(in case you are interested, here's a very short overview of the neighbourhood.)
our first night there we decided to walk across the street to greenbelt, which houses over a hundred restaurants and food outlets. we were looking for something good (obviously) and possibly not too crowded on an early weekend night, so mariel suggested we try museum café--or m café as it is informally known--attached to the ayala museum.
oh hippy hippy shake, this place reeks of hipness, with concrete floors and tables, white walls and glass, and giant spun thread globe lights overhead. the staff members are jordi labanda illustrations come to life, and the crowd all johnny cashed-out dressed in black. it is slightly intimidating, but in the breezeway between the museum and café there is a lovely outdoor seating area--all candle- and fairylights- lit, with gentle bossanova and chillout music wafting through the trees; along with the relative lack of attitude on the staff's part (just a "we're not snobby, we're really just not here" space-out that passes for discreet), and the row of obscenely luscious desserts on the counter that greets you when you first walk in, m is more inviting that your standard artsy white box.
like many restaurants in manila, there is usually some sort of fruit shake (made by blending fresh fruit and ice together) on the menu, quite refreshing in the tropical heat. m has the typical ones--green mango, melon, and calamansi--but a couple of unusual ones as well. i had one made from duhat and lychee, which was sweet and delicate.
we started with codfish balls skewered on lemongrass, and duck rolls with hoisin sauce. i don't remember what kind of sauce was served with the fried cod, but they were flavourful and almost uncomfortably meaty for fishballs. unlike other processed fish products there were noticeable chunks of cod throughout, and the frying sealed in its juiciness. the duck rolls were flour tortillas filled with skinless dark duck meat, julienned carrots, radish, cucumbers, and lettuce, and were quite light and fresh. there was definitely more vegetables than duck meat (i thought it could've stood to have a little more duck), but the meat was tender and not stringy. they were served with a side of tasty, ungreasy kropek, a type of airy, crispy prawn chip.
i shared an order of the pumpkin curry soup, which was a coconut milk-based soup with puréed pumpkin and a light indian-style curry spice. it was served with a poppadom (a chickpea flour crispbread) on the side. i found the soup to be nicely spiced, not overwhelming the pumpkin. it was perfectly pleasant, but truthfully, i didn't find it especially exciting--maybe a little more kick would've knocked my fussy boots off. i was also slightly underwhelmed by my green mango salad with fried catfish. i was expecting the catfish to come in larger pieces, but it turned out to be catfish flakes that were fried in a batter, like fish-flavoured bacon bits. they were crunchy but not hot, and while the rest of the salad was the same slightly-above-roomish-temperature (as expected), i think if the catfish bits were a little warmer then the flavour of the fish would have improved. however, there was a generous amount of catfish, not-too-sour julienned green mango, and the whole dish was balanced out by the chopped cashews, tomatoes, and green onions with a sweet and sour vinaigrette. the dish turned out to be an excellent palate cleanser for the rich pumpkin curry soup.
i was definitely having a case of food envy, as my companions' dishes looked more interesting and seemed to satisfy them more than mine did. i tried the seared scallop and pomelo salad, which had a nice amount of sweet scallops, pomelo segments, cashews, and mint amidst the lettuce and the patis (fermented fish sauce)-spiked dressing.
i also had a bite of the succulent asian five spice marinated duck (which was described as duck breast on the menu, but actually was a duck leg). it was served on a bed of sautéed kangkong (water spinach), with a side of rice.
i didn't actually try this next dish, but it was very intriguing: chicken adobo with pan-seared foie gras and topped with a fried quail's egg, and served with a side of kangkong tempura and mashed potatoes. it looked a little crazy, but it smelled divine--i won't question it until i get to try it sometime.
we ended the night sharing two desserts, a caramelized banana tart with pastillas de leche ice cream, and a sampler of chocolate crème brûlées. the banana tart had a generous amount of perfectly caramelized (saba? might've been a different variety) bananas, on an okay puff pastry base. i couldn't tell if the ice cream was just vanilla ice cream with bits of pastillas de leche, a rich, milky sugary candy, or if it ice cream made with pastillas de leche ingredients. either way, it somehow managed to be rich, yet not cloying, and accompanied the bananas nicely. [ps--banana tart comes with spicey song--scroll through comments]
there were three chocolate crème brûlées: dark chocolate with ginger, white chocolate with thai basil, and dark chocolate with chili pepper. they were exquisitely done, with a thin but firm burnt sugar layer, a nicely done chocolate base, and the infused flavours subtle, yet with a kick that intensified with every bite. the majority of the table preferred the chocolate with chili, but i gave a slight edge to the almost anise-like thai basil one. heavenly.
i like m café, despite my disappointment in a couple of dishes. service was decent, but some of the dishes arrived much later than others, and towards the end of the evening our server disappeared almost completely. however, the room and atmosphere could have been cold and haughty, but it seemed like the staff and customers were a relatively genial bunch, and the warm scent of caramel wafting from the dessert bar helped immensely. it can be a little pricey for the philippines (entrees range from P250 to P595-US4.60 to US$10.80), for what could be a "nouvelle" amount of food. however, the lunch menu should be reasonable, and i'm rather excited by the fact that they open up at 6.30 am for breakfast. anybody care to join me for a chicken curry omelette or banana peanut butter waffles next time i'm in town?
museum (m) café
ayala museum, greenbelt
makati ave (cor. dela rosa street)