Can’t book a last-minute weekend trip to Hong Kong or Hanoi? No worries, we have your Plan B. Here are 15 restaurants in Metro Manila that guarantee you and your date the feeling, taste — and sometimes the smell — of being abroad, without having to pay travel tax.
Go to: Phat Pho, G/F Serendra Plaza, BGC, Taguig, Metro Manila; +63 2 8430820. Daily 11am-11pm.
The ambiance: This import from — tadah — Cebu City officially opened its first outlet outside of the Queen City of the South on Feb 12. They specialize in different types of MSG-free pho (cold and hot) and are known for their satays. The chic red stools by the bar and handwritten menu on the blackboard all spell hipster chic, while the casual and streamlined Scandivanian-inspired interiors make this an ideal place to ogle each other in between slurps.
What to order: Start with one of their beautifully crafted rice paper rolls (from PHP165) and share a bowl of their best-selling special pho (meatballs, beef slices, tendon, braised pork and beef, PHP395). Still hungry? Get the noodle bowls-bun (from PHP210), which is pho minus the soup. Drinks: No Bia hoi here, so chug a cold bottle of Singha (PHP160) instead.
Go to: Va Bene Pasta Deli, 2/F Petron Gas Station, EDSA corner Pasay Road, Dasmariñas Village, Makati; +63 2 5569442. Daily 11.30am-9:30pm.
The ambiance: It’s casual and warm (thanks to the orange wall on one side of the room), and this 50-seater can get filled up pretty fast but the point is cuter than that: How cool is it to go on a date at a no-frills Italian restaurant where the kitchen serves killer pasta courtesy of chef Massimo Veronese, whose street cred includes gigs at Peninsula Manila and Ritz Carlton in Naples? Mucho gusto! The restaurant carries Italian, French and Australian wines and is cool with guests bringing their own booze. Corkage-free BYOB extends to a maximum of five bottles.
What to order: Chicken egg yolk raviolo (PHP750), organic eggs tagliolini (PHP390), and the cheese platter to end the meal.
Go to: Hosseins, 2/F Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati; +63 2 7290266. Daily 11am-11pm.
The ambiance: You and your date are transported into another world the moment you step into this 160-seater restaurant. Unlike their neighbors who blast the latest Top 40 hits for all to hear, Hosseins plays only percussive sounds from the Middle East. The seduction continues with saffron-covered walls, Moorish lanterns, Turkish paintings, stained glass windows and Islamic artworks. Ever watched Sex and the City the movie? This comes close.
What to order: Lamb everything: Kebab (PHP571), kheema (PHP578) and biryani (PHP561). Don’t forget dessert: their authentic baclava (PHP85) is so good it could charm the skin off a snake. Note: Everything here is halal.
4. SOUTH KOREA
Go to: Subspace Coffee, Unit 103 Grand Emerald Tower, F Ortigas Jr Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig; +63 2 6557077. Mon-Thu 8am-11pm, Fri & Sat 8am-1am, Sun 11am-9pm.
The ambiance: Get your Gangnam Style on at this quirky coffee shop inspired by cafés in Seoul. The space is cramped and terribly cute, making it a popular choice for prenup photo shoots. The eclectic mix of tables and chairs, cool lighting fixtures, unusual prints and paintings on the wall, and a stunning chandelier made of chairs make this a date that would be hard to forget. A counter of pastries greet you at the entrance, while opposite the bar is a couch and behind it is a television mounted on what looks like a blank, unfinished wall. At the far end of the room are tables that, though situated very near each other, are surprisingly private. MOMOL time!
What to order: The peanut butter latté (PHP130) may be cute but the Purple Yam latté (PHP120) is the real winner.
Go to: Cova Tapas y Sangria, 22 Jupiter St, Bgy Bel-Air, Makati; +63 2 4789700. Daily 5pm-3am.
The ambiance: If there’s such a thing as a 21st century coño cave, this is how it will look like. Strips of wood climb the wall, drooping up and down across the ceiling, which climb back down the other side. Subdued lighting, a black bar that runs the entire length of one side of the room, complemented by black tables and black chairs, make this the perfect spot to take your colleague-crush for a sophisticated after-hours ligawan.
What to order: The hard-to-perfect patatas bravas are impeccable. Don’t miss out on the huevos cabreados (fried eggs with potatoes and garnishings, PHP299). Get a boquerones (PHP 130) to share. Of course, drink yourselves silly with a carafe of sangria (PHP895).
Go to: Combo’s Bread Company Bakery and Café, 5911-B Matilde St, Bgy Poblacion, Makati; +63 2 5533371. Daily 1pm-1am.
The ambiance: No, this isn’t the Dutch joint that makes good pastries, that’s their neighbor. Combo’s Bread Company is actually a Turkish restaurant named thus because it’s owner and chef, Mehmet Temizyurek, has over two decades of experience making bread tucked under his belt. He migrated to Manila and four years ago turned what we believe is his garage into a Turkish garden slash lounge. There’s wicker furniture in the dining area and low-seat sofas in the lounge area where you can smoke shisha tobacco (PHP250/350) in healthy-sounding flavors like strawbery, watermelon, grape.
What to order: Chicken kebab pasta with butter (PHP200), share an Iskender kebap (PHP500), and please try Mehmet’s Turkish ice cream (PHP140).
Combo’s Bread Company photo courtesy of Mucking Around Manila
Go to: El Chupacabra, 5782 Felipe St, Bgy Poblacion, Makati; +63 2 8951919. Daily 11am-2am.
The ambiance: With its always-on street fiesta energy, El Chupacabra is one of those dives everyone goes to for post-drinking nutrition, or an after-work, pre-commute snack. It’s super casual and very global, you’ll feel you were in some cool street party in some global village. All that’s missing is a piñata.
What to order: The sisig street taco (PHP80) is a sure win, while the chupacabra nachos (PHP150) can fill you up.
Go to: Little Tokyo,2277 Chino Roces Ave, Makati City. Daily 11am-11pm.
The ambiance: A fixture in the dining scene of Manila, inside the Little Tokyo compound is a cluster of Japanese establishments and a courtyard where diners can sit and enjoy their food, drink and — after all, it’s Valentine’s Day — each other.
What to order: Get your food from Seryna, the Kaizan Gozen or the Goku Jo. If you decide to go for a lunch date, make sure to get sushi gozen or the chirashi sushi bowl. If you’re not feeling adventurous, there’s tempura (PHP270/five pieces) or tonkatsu (PHP225).
Go to: The Dutch Bread Hauz, 5417 Gen Luna Cor Matilde Sts, Bgy Poblacion, Makati; +63 2 5539598. Daily 8am-7pm.
The ambiance: It’s hard to take seriously, what with its name, but inside, you’ll see that The Dutch, ehem, Bread Hauz is classier than what the name suggests. This Dutch-owned establishment is nothing more than, say, a businessman’s coffee shop, with marbled floors, dark furniture, and chairs covered in upholstery that screams the names of different cosmpolitan cities around the world. Their sandwiches are divine.
What to order: The sandwiches (crab salad, PHP130; chicken curry salad, PHP110) and a cup of coffee. Leave room for their delicious pastries (rice pie, anyone? PHP950).
Go to: Balkan Yugoslavian Kitchen, 109 Perea St, Legaspi Village, Makati; +63 2 8460744. Daily 11am-10pm.
The ambiance: Owner Marco Batricevic — yes, the Green Archers basketball player — says the Legazpi Village branch of his restaurant is reminiscent of homes in old Yugoslavia. So while the red walls, wooden furniture, and distinctly patterned carpets and table runners feel homey, they still somewhat feel foreign, if not downright exotic.
What to order: Start with goulash (PHP280), a thick stew with beef and pasta. Then share a stuffed pljeskavica (PHP330), which is really just a burger patty with cheese inside. Impress your date and and order the homemade apple pie (PHP140), until recently an insider’s secret.
Go to: Prost, G/F Fort Pointe Two Bldg, BGC, Taguig, +63 2 8283940. Daily 4pm-12am.
The ambiance: Sleek, modern and high-ceilinged, this German joint serves good Aleman foo, best paired, of course, with beer. A wallpaper of black and white vertical stripes on both sides of the room lend it a chic and sophisticated vibe.
What to order: Mini reuben spring rolls (PHP260) and bockwurst (PHP350).
Go to: Basil, Lot A Katipunan Avenue corner White Plains Avenue, Bgy Ugong Norte, Quezon City; +63 2 9114158. Mon-Sat 11am-10pm, Sundays 12pm-10pm.
The ambiance: At the end of the gardening/horticulture establishments row along White Plains is a garden supply store that’s been converted to this restaurant. The surrounding greenery gives Basil a lush, relaxing, and refreshing feel, perfect for the homecooked Thai cuisine it offers.
What to order: Pad thai (PHP325), tom yum ta lay (seafood soup, P298) and bagoong rice (PHP295).
Go to: Brasserie Cicou, 57 Annapolis St, Greenhills, San Juan; + 63 2 6619200. Tue 3pm-10pm. Wed-Sat 12pm-10pm, Sun 10:30am-10pm.
The ambiance: Unlike most French restaurants that roll out the fine dining carpet, Cicou is casual and family-friendly with wooden panels, big windows, and a space that feels like a living room with big fluffy couches — perhaps for post-meal cuddling?
What to order: The escargot bourguignon (PHP498), steak tartare (PHP688), and the item that will have you coming back: Kouign-amman (PHP330), a round crusty cake with layes of butter and sugar folded in.
Go to: Kashmir, 816 Arnaiz Ave, Bgy San Lorenzo, Makati; +63 2 8444927. Daily 11am-11pm.
The ambiance: It’s an explosion of all things Indian — intricate trimmings, opulent tabletops bordering on the gaudy, embellished and colorful walls, silkworks, and really fantastic food. The warm lighting at night may be the only thing that’s not over the top here, but even that adds to the charm.
What to order: You can’t go wrong with Kashmir’s kebab selection (from PHP250). The fukna (pastry crisps topped with boiled potatoes, chopped onion, coriander leaves and sprinkled with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce; PHP160) is a nice surprise, but the dahl dishes (from PHP250) will take the experience up one, nay, several notches up!
Go to: Choi Garden, 12 Annapolis St, Greenhills, San Juan; +63 2 7276042. Mon-Sat 10:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm, Sun 10am-10:30pm.
The ambiance: The entrance to Choi Garden’s Annapolis location is really something else: it’s dark and red, which makes it mysterious and romantic. As this is a Chinese restaurant in a predominantly Tsinoy neighborhood, the big crowd can ruin the ambiance. Opt for a side booth or take dinner upstairs.
What to order: Dim sum (from PHP80), roasted Hong Kong pigeon (PHP400) and masachi (mochi, PHP80).
Go to: Skippy’s Bar and Grill, Federacion Drive corner 7th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +63949 8889300. Mon-Sun 9am-2am.
The ambiance: Skippy’s reflect the Aussies’ appetite for a steady eddy good time. Hard wooden floors that match the wooden furniture, a pool table, a few dart boards, and right smack on the middle, a U-shaped bar. Danger, however: you might run the risk of friendzoning your date so help yourself: play pool (or a round of darts!), make a bet, and make sure it’s laden with naughty innuendos.
What to order: For full-on Aussie flavor, try the vegemite with toast (PHP 150), have their beef or chicken pie (PHP350), or share the Aussie burger (PHP450).
Main photo: Praew Tansanga