How to dine at Lolo Dad's without breaking the bank

Posted at 09/25/12 2:26 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Foodies can now dine at Lolo Dad’s Café without having to worry too much about their bill.

This fine-dining restaurant along Quirino Avenue corner Leon Guinto in Malate, Manila, which has earned the reputation for being one of the best – and priciest – restaurants in the metro, has introduced what it calls “modest” portions for most of its dishes, including desserts.

The premium pricing employed by Lolo Dad’s has, in a way, helped further its reputation as a restaurant of note. Yet despite the top prices, it has cultivated a loyal following such that it eventually opened Lolo Dad’s Brasserie at the Makati business district.

But the original restaurant in Malate, which was once an ancestral home, still has a distinct charm. Located far from the metro’s bustling commercial districts, Lolo Dad’s Café is indeed a culinary destination for those who are serious about food.

General manager Ding Ayuyao explained that the introduction of the “modest” portions will encourage customers to try more items in the menu. Instead of ordering one or two courses, guests can opt for the smaller portions and enjoy a four- or five-course meal.

Ayuyao even dubbed it as a “make your own degustation.”

But the “modest” portions, as it turned out, were not sampling sizes at all. Chef Ariel Manuel estimates that the “modest” portions are about two-thirds of the original, which are quite hefty to begin with. The smaller portion is also reflected in the price, which in general, amounts to around 40% off from the original.

In fact, when the modest portion of the Sampler of Chocolate was served, we discovered that it can actually be shared by three people. At P260 for the smaller portion, this is definitely on a par with the desserts served at many of the better restaurants around – and a steal for a restaurant of this caliber.

But that’s getting ahead of the meal.

To set the mood – and our palates – for the dinner ahead, we ordered the baked oyster with foie gras as a sort of amuse bouche. It’s expensive at P160 per piece but one was enough to satisfy our craving and curiosity. The oysters were served in small wooden crate with the oyster placed on top of strands of angel hair pasta with a seared slice of duck (not goose) liver on top. The combination of flavors and textures was seamless with only the slight crisp that coated the liver providing that bit of contrast.

To start, I had the salad with lobster and prawns (P325 for the modest portion). Despite the smaller size, the Mediterranean-style salad wasn’t just a bowl of leaves as it was packed with several ingredients like mushrooms, diced feta cheese and kalamata olives. The chunks of lobster and prawn meat were also just right for a starter and the vinaigrette of sundried tomatoes gave the salad a light, refreshing bite.

This was followed by the soup, which doesn’t come in modest portions. The Double Espresso Soup (P350), which was highly recommended, is essentially two soups, each served in a demitasse, hence the dish’s name. One is cream of mushroom and the other a tomato soup. Both have a nice consistency with full flavors, although if I have to pick just one, I’d go for the mushroom, whose smoky flavor was just perfect for that rainy evening.

Before proceeding to the main course, we were given a palate cleanser, a refreshing calamansi sorbet, which was interestingly placed inside a clay teapot with dry ice. The presentation served as another conversation topic as the dinner progressed.

Among the several main courses on the menu, the one that immediately caught our fancy was the Kurobuta pork belly (P650 for the modest portion). What Wagyu is to beef, Kurobuta is to pork – a prized Japanese meat known for its high levels of intramuscular marbled fat. As such, the meat was lovingly tender and even the pork fat had none of the gummy texture usually associated with pork. The pork slices were paired with a perfectly made risotto that was additionally flavored with chorizo, prosciutto and pancetta, while the sauce was a slightly sweetish garlic aioli with peaches. This was just the perfect portion for a rich dish like this.

For those who don’t like meat, the panfried fillet of seabass (P792 for the modest portion) had the same melts-in-your-mouth goodness as the pork and was paired with mashed potatoes infused with the juice of a blue crab and a mushroom stuffed with smoked salmon, and then drizzled with a light and foamy oyster cream sauce – a veritable blend of various sea flavors.

For dessert, I chose the refreshing white chocolate panna cotta served in a chilled soup of passionfruit, with slices of fresh berries and a scoop of young coconut and lychee granite. This very tropical dessert had that mix of sweetness and acidity to clear the palate given the richness of the previous dish.

But my companion went for the chocolate sampler, which turned out to be a platter with small servings of white chocolate brûlée, dark chocolate terrine, chocolate flan and other goodies. The dessert was actually plentiful that she gladly offered for us to try it. There were definitely enough chocolate for a table of four.

One could argue that Lolo Dad’s loyalists patronize the restaurant because of the quality of the food – and not because of a perceived discount. Chef Manuel always shows respect for the classics, sticking with ideal pairings but adding little tweaks to modernize the dish.

Still this new tack allows even die-hard foodies a chance to try more dishes than they normally would. And in the end, these “modest” portions proved to be just perfect for the palate and the wallet.