Erwan's Pink Panda is Makati's hip, hidden gem

Posted at 02/20/14 3:59 PM

The modern yet casual interiors of Pink Panda. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA -- #WhereisPinkPanda is an apt hashtag to promote this new quirky concept from food blogger Erwan Heussaff and his partners.

While it may be hard to find, tucked away in a hidden corner in Makati City, one can’t miss the black exterior with the neon pink sign -- if you do accidentally pass by. As for the interiors, the ambience is modern, hip and urban, with a relaxed casual feel coming from the occasional pink panda toy here and there.

As for the food, Pink Panda labels itself as a Southeast Asian diner, and has a menu that features twists to Southeast Asian favorites, with dishes getting really fun names. This is definitely a restaurant with a sense of humor.

Dimsum and Then Some. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Like this playful take on dim sum called Dimsum and Then Some (P325), which arrives at the table in a bowl, with pretty and tasty multi-colored dim sum (spicy shrimp dumplings, pork mushroom shu mai, kuchay shrimp dumplings and pumpkin and shrimp dumplings) and a chili-garlic ponzu sauce.

While ponzu is not strictly Southeast Asian, and most Filipinos might find the taste of the Japanese citrusy sauce a bit different, I liked it for exactly that. It was a new pleasant flavor with my tender dumplings. Nevertheless, one can opt to have the sauce in the side, if one prefers.

For the VC Spring Rolls (P240), Pink Panda's executive chef Siggy Torrentechef came up with two versions of the Vietnamese favorite, fried and fresh, but served in one dish at a really good price. It was a popular dish in our table, with the fresh spring rolls getting top marks for its delightful peanut sauce.

Satay. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Pink Panda's Satay was tender and flavorful and it also came with a thai papaya salad/relish on top.

Meanwhile, the Mango Papaya Catfish Salad had little caramelized bits of papaya that added quite a complex flavor to this combination of two ubiquitous Thai salads.

Vietnamese Pho Sho. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

For soups, Pink Panda offers laksa and two kinds of pho. We tasted the Vietnamese Pho Sho (P365). The serving was bountiful with a lot of noodles and beef, with the nice addition of seafood balls. This can be shared by two to three people -- or one if you’re really hungry. The broth was flavorful, although a tad salty for me (but nothing that a bit of lime couldn’t fix).

Sambal Stingray. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

The Sambal Stingray (P345) was the most exotic thing we ate that night. Having mostly only tasted stingray in kinunot dishes down south, I was skeptical having it without coconut milk. But Pink Panda delivered with a perfectly cooked stingray, with a texture reminiscent of a scallop, and a really piquant sweet-sour sauce -- perfect with a cup or two of rice.

Panda Buns. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Last but not the least, I wouldn’t recommend leaving Pink Panda without eating the Panda Buns (P210). Two steamed pork buns of utter cuteness, this dish was my favorite with pork, mushrooms and a bit of salted egg. I think we were supposed to get a hoisin sauce with it, but it was okay without. Again: Do not leave Pink Panda without having these buns.

Mix Mix. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

For dessert, we had Mix Mix, a re-interpretation of the Filipino favorite halo-halo. This was a flan with a layer of pandan jelly, and then of leche flan, and a circle of sago, nata de coco, red mungo beans and pinipig crisps. While it being pleasant, I felt that it lacked a creamy, milky element to it, perhaps because I think the evaporated milk in halo-halo is what unifies this dessert.

Panda's Balls. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Another dessert was called Panda's Balls (P220), which are black-and-white sesame-coated buchi with black bean mongo paste inside. A serving has five balls, and as far as buchis go, it is at par with the rest of them. I am more excited though of the changes that dish this will take, as it was mentioned that a peanut butter-jelly-chocolate buchi was in the offing.

Our drinks included the Pink Panty (P110), the diner’s signature drink of pink iced tea with limepeels, and the Kopi Panda (P110), a coffee milk drink that starts with layers of white and black, like a panda.

Other bestsellers mentioned were the Beef Rendang and the Pad Thai, but our full tummies couldn’t take it anymore, so we switched to cocktails instead.

We were served three cocktails of various strengths, and all of them stronger than most found elsewhere. They were called alpha cocktails by someone in the group.

The first was a mystery drink that had a sangria feel to it, but packed a punch. Fangs & Bangs (P290) came unassumingly in a teapot, but had quite a kick with Bourbon and Cointreau. The Slanted Sour (P250) was my favourite. Besides it being pink, frothy and sour, it was the most alcoholic of the bunch with whisky.

Toys make for playful decor at Pink Panda. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Pink Panda is found at the Y2 Residence Hotel, corner Santiago, B. Valdez, and Singian Steets in Makati City.