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Buffet dining in the new normal

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 14, 2020 5:00 pm

Once heaving with row upon row of succulent churrasco meat items, bucketsful of fresh seafood, sushi and sashimi, intoxicating curry dishes, dim sums, soups, artisanal breads and delectable desserts, the 21 ateliers of Spiral, Sofitel Philippine Plaza’s interactive temple of gastronomy, now boast curated menus that put the spotlight on quality over quantity.

Spiral, which reopened on Oct. 2, redefines luxury (buffet) dining in the new normal.

Spiral’s new executive chef Bettina Arguelles, the first Filipina executive chef in a five-star international branded hotel in the country, put her game face on and did an amazing job — a la Marie Kondo — in curating the restaurant’s menu by getting rid of “filler” dishes that “don’t spark joy.”

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“In the French station, for example, we used to have 15 different kinds of dishes that sat on the counter. And some were hardly touched by our guests,” relates chef Arguelles, who rejoined Sofitel at the height of the lockdown. “To avoid wastage and to ensure diners get only the best, I revamped the menu. Each atelier now highlights four to five signature dishes prepared à la minute by expert culinary artisans.”

In terms of food handling and preparation, the chefs follow a certain standard that goes beyond its norm of stringent safety and hygiene measures.

Spiral was closed for six months and that gave chef Arguelles and her team enough time to re-conceptualize so it could adapt to the new normal.

“The most important step was to keep the identity of Spiral intact even with the restrictions imposed by the IATF,” explains the amiable chef.

And since buffet is the DNA of Spiral, guests can still indulge by way of a fresh market experience.

Spiral Manila executive chef Bettina Arguelles

  1. Let’s meat at Spiral.

In this new environment, diners get to personally select premium-quality produce from Spiral’s newest hub — the Central Market.

Plexiglass barriers, designed to help diners keep their distance from the chef and the food items on display, are in place.

“Central Market reminds one of the dampa- or paluto-style dining,” explains chef Arguelles. “Diners can choose from the fresh meat, seafood and veggies on display.”

The freshly selected ingredients are then prepared à la minute in various styles, like moules marinière, fritto misto, or seafood al forno at the French Stove; mala hotpot or wok stir-fried at the Chinese station; or customized teppanyaki at the Hot Japanese station.

For made-to-order dishes, order numbers will be provided to the guest for claiming.

At Spiral, diners can also ask for the chef’s Secret Menu, which changes every day.

“The Secret Menu puts the spotlight on our hardworking and talented chefs,” enthuses chef Arguelles. “It gives them the chance to shine — the freedom to showcase their talent and creativity. Finally, there’s a dish in the resto that they can call their own.”

What I love about this new buffet setup is that I get to explore all the different stations, looking for new food discoveries. Before, I always ended up with a bowl of my favorite laksa, a slice of the olive bread, and a scoop of salted caramel gelato.

Since the Cheese Room is off-limits, guests can get a cheese plate from the French atelier.

Last Saturday, I discovered an Indian dish that was something special. This tower of deliciousness has papdi (fried flour crackers) as a base upon which all other ingredients are piled (diced onions, tomatoes, and fried, spiced chickpea) flavored with cilantro-mint, tamarind chutney and fresh coriander leaves.

If not for my nice chat with chef Arguelles, this downright addicting chaat wouldn’t have made it to my food vocabulary.

Well, if the number of diners at Spiral is any indication, the lure of buffet dining — amid the pandemic — is still there. Only this time, it isn’t all about gluttony and abundance but a chance to share a good meal and conversation with the people you love — even if you’re one meter apart.

#SAFETYISTHENEWLUXURY

Guests now go around the various ateliers to select their favorite dishes, following a strict, one-way route. At each station, you won’t find the usual stack of clean plates under the counter.

“To maintain minimal exposure, each plate will only be in contact with the guest, apart from the chef safely serving the dish from their respective atelier,” explains Anne-Sophie Hurtaud, director of F&B, while giving me a short tour of Spiral. “Even the waiters aren’t allowed to touch the plate. A one-dish-per-plate policy is also implemented to avoid cross-contamination.”

Vegetable yellow curry

Sadly, the Cheese Room is off-limits to diners. Instead, they can go to the French atelier, where a cheese plate awaits them.

Seating capacity is currently limited to 30 percent, with one-meter spacing between guests.

Further hygiene measures are implemented with an online beverage menu accessible through a QR code on each table, while contactless payment solutions via GCash, Alipay, WeChat Pay, and GrabPay are available.

In accordance with government protocols, guests below age 21 and above 60 are not permitted to dine in the resto during General Community Quarantine (GCQ).

Chocolate Lava cake

“For over a decade, Spiral Manila has been the landmark of gastronomic feasts that have been part of countless gatherings and memorable occasions,” shares Hurtaud. “As we face a new environment, the unwavering Filipino spirit carries on and now, more than ever, is more attuned to the finer celebrations of life and its milestones.”

* * *

Spiral is operational during the first three weekends of October during the following meal periods: Thursday dinner, Friday lunch and dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch. Rates are P2,850 for lunch, P3,500 for dinner, and P4,350 for brunch.

For reservations, call 8-832-6988 or email [email protected]