With the surge of homegrown and international businesses recently setting up shop in the capital, Manila has plenty to offer travelers on the lookout for an exciting city break.
Towering over some of Manilaâ€™s hottest lifestyle haunts, Shangri-La at the Fort opened this March in a 61-story building. A range of boutiques and restaurants, plus Kerry Sports Manilaâ€”a 8,000-square-meter wellness complexâ€”are located in the same tower, while Bonifacio Global Cityâ€™s dining and retail establishments, the Manila Polo Club, and the Manila Golf Club are all within easy reach.
Conrad Manila is another recent addition to the cityâ€™s hospitality scene, having welcomed its first guests in June. With a streamlined look inspired by the shipping vessels plying the nearby waters, the Conrad is an eye-catching landmark of the Manila Bay neighborhood. The sunlit spaces and commanding sea views are a highlight, as is the collection of more than 600 contemporary Filipino artworks scattered throughout the property.
Hey HandsomeÂ is the sophomore project of photographer-turned-chef-and-restaurateur Nicco Santos, whose first venture, Your Local, has been enjoying a cult following. Cheekily named after a common greeting from Singaporean food vendors, the food at this new dining joint is characterized by a Filipino take on bold Peranakan flavors. The place is fashioned with tiled walls and floors with a bar and open kitchen, evoking the feel of a small family-owned restaurant in the Lion City.
Perched on the 16th floor of Discovery Primea, which occupies a privileged spot in the Makati central business district, FlameÂ serves modern European specialties with a backdrop of panoramic city views. Embellished with Asian touches, the menu features highlights such as beef carpaccio served with arugula, wasabi nuts, Sriracha, and soy vinaigrette, while nori flakes and teriyaki glaze add a Japanese flair to seared foie gras with grilled eggplant and pickled pears.
Thirty new dishes have been unveiled for the third anniversary of Basque restaurant Vask Tapas Room, a casual dining concept by chef Chele Gonzalez whose culinary prowess was honed at the kitchens of El Bulli, Noma, and Mugaritz. The dynamic experience and artistry of the Spanish-born former DJ is apparent in the menu additions such as blue crab with hollandaise sauce, not to mention the deconstructed carrot cake with goat-milk ice cream and toffee mousse.
A year after it opened its doors to curious patrons who arrived through a secret entrance in the storage room of a 7-Eleven, Bank BarÂ sustains the thrill of discovery with new off-menu drinks. With an extensive range of top-shelf libations on offer, and a cool, easy vibe, this intimate venue is the nocturnal sanctuary of many discerning young professionals. Ask the bartender for the hibiscus-and-citrus gin and tonic, served with citrus frozen orange, lemon, and lime, to sample one of the five new concoctions.
Another hidden watering hole for post-dinner tipples is Horseâ€™s Mouth, tucked in the back of a ramen joint at the recently opened S Maison mall below the Conrad. Although the bar originates from Singapore, its theme is clearly Japanese, from the spare, Zen-inspired interiorâ€”where sleek communal tables offer sunset views of Manila Bayâ€”to the food and drinks. Besides a variety of whiskies and signature cocktails such as the Ool-d Fashioned (a blend of bourbon, oolong tea reduction, and angostura bitters), traditional bar snacks such as chicken karaage and one-bite gyoza are also on the menu.
Housing all manner of arts and crafts paraphernalia, Common Room is a haven for the creative soul. The curated wares are drawn from over 60 local artists and makers who provide a steady supply of handmade creations that fill the store. Anything from leather accessories to miniature potted plants are available, while a space dedicated to art workshops serves as a hangout for artists and crafting enthusiasts. For those in other parts of the city, a pop-up store in Makatiâ€™s Power Plant Mall is open until December.
One of the best ways to experience Manila is to immerse in its rich history on two wheels. Bike down memory lane with Bambike Ecotours and get lost in the old-world charm of Intramuros, the fortified district that served as the seat of power during the Spanish regime. The two-and-a-half-hour guided tour takes guests pedaling around the Walled City on bamboo bicycles handmade by beneficiaries of a poverty alleviation program. Besides the cardio fix and the Philippine history lessons, the experience also provides a peek into Spanish colonial architecture.
Carla Mae Leonor, founder of Signature Spaces Design Studio
Filipinos are known for great craftsmanship and thereâ€™s a number of businesses in Manila that can prove this. Purveyor of leather and natural woven materials S.C. Vizcarra has been around for three generations, earning the trust of international clients including Armani Casa and Ralph Lauren Home. I also recommend Ann Ong who has been bagging awards worldwide for her bold and organic hand-cast jewelry.
Luis De Vera, entrepreneur and graphic designer
Manila can be too hectic sometimes so itâ€™s nice to break away in some of the cityâ€™s creative sanctuaries for some breathing space. The Grey Market Records in Makatiâ€™s Salcedo VillageÂ is one great place to visit for vintage LPs, antique items, and electronic gadgets. Music is also the main draw at Satchmi in SM Megamall, but aside from records and turntables, I come back for the grilled cheese here and the occasional coffee workshops.
This article originally appeared in theÂ October/NovemberÂ print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śCity Guides: Manilaâ€ť).