Hemingway, who once stayed at the hotel, would have called it a “moveable feast.”
The hotel is Manila Hotel; the feast, what diners can enjoy at the French-themed Champagne Room.
Writing in his memoirs about time spent as a young man in the romantic French city, Ernest Hemingway felt Parisian experiences were moveable, remaining with you no matter which part of the globe you happened to visit next.
The selections served in early December at the Champagne Room certainly promised pleasant memories that would last way into the new year. In his trademark style of presenting diners with a repast they could linger over, executive chef Konrad Walter served a delicious medley perfectly suited to the suddenly chilly evenings.
Cream of Leek-Potato Soup is traditional potato leek soup with a twist. As a nod to the season, chef added turkey ham bits fried to a crisp and a dollop of whip cream. The soup base is chicken stock, simmered, pureed, and thickened with dairy cream, completed by sautéed onion and the leek and potato that give the soup its name.
A personal dinner favorite promptly followed: Oven Roasted Salmon with a gentle, rich cascade of white wine sauce with saffron infusion. During the time of the Tudors, saffron infusion was often used to garnish special meats at banquets. While such a creamy sauce may be a bit much enriching a meat course in the 21st century, it was perfectly heavenly gilding the very juicy Norwegian salmon fillet.
A single fleuron accompanied the salmon. A good idea if one is just at the beginning of a hearty four-course meal. But if you intend to have nothing but the fish, ask for a plate of the delightful puff pastry. It's really supposed to be just a garnish, but don't let that stop you. The fleuron's light flavor and delicate texture are perfect partners for the creamy salmon fillet—or even the creamy soup that opened the meal.
The brief pause before a main course is always a good idea. This is especially true of the Champagne Room where, that night, a five-piece orchestra serenaded diners.
While still in a pleasant stupor from the luscious appetizer, the music, the filigreed ambiance, the penultimate course arrived: Supreme of Chicken With Duxelles. Non-fans of the duxelle should probably try this anyway. Why? One cannot dine French sans les duxelles!
Pronounced “dook-sell,” this traditional French mushroom preparation first served in the 17th century is a savory paste used to stuff everything from beef to baked pastry to beef COVERED with pastry.
As if winking at the most famous uses of the duxelle, Beef Wellington, the Chicken Duxelles followed on the heels of the single fleuron in the appetizer. The French like to say that Beef Wellington, although named after a famous British Duke, is actually Filet de Bœuf en Croûte, a popular French dish that the English simply copied. (Beef Wellington is pâté-de-foie-gras-coated tenderloin around duxelles wrapped in baked puff pastry.)
At the Champagne Room that night, the duxelle was a minced chicken and mushroom combine stuffed into tender chicken breast fillet. Porcini mushroom powder and a red wine sauce gave this dish its robust flavor.
This Supreme of Chicken goes well with bread, rice, or on its own. This one was served with wild rice risotto cake, Italian-style and fired on a griddle, and a tri-hued bouquet of veggies.
The meal ended with a bang, Baked Alaska With Brandy Snaps. Baked Alaska is a great way to have your ice cream during cool December nights. The ice cream doesn't bite your throat so, while still remaining deliciously flavorful. This Baked Alaska was a strawberry-vanilla ice cream log cake, masked in meringue, and then torch flamed.
It was not too sweet but very creamy. Providing a gratifying counterpoint to the creaminess were fresh fruit pearls of mango, peach, and watermelon. The dessert was lightly gilded with coulis (pronounced “coo-lee”), syrup made by pureeing and straining fresh mango and strawberry.
Having dined at Manila Hotel many times since childhood, this is, frankly, the best meal I've had by far anywhere in the hotel. And I very rarely enjoy French cuisine. Truly, in Hemingway's words, a moveable feast!
Print ed: 01/10