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And now, plant-based options at the Manila Peninsula

By KATHY MORAN, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 21, 2022 5:00 am

The Pen has, for the last 15 years, had a “Naturally Peninsula” menu, which is a collection of health-conscious and delectable menu options for guests dining at its restaurants.

But what makes this year different is, as part of the Peninsula-wide Life Lived Best initiative, Naturally Peninsula has been re-launched with a new focus on plant-based cuisine. When I heard this, I was there faster than fast.

“Supporting the health of our guests, deliciously, has always been the mission of Naturally Peninsula,” says Xavier Castello, executive chef of The Manila Peninsula. “But now we are setting ourselves a higher goal: to support the health of the planet as well.”

Having been a vegetarian for over 30 years I was happy to learn that, aside from using locally sourced produce, nutritious oils, and non-refined sugars, there is an ongoing commitment to the increased sustainability of the planet. By prioritizing meat-free, organically and naturally produced ingredients from local producers, the Naturally Peninsula offerings aim to simultaneously benefit the hotel’s local communities and reduce its collective environmental footprint.

Vegetarian Afternoon tea

“When I created these dishes, I wanted to make food that I would eat myself,” Castello said. “I don’t want to do a boring dish just for the sake of being plant-based.”

As I sat and listened to chef Xavier let me in on the vegan/vegetarian offerings, I was pleasantly surprised at how much has changed in food offerings since the pandemic. I can recall a time about five years ago when it was a must to ask for a vegetarian menu; normally if it was a buffet, one would find these dishes in the Indian, Chinese or Japanese stations. The Filipino station didn’t have vegan/ vegetarian options at the time.

Of course, during the pandemic there were many new vegetarian and vegan products that were introduced, making vegetarians all over jump for joy. It seemed to me that the world was changing and people all over the world were opting for healthier food alternatives. This gave way to the bigger manufacturing companies developing plant-based foods that could be prepared at home.

“There have been people coming in and asking us for vegan offerings,” added chef Xavier. “When we reopened we noticed how our guests had been looking for healthier food alternatives. Perhaps a change of eating habits that the pandemic years brought with it.”

Start the day right: Something about Berries

Morning begins with a plate of health

I was at the Pen Lobby bright and early recently, as Pen PR Mariano Garchitorena told me that the spotlight is on breakfast as the meal that offers the most “Naturally Peninsula” dishes.

“We believe that having a healthy and nutrition-packed meal is a great way to start the day,” said chef Xavier. “These healthy breakfast items can be paired with our healthy green smoothies, which change from day-to-day and are known as ‘Our Daily Greens.’”

Nice, yummy and loaded with berries, I started my vegan meal with a “Something about Berries” drink. It was a truly fresh, perfect way to start a meal that would make me a truly happy vegetarian.

Cold noodles: Soba Noodle Salad loaded with edamame, carrots, cucumber, radish, Mandarin oranges and a sesame-ginger dressing

“Let us let the food do the talking,” said chef Xavier, as the first dish was set on the table.

After the pandemic years, and as The Peninsula Manila opens to more guests, the hotel is aware of how important promoting health and wellness is as a core principle.

For my appetizer I opted for the Soba Noodle Salad loaded with edamame, carrots, cucumber, radish, Mandarin oranges and a sesame-ginger dressing — it was just perfect for my taste.

The other choices for Breakfast at The Lobby include an excellent selection of both sweet and savory plant-based dishes, including Tofu Scramble Burrito (spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts), Avocado Toast (avocado mash, mesclun, shaved radish, cucumber roll on homemade sourdough bread) and a Poached Pear Salad (cherry tomato, basil, olive, mesclun, and sprouts topped with Mandarin orange vinaigrette), and Zambales Mangoes and Oats Pancake (with blueberry compote), to name just a healthy handful.

Eats right

With the appetizer as yummy as it was, I waited with a ready palate for what was to come next.

“I am working now with ingredients that I never thought I would use in cooking,” added chef Xavier. “It is a bit difficult for a chef.”

The Beetroot Carpaccio made with grapefruit, candied walnuts, and radish

Yet, with the next two dishes with I was served, I was sure that the good chef spent many days preparing food that any vegan/ vegetarian would enjoy and appreciate.

The Beetroot Carpaccio made with grapefruit, candied walnuts, and radish and Mushrooms al Ajillo with cauliflower purée, garlic confit and chili oil tasted like they were made in vegetarian heaven. The dishes were yummy yet did not feel heavy in the stomach, a feeling that only comes with a good vegetarian meal.

Just right: Tempe Goreng, a pan-seared tempeh, garlic, coriander, turmeric, and sambal from nearby Spices Restaurant.

I also sampled Tempe Goreng, a pan-seared tempeh, garlic, coriander, turmeric, and sambal from nearby Spices Restaurant.

I was told that if a diner at the Lobby wants a dish from Spices, that can be arranged. The dishes at Spices are MSG-free and only low-sodium soy sauce is used in recipes, like in Pak Boong Fai Deng (Thai wok-fried water spinach with yellow beans, chili, and light soy) and Cauliflower Tikka Masala (roasted cauliflower with tomato, garam masala, coriander, and paprika).

But there is only so much that we tried that morning — and having a sweet tooth, I was leaving a little room for dessert, too.

Make room: Mushrooms al Ajillo with cauliflower purée, garlic confit, and chili oil

Dishes cleared out — in came the refreshing dessert: an oven-roasted Bukidnon Pineapple, which was served with compote, locally grown lacatan banana-passion sorbet, and pineapple chips — a perfect end to a yummy meal.

There are so many vegan/vegetarian choices at The Pen. At Escolta there is a Salad Bar that offers a selection of fresh vegetables with healthy dressings. For those with a sweet tooth, homemade dairy-free ice cream made with raw sugar will soon be made available at the restaurant.

Perfect ending: Bukidnon Pineapple served with compote, locally grown lacatan banana-passion sorbet, and pineapple chips

And what is The Pen without its famed Peninsula Afternoon Tea at The Lobby? Even this has been “Naturalized” with its Watermelon Gazpacho with Grilled Cucumber Tofu Skewers, Ratatouille Parcels with Onion Chutney, Calamansi Bar, Baked Cream with Exotic Fruit Caramel, and their homemade Cranberry Scones with Lemon Curd and sugar-free Lichi-Strawberry jam — all healthy and tasty goodies.

Health is wealth

“The vegan/vegetarian diner has become a guest that we would like to please,” added chef Xavier. “So we make sure that all the vegan food prepared are offered in all our restos in the hotel, and also if there are events, too.”

Preparing food with health in mind: Chef Xavier Castello

Added Garch, “In the pipeline at The Peninsula Boutique are a selection of egg- and dairy-free pastries and cakes, as well as homemade kombucha.”

After the pandemic years, and as The Peninsula Manila opens to more guests, the hotel is aware of how important promoting health and wellness is as a core principle. Now, more than ever, with the ongoing global crisis, sustainable health and wellness have become increasingly important.

“With this new wellness program, we hope to break new ground in helping our guests to maximize their health and well-being while also helping to contribute to the local farming economy,” chef Xavier said. “We want to do our part to support and partner with local farms by sharing with them our Naturally Peninsula philosophy and purchase fresh, local, and quality produce that my team and I can use for cooking and seasoning.”

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For information, call 887-2888, extensions 6691 or 6694 (Restaurant Reservations), or email [email protected]. Or visit peninsula.com, like and follow on their Facebook and Instagram.