Above: Rooms at Hotel Céleste are all unique in design.
A vibrant new range of galleries, boutiques, and restaurants await in Manila’s business district.
By Cathy Paras-Lara
Makati city—one of the 16 Municipalities that make up Metro Manila —may be the Philippines’ corporate hub, but there’s plenty of pleasure to be had alongside the commerce. Home to most of the top hotels and luxury shopping malls in the capital, this is where Manila’s modern, cosmopolitan edge has been annealed with a distinctly local flavor. Here, some of the best places to experience the area’s forward-thinking, Filipino flair.
Where to Stay
Occupying the building recently vacated by the infamous Mars Disco, Hotel Céleste (2 San Lorenzo Drive; 63-2/887-8080; hotelceleste.ph; doubles from US$102) is Makati’s newest boutique lodgings. In its transformation from a dancehall to designer hotel, the building has been stripped of its ’90s neon and now exudes the ambience of a plush Parisian boudoir, replete with gilded armchairs, velvet curtains, and marble bathtubs. Creating even more of a stir around town is Céleste’s fine-dining restaurant. Helmed by chef Cyrille Soenen, a veteran of Michelin-starred kitchens in Paris, Cicou dishes up modern French cuisine to Manila’s smart set.
Celebrating 33 years in 2009, the Peninsula Manila (Cnr. Ayala and Makati Ave.; 63-2/887-2888; peninsula .com; doubles from US$250) remains as charming as ever. The 468 newly renovated rooms and suites come kitted out with dark wood and rattan furnishings and Filipino artwork, including an impressive collection of prints from local photographers. The hotel’s Old Manila restaurant gets rave reviews for its traditional French fare; particularly tasty are the lobster mousseline and roasted quail with Armagnac.
Families and long-stay visitors will want to reserve a spot at Fraser Place (Valero St., Salcedo Village; 63-2/818-1818; manila.fraserhospitality.com; from US$135). The property’s 146 one- to four-bedroom serviced apartments feature separate kitchen, living, and dining areas, and some have private balconies overlooking the city.
Where to Eat
Opened in March, Lorenzo’s Way (G/F, Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center; 63-2/729-0047) is the latest venture from the LJC group, which operates a handful of Manila’s most popular cafés and restaurants. The cozy bistro specializes in hearty Mediterranean dishes like binacalao fish stew and costillas de tenera guisada, an addictive platter of braised beef short ribs. For a sweet ending to your meal, make a beeline to Machiavelli Chocolatier (G/F, Rustan Makati, Glorietta; 63-2/483-9854) in the chic Rustan department store. While the velvety chocolate is imported from Belgium, the flavors are distinctly local: pick up a selection of bon bons with rich centers of coconut, mangosteen, and mung bean.
Similarly tempting tastes are on offer at the new Ice Cream Bar, Flavors by FIC (Joya Tower, Joya Drive, Rockwell Center; 63-2/403-0891). The sweet-and-savory queso (cheese), blindingly purple yam, and crunchy cashew blends sell out fast, especially on Thursday’s when 295 pesos (about US$6) gets you unlimited servings of ice ream, not to mention free Wi-Fi.
Across the street in the Rockwell Power Plant Mall is Astralis (Roxas Blvd., Dr. J. Quintos St.; 63-2/890-7124). Chef Linda Juico has created a menu of artistic Filipino fusion cuisine, with standouts including baked Camembert in filo pastry, served with a zesty homemade pesto. Juico’s salmon salad is an equally intriguing blend of colors and textures, pairing smoked fish with pomelo, palm hearts, and nuts, sweetened with a honey-citrus vinaigrette.
Billed as Manila’s only upscale carinderia (cafeteria), Petra & Pilar (2111 Jaka Center, Chino Roces Ave.; 63-2/887-5168) is the creation of local businesswoman Katrina Ponce-Enrile. Her home-style food ranges from Filipino favorites like kare kare (oxtail, tripe, and peanut stew) to light, steamed fish rolls and a delectable milky custard flan. True to the carinderia spirit, meals are served in a bustling dining room and, despite the generous servings, you’ll leave with enough change to pick up goodies from Delimondo, Enrile’s gourmet deli, tucked off to one side of the restaurant. Homemade pasta sauces, sardine pâté, aromatic oils, and specialty sausages like smoked kielbasa are all on offer for a handful of pesos. For something more exclusive, the complex is also home to 21, Enrile’s reservations-only reception room with space for 21 diners.
Where to Shop
The youthful verve of the “Archeology Wing” at the Rockwell Power Plant Mall is punctuated by the class of Aranaz (2/F, Rockwell; 63-2/757-0301), Filipino accessories queen Amina Aranaz-Alunan’s new boutique. Designed by London-based architect Juan Carlo Calma, the store is a maze of mirrored walls and honeycomb panels. Pick up one-of-a-kind wood bead clutches with mother-of-pearl handles or oversize totes stitched together from scraps of recycled fabric.
In the same wing of the mall you’ll find Team Manila (63-2/899-1570) and Analog Soul (63-2/728-4876), both stocking retro streetwear crafted by local designers. Bright T-shirts and totes are emblazoned with iconic Filipino imagery—everything from cartoon drawings of jeepneys to renderings of national hero Jose Rizal.
Nearby, the high-end Greenbelt 5 mall counts dozens of showrooms from big-name international brands among its tenants, but you’ll find homegrown designs on the second floor in the “Filipino Zone.” Ogle gem-studded platforms and suede booties at Cesar Gaupo (63-2/729-8672); pick up a playful blouse in the colorful store by Kate Torralba (63/917-622-1229); or plan for that special occasion in the Jun Escario (63-2/729-9070) boutique, popular for its flowy bridal dresses and evening gowns.
Makati is home to a surprising array of classic and modern art galleries and museums. For a primer on the pioneers of Philippine art, spend a couple of hours perusing works in the Ayala Museum (Makati Ave.; 63-2/757-7117; ayalamuseum.org), situated in the lush Greenbelt Park area. The collection of religious iconography by 18th-century painter Damian Domingo is impressive, as is the museum’s “Diorama Experience,” a fun history lesson narrated by notable Filipino broadcaster Mari Kaimo. Go early on a Sunday and end your wanderings with the jazz brunch at the Museum Café (63-2/757-3000), where treats like Norwegian smoked salmon and roasted corn-chive pancakes are served in an artsy dining room.
Since moving to Makati late last year, the Finale Art Gallery (Warehouse 17, 2241 Pasong Tamo; 63-2/813-2310) has flourished, becoming one of Manila’s leading centers for contemporary visual art. As intriguing as the sculptures are, the video room is what sets this space apart from the city’s other galleries.
Opened by Filipino photographer Isa Lorenzo, the austere Silverlens Gallery (2/F, YMC Building II, 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension; 63-2/816-0044; silverlensphoto .com) offers space to up-and-coming local photographers like Neil Oshima and Wawi Navarroza. Tucked behind an auto-service shop, the warehouse is complemented by its new sister establishment SLab, connected to the main gallery by a short bridge. Like Silverlens, SLab is dedicated to showcasing Filipino talent, although across a range of mediums including installations, paintings, and sculpture.
Originally appeared in the October/November 2009 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Makati?Moments”)