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A moveable feast with Peninsulares

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published May 25, 2023 5:00 am

The idea came from Mariano Garchitorena—fondly called Garch by his former newspaper colleagues—who is the Peninsula Manila’s brand communications director.

“Why don’t you bring your Lifestyle staff for a culinary journey at the Pen?” Garch said. A true literati, he called it “a moveable feast” à la Hemingway. We would hop from one restaurant to another, from appetizers to desserts. Delicious idea.

Old Manila is a fine dining favorite of gourmets and gourmands.

Spices at Peninsula Manila features Asian-inspired flavors.

Old Manila is a fine dining favorite of gourmets and gourmands.

Spices at Peninsula Manila features Asian-inspired flavors.


And I, of course, agreed, adding it would be with Peninsulares, recalling Rizal’s reference in his novels to Spaniards born in Spain, as against the lesser Insulares, the Spaniards born in colonial Philippines. But by Peninsulares, I only mean habitués or fans of the Peninsula, this 47-year-old hotel which has become a storied Makati landmark, a part of our political history and our personal memories.

The Lifestyle team headed by Millet Mananquil (left) with Pen PR honcho
Mariano “Garch” Garchitorena (right); Therese Garceau, Monique Toda and Marbbie Tagabucba (front row); Chito Vijandre and Kathy Moran (2nd row); Ricky Toledo, PR brand communications officer Grace Lim, Lai Reyes, Scott Garceau and Lisa Guerrero Nakpil (back rows).
The Pen general manager Masahisa Oba with Garch, Scott and Chito holding cake slices at the Lobby.

And yes, it is a moveable feast as Hemingway meant it to be: a memory that we will always have with us and carry wherever we go. 

Millet Mananquil

Matthew the Apostle said that man cannot live by bread alone. I probably can, if it is the olive bread at Old Manila, which I’m quite addicted to. The Atlantic Turbot with oyster velouté, asparagus and a whiff of champagne was good. My other addictions at the Pen are the shrimp cake (which we had), seafood laksa, and tom yum at Spices. At The Lobby, the pancit luglog and halo-halo (the finale of our moveable feast) are musts for me and my friends after watching a concert or show elsewhere. I am also forever fascinated by the mini-orchestra that plays from the Gallery. Their music, ranging from classic to pop, adds pleasure while you leisurely dine at The Lobby. These musicians are sharp, too. Once, when Gloria Diaz entered The Lobby, they played Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko

Lisa Guerrero Nakpil

Refuge of Manila’s 400 and its billionaires, the Manila Peninsula still stands tall post-pandemic, like a Downton Abbey grande dame. The Pen has also always been writer-centric—one of its salons is named after my uncle, Leon Ma. Guerrero—although I really didn’t need an excuse to table-hop and revisit its charms. Appetizers were at Spices (sun-dappled and still filled with‘ladies who lunch’.) Then, it was on to Old Manila for our mains where I selected a Beetroot Salad (endives, goat cheese, walnuts) as a nod to a 19th-century Ermita favorite, Ensalada Russa or Russian Salad, along with a bouillabaisse-flavored Prawn and Lemon Ricotta Ravioli.

Ricky Toledo And Chito Vijandre

It’s always a delight to “come home” to The Pen because it brings back memories of happy times shared while enjoying favorite dishes through the years. Entering Spices was a nostalgia trip with the teakwood paneling and antique ceiling fans transporting us back to our favorite colonial mansions and serene gardens around Asia with the food to match: The Yam Som-o and Yam-Pla Duk Fu salads were refreshing starters teased with just enough chili to energize and the Tord Mun Gung was perfect with the plum sauce, completing the balance of flavors that satisfied all our Thai cravings. Old Manila, Pen’s take on French bistronomy, brought many surprises: The amuse-bouche of creamy foie gras in a crispy puff with a honey melon leaf and balsamic pearls was beautifully composed on a bed of tiny white pebbles. The Atlantic Turbot was divine, complemented by a champagne beurre blanc and crisp squid ink tuiles to add just enough saltiness.

Nothing beats dessert at The Lobby, with the magnificence of that multistory ceiling punctuated by the sunburst sculpture of National Artist Napoleon Abueva. The new menu had some sinful indulgences: The Limoncello Almond Tart and the Gâteau au Chocolat were tops on our must-have-again list. Just when we were content with all the culinary wonders, out came the famous halo-halo, which we could never resist. And having it felt like we were indeed truly home again.

Monique Toda

I was literally a moveable feast as we transferred from one restaurant to another for lunch. The group chatted away as starters were served at Spices, our first stop. Among the Asian specialties served, my favorite was the Thai catfish salad. For the main course, we moved to Old Manila. I had the tender beef cheeks served on a bed of spinach. What can I say? I’m a meat-loving woman. We ended our meal nowhere else but in the grand lobby. Desserts new to their menu were served and the blueberry crumble was a favorite—but the famous Pen halo-halo was the star. We were full from the food but felt light with the fun company, before we plunged right back into the reality of our hot summer. Thank God for that halo-halo!

Therese Jamora-Garceau

The Pen Lobby has always had a special place in my heart, as my family and I had a tradition of going there after every show or dinner in Makati that had an inadequate dessert. We knew we could make up for that with The Lobby’s Pen Pals, a truly decadent-yet-genius creation of 19 (!) scoops of ice cream in a glass bowl that our family of seven would share. At one point it even came with a stuffed toy.

Today, my new go-to is Halo Halo Harana, another jaw-droppingly giant dessert, because you can have it solo or share it. Ube ice cream, a purple smear of halaya and leche flan top shaved ice hiding large sweet beans, kaong, and langka strips. Stirring everything together creates a beautiful marriage of flavors and textures that’s so refreshing in the summer heat. It is a (colossal) love song to the classic Pinoy halo-halo.

Scott Garceau

So much has passed through The Peninsula Manila Lobby—rom the famous to the infamous, from VIPs to Gen-Zs—and yet it never really changes. Has any other hotel in Makati had so many lives? From news reports (that tank! that coup attempt!), to late-night gatherings in the Lobby for dessert after Pearl Jam or Depeche Mode or Michael Jackson concerts—it’s historical, babies! It’s also delicious, from the lovely Tord Mun Goong appetizer (that’s Thai fried shrimp cakes with plum sauce) at Spices, to the slowly braised Angus beef cheeks at Old Manila—a sublime mélange of soft beef cubes in a red wine demi-glacé sauce cuddled by Jerusalem artichokes mousseline, Roscoff onions and hazelnuts.

Kathy Moran

Moveable” meant fun, since too much sitting for any length of time bores me. Spices’ Yam Som-O salad was a cool starter made with refreshing pomelo mixed with lime, chili and peanuts. Then came the Garlic and Cheese Naan bread. I was one happy camper. At Old Manila, I got the Black Truffle and Wild Mushrooms Agnolotti. I was sitting beside fellow dog-lover Monique Toda, who shared the story about the cremation of her “fave” Chihuahua Pablo. I savored every bite of pasta while listening to Monique’s interesting pet tale.My sweet ending began with a chocolate chip cookie at The Pen Lobby. Garch saved the best for last—The Pen Halo Halo—for all. It was a cool and perfect ending to a yummy feast.

Lai Reyes

The Pen’s Movable Feast reminds me of Theodore Zeldin’s Conversation Meal/Dinner, except that we’re the guests, and not strangers to each other. And instead of choosing a topic to discuss, we had juicy chismis in every bite. Old Manila’s Iberico Presa is a must-try for meat lovers. It has that distinct sweet and nutty flavor, emanating from the Iberian pig’s acorn-based diet. I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known earlier what boudin noir is. Well, I’m glad I did!

Marbbie Tagabucba

I don't mind staying under the sun when it's Napoleon Abueva's Sunburst. They no longer make hotel lobbies like The Lobby at The Peninsula Manila. But if I want more heat with a kick, I go for the curries at Spices then I cool down with their iced Thai milk tea. Perfect for figuratively spilling some piping-hot tea! Then it's back to The Lobby for some small Halo-Halo Harana. I know celebs like Park Seo Joon and Penn Badgley like it in jumbo, but the small Harana is just right. Plus The Lobby ambiance and service is unbeatable. Who knows what juicy chismis the servers have overheard! I bet they'll never tell.