[Photo of Mabuhay Palace cuisine]A spoonful of just about anything from the Mabuhay Palace menu gives new meaning to fine dining.

When visiting Manila Hotel's Chinese restaurant Mabuhay Palace, it would be a mistake to expect the usual noodles and dimsum. When you dine there, get ready for a scrumptious culinary surprise—or seven!

Every month we come up with something different,” promises Josephine Yu Tanganco-Candelaria, the restaurant's assistant chef. Chef Joie, as regular diners have come to know her, and the other chefs hold regular brainstorming sessions to develop new, original, and exciting courses. Their goal: to infuse a twist of the modern into the classic experience Mabuhay Palace offers.

[Photo of Long life prawns]One fine day, my tastebuds had the pleasure of basking in the lusciousness of seven Mabuhay Palace specialties. The Long Life Prawns, looking like refined cousins of the tempura, were so visually appealing that I was sidetracked from starting with the soup. It was difficult to resist the plump king prawns twirled in crunchy, wiry noodles made out of shredded pastry imported from the Middle East. I thought it was love at first sight, but it's really the first crackly bite that set my heart aflutter. The prawns came with a choice of dips: wasabi mayo (my favorite), sweet chili, and soy sauce.

After a couple of plump prawns, I was ready for my almost forgotten starter:
Old Beijing Nobleman's Braised Shark's Fin Soup with Dried Scallops and Fish Maw with Pastry Puff Crust. It's name may be a mouthful, but once you drain the soup bowl (There will be none left, believe me!), you'll be at a loss for words. The delectable concoction had bits of real shark's fin, dried scallops, fish maw (or air bladder—the part that keeps the fish buoyant), and a variety of mushrooms afloat in soup stock made with a host of secret ingredients.

The soup was served in a bowl with muffin-top pastry puff that kept the soup warm (In case one gets sidetracked by other dishes?). The pastry's solid texture completes the dish. Chef Joie has the recipe under lock and key, the mystery behind it probably adding to the soup's robust flavor. The soup is said to be an Emilio Yap (Manila Hotel chairperson) favorite.

A new addition to the June menu is the
Baked Lemon Grass Australian Scallops. Stalks of lemon grass line the platter on which sit huge dollops of scallop. On the side are equally massive pieces of soft tofu topped with roe, which explode in your mouth with a burst of flavor. Cooking with lemon grass is said to bring out essential oils. No wonder it makes every fleshy bite of scallop more interesting than the last.

Another soy and mollusk symphony, the
Braised Spinach Tofu with Fried Golden Scallops, had a crusty exterior that made my tastebuds tingle. The mixed tofu is Palace-made.

Steamed Chilean Sea Bass in Bean Crumb Sauce is something I could have for lunch everyday. The powerful contrast of tastes and textures is nothing short of sublime. The subtly flavored sea bass melts exquisitely in the mouth, while the coarse, savory bean crumb sauce heightens the flavor.
[Photo of Honey Boneless pork belly]
After three seafood courses, the Honey Boneless Pork Belly Simmered in Shao Shing Wine with Deep Fried Chinese Buns on the side was more than welcome. I was told this dish required tedious preparation. As Chef Joie explained, the pork is marinated, slowly simmered, and then steamed for an entire day to melt the fat. The result is a succulent dish reminiscent of siopao, but with a modern spin and novel textures.

Honeyed Banana Malunggay Ice Cream
may sound strange, but when served in a tall cup for dessert, it makes for unique comfort food! The Palace-made malunggay ice cream is light and refreshing. The flavorsome sweetness in every scoop comes from chunks of real banana coated in honey. This frozen treat is a prelude to a malunggay menu in support of Manila Hotel president Joey Lina's Malunggay Republic project.

With shy sentimentality Chef Joie told us their food is “made with love.” And I was convinced with every bite.

Print ed: 06/09


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