Old Manila has seen better days, that’s no lie. With the masses’ preference for the more sanitized and orderly streets of Makati, Malate’s vibrancy has been drained out, many of the historic buildings of Intramuros have been left in ruins, and Ermita’s bustle is on the decline. But there are still pockets of life (and hope) where the center of our beloved city used to be – from time-tested restaurants, which are time capsules in their own right, to a new wave of hip businesses trying to reinvigorate their neighborhoods. Viva Manila!
Housed on the historic colonial grounds of Intramuros is time-tested restaurant, Illustrado. This gorgeous space, which is popular for weddings, continues to serve up Spanish-Filipino cuisine which is literally fit for a king (the king and queen of Spain dine here on occasion). To start, order the gratinated oysters on the half shell (P395) followed by the house-specialty of callos Madrillena (P450), which is good for sharing. For a sweet ending, try their signature house-made locally-inspired ice creams, such as the lightly fragrant and refreshing sampaguita (P120). 744 Calle Real del Palacio (Gen. Luna), Intramuros, Manila; + 63 2 5273674. 8pm-10pm
Purple Yam Malate
We’re all about Brooklyn eatery, Purple Yam’s Philippine outpost in Malate, which serves up Filipino fare in the same contemporary fashion as the New York branch. The restaurant, which is only open for group bookings, serves multi-course menus served with non-alcoholic drinks during lunch or brunch (from PHP1,500 per person) as well as dinner (PHP2,500 per person). Although the menu is ever-changing, you can look forward to their signature halo-halo which features creamy carabao milk, adzuki beans, house-made avocado ice cream, saba, kaong, and nata as well as terrific regional delicacies such as Tuguegarao pastillas, Cavite pinipig, and Dumaguete coco pandan jelly. 603 Nakpil cor Bocobo Sts, Malate, Manila; +63 926 7133523, Facebook. Daily 5:30pm-10pm by appointment only.
Cafe Adriatico Premiere
This bohemian-esque Malate spot is one of the only businesses to survive the great exodus of eateries and bars in the area. In operation since 1979, Cafe Adriatico Premiere is still as charming as ever with its wooden bistro chairs, nostalgic paintings on the walls, and no-frills food that’s just good enough to keep you coming back. The food is hearty and comforting, just like the restaurant’s atmosphere. There’s the juicy salpicao rice (PHP399), embutido (PHP325), and adobo on pandesal (PHP175) to satiate your craving for local fare, but there are Mediterranean eats to be had too, such as hummus with pita bread (PHP175), as well as old-school crepes Suzette (PHP140) which is made table-side. 1790 Adriatico St, Malate, Manila; +63 2 5237924. Daily 7am-4am.
Barbara’s has been an institution of Intramuros’ dining scene for a few decades now, and its location, interiors, and cuisine feel almost like a time capsule. The heritage restaurant, which offers buffet lunch and dinner with live Filipino music and dance, is decorated with a hand seriously heavy on vintage wares which almost borders on kitsch. It’s all charming, really. Think artfully folded cloth napkins placed in stemmed water glasses, doilies-a-plenty, and eighties-style buffet spreads. Don’t miss out on the signature taquitos of ground beef (PHP145) and Seafood Amelie (PHP475) which consists of a variety of fruits of the sea with a lemon cream sauce, glazed vegetables, and spaghetti with pesto. Plaza San Luis, General Luna St, Intramuros, Manila; +63 2 5274083. Daily11am–2pm, 6:30–9pm.
The Bar@951 is the single candle burning in the wake of the collapse of Malate’s nightlife scene. The formerly vibrant neighborhood is now filled with girly bars and restaurants, karaoke spots, and groceries catering to the Korean community. But this multi-leveled bar and art gallery, which was called Penguin Bar back in the day before a change of ownership and location, continues to pour out smashing live music and drinks and grub on the cheap. Found here are old patrons, bohemian-types, and tourists knocking back rounds of beer and cocktails such as mojitos (PHP100 per glass; PHP350 per pitcher) as well as noshing on simple food like cheese sticks (PHP180) and chicken quesadillas (PHP200). 1951 Adriatico St, Malate, Manila; +63 939 6346649; www.facebook.com. Tue-Sat 5pm-2am.
The newly-opened Tap Station, a much-welcomed drinking hole in Ermita, offers a slew of spirits, a few cocktails, and over a dozen beers on tap. The pricing of the tipples are etched onto the walls with chalk above the said taps. Take advantage of the complimentary beer tastings, pick your poison, then choose your glass. These top beers (from PHP99 per glass) include interesting brews such as the Big Jack IPA, which is brewed with jackfruit, as well as the Red Head IRA, which is brewed with beets. The food menu, on the other hand, is decent and heavy on meats and European eats. 1313 Adriatico cor Padre Faura Sts, Ermita, Manila; Check Facebook for operating hours.
The elegant, ornate, and also quite lavishly dated Champagne Room at the historic The Manila Hotel is iconic in its own right. Its large dining space, filled with ceiling-high palm trees fashioned out of crystal, intricate wrought iron arch ways, and dining chairs upholstered with floral patterns, call back to Old Manila’s wealthy past. The restaurant, which is only open for dinner from Mondays to Saturdays, offers an extensive a la carte menu of traditional fine European cuisine as well as a degustation menus (from PHP2,700). Complete the experience with no less than a flute of bubbly, such as the Moet & Chandon Brut (PHP950 per glass; PHP4,900 per bottle) or if you’re feeling extra fancy, Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage (PHP7,500). 1 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, +63 2 527 0011, www.manila-hotel.com.ph. Mon-Sat 6pm-11pm.