Dining

The Best Degustation Tables in Manila

To dine fancy, get a chef's table.
IMAGE PATRICK MARTIRES
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Those who aren't easily impressed with gastronomy know that there's only one way to get the full measure of a fancy restaurant: the degustation menu, attempted by many, offered by few, and excelled at by fewer.

Discerning local diners have set the bar high and the country's most talented chefs are eager to show their mettle. Nothing is more challenging to a chefand more exciting to a gourmandthan a degustation menu. These formidable cooks are given freedom to explore their arsenal of flavors and techniques, limited only by the ingredients available to them and their imagination. In these seasonal menus, culinary identities are forged, conventions are challenged, and local trends are established.

Chef's Degustation

The more spectacular degustation or tasting menus are served at chef's tables. These are areas (literal tables) usually separated from the rest of the restaurant where VIPs are treated to an up-close-and-personal appreciation of this great culinary skill. With the extra, extra special care put in these degustation dinners, chef's tables are the bench seats in the culinary world and that's what makes them the most important (not to mention the most in-demand) tables in a restaurant.

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If you want to be a VIP in the dining world, book any one of the tables below:

1. Helm

The Bistro Group’s bigwigs are convinced by their golden boy’s star power. Executive chef Josh Boutwood has finally been awarded a gastronomic temple, where he can fully unleash his talent via a sensational degustation menu. The 10-seater bar affords each guest front-row privileges to Boutwood’s kitchen theatrics, a must considering that his brilliance has kept the Filipino-British on top of many lists consistently. Helm's setup breaks down the kitchen walls, allowing a more intimate conversation with the chef.

IMAGE: Dre Ferrer

Degustation Price:

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P3,500++

Tasting notes:

  • Boutwood offers an exciting degustation menu based on colors.
  • The number of courses range from 12 to 15.

Arya Residences, McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio Global City; (63) 906-234-1900

2. Mecha Uma

Despite his lack of formal training and irreverence toward classical techniques, Bruce Ricketts has earned the industry’s respect. His obscure fine dining concept in BGC is where the food scene's bad boy plays around with a mostly modern Japanese-influenced tasting menu, offering the freshest of the season, interpreted in Rickett’s famed unconventional style.

IMAGE: Hans Fausto

Degustation Price:

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P3,600++

Tasting notes:

  • The 10-course degustation may seem heavy on the pocketbook, but it's worth its weight in food and creativity.
  • The a la carte is also a good alternative if you want to dine at Mecha Uma more often. Get the tai usuzukuri.

G/F RCBC Corporate Center, 25th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City; (63) 917-855-7230

3. Gallery by Chele

Spaniard Chele Gonzalez has probably seen more of the Philippines than the typical Filipino, a feat that makes him a formidable authority on local culture and flavors. He is one of the first chefs to source and utilize heirloom grains and indigenous ingredients, all of which he transforms into intriguing forms of modern gastronomy. Innovative and adaptable, Gonzalez continues to create new standards for the local culinary landscape.

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Degustation Price

P1,500++ to P3,500++

Tasting notes:

  • The degustation menu is offered with three or five courses.
  • Its fresh bar cocktail concept makes Gallery by Chele a much warmer space. The a la carte options are just as value-for-money as the degustation.

Fifth floor Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; (63) 917-546-1673

4. Stvdio Lab

Stvdio Lab is so special that it's not open daily. Described as the "crossroad where research and hospitality meet," it's actually the headquarters of AdViChe, a restaurant consultancy group that includes Gonzalez, husband-and-wife restaurateur team Cyril and Pierre Addison, and Chef Carlos Villaflor. It's essentially a backroom, but twice a month, the results of their experimentation are served via a high-minded degustation menu to 12 lucky people who are able to book seats.

IMAGE: courtesy of Stvdio Lab

Degustation Price:

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Starts at P3,900

Tasting notes:

  • Enjoy every course like it's your last. Everything is experimental, so you might not see that dish again. Ever.
  • Because Stvdio Lab is backed by ace sommelier Cyril Addison, every course is best highlighted with accompanying wine. Get the wine option as much as possible.
  • There are no set dates for Stvdio Lab dinners, so keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Fifth floor Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; www.stvdiolab.com

5. The Tasting Room

This fine-dining establishment at Nüwa Hotel has been refreshed with a clean, crisp design and a new chef. From his regular selection to his degustation menu, Chef Frederic Thevenet stays true to his modern French style, which he brings with him from his stint at Pierre Gagnaire’s La Maison 1888 in Da Nang, Vietnam. He observes that Filipinos are actually quite open to his style of cooking, providing high rollers and discerning locals a taste of haute cuisine.

IMAGE: Courtesy of City of Dreams

Degustation Price

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P4,588++ to P5,588+

Tasting notes:

  • Chef Frederic Thevenet begins each of course with quality ingredients, so you can be sure that you're getting your money's worth.
  • The degustation comes in four- or six-course sets.
  • The degustation can be paired with wine for an additional P2,000 to P2,800.

Nüwa, City of Dreams Manila, Parañaque.; (02) 800-8080

6. 12/10

Since 2014, this Little Restaurant That Could has proven that a consistent and perfectly executed concept is what it takes to keep this hipster-y, off-the-grid outpost in San Antonio Village packed. Gab Bustos’ non-traditional izakaya degustation continues to serve up inventive small plates accompanied by equally beguiling cocktails that keep young people in the know interested. An impressive feat, really, in this highly fickle scene.

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Degustation Price:

With a DIY tasting menu, courses range between P180 to P1,250.

Watch For:

  • Bustos regularly updates his menu. 12/10's most recent update is more streamlined, but still follows a raw-to-cooked progression.
  • 12/10 takes inspiration mostly from Japanese cuisine, but it's also influenced by Filipino and Spanish styles.

7635 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City; (63) 915-663-2823

7. Foo'd by David Oldani

David Oldani is known all over the world for his ability to create Michelin-starred concepts for very affordable prices, and when we say affordable, we mean it: some of his menus cost less than a thousand pesos. The secret is having a system: everything in his "cucina pop" ideology is calculated to maximize everythingmenus are seasonal to keep ingredients affordable, seating is kept small to prevent overproduction, and even plates and glasses are non-breakable to keep expenses low. This restaurant is a businessman's dream and the degustation menus? Well, they made our dreams of quality and affordability come true.

IMAGE: Jericho San Miguel

Degustation Price:

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P1,500 to P2,700

Tasting notes:

  • Most people opt for the set meals at P800, but if you really want a taste of the flavors that earned this franchise its Michelin star, try the three degustation menus, which feature three to five courses.
  • Foo'd features a more comprehensive look at Italian cuisine well beyond pizza and pasta.

Ground floor Shangri-La at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City; (02) 950-8492

8. Pepita’s Kitchen

Dedet Dela Fuente demonstrates that her talents in the kitchen extend to the front of the house, beyond her delicious and creative stuffed lechon de leches. Her by-reservation-only, Filipino-themed degustation dinners are set in her own well-appointed dining room and have brought her international acclaim. Fueled by a personal mission to “make Filipino food a global sensation,” it is safe to assume that Dela Fuente has a hand in putting our cuisine on the map.

IMAGE: Patrick Martires

Degustation Price:

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Upon request

Tasting notes:

  • De la Fuente often comes up with themes for her dinners. Apart from her famed Hayop na Degustation, she's designed a Richman Degustation (in honor of food personality Adam Richman) as well as a Dinner at Tiffany's (her take on Audrey Hepburn's Breakfast at Tiffany's).
  • A meal at the De la Fuentes feels like dining in the home of an overly indulgent aunt. Her daughters are also on hand to help out with service and in entertainment.

Makati City; (63) 917-866-0662

9. Toyo Eatery

The 2018 recipient of the Miele One to Watch Award takes its cue from the local karinderya and transforms it into bespoke fine dining. It's simple when you think that the inspiration is Filipino food, but it's nothing you'll find in the usual Filipino restaurant. Chef Jordy Navarra and his team stick to traditional techniques but produce out-of-the-box courses that still feel comfortingly familiar.

IMAGE: Miguel Nacianceno

Degustation Price:

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P1,000 to P2,900

Tasting notes:

  • The bangsilog is a crowdpleaser. The charred chili-topped combination of grilled bangus belly and loin, spinach, and super sticky garlic rice is perhaps the best explanation of what Navarra does. Its familiar flavor profiles are tweaked to create something new.
  • Nearly everything on the degustation menu is available a la carte.

The Alley, Karrivin Plaza, Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City; (63) 917-720-8630

Soon-to-Open

The Test Kitchen

Before Helm, Boutwood was busy flexing his muscles for his earlier degustation venue. The Test Kitchen is a reservation-only space right below The Bistro Group's mad science lab. With the intense creativity in the atmosphere, it's no surprise that the menu changes every single day. It may be The Bistro Group's practice space, but we'll be the willing guinea pigs for the flavors that comes out of its kitchen. With Boutwood at the helm of Helm, a new chef will be taking the reins. We're already salivating for its opening.

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IMAGE: Josh Boutwood

Metronome

French-trained Miko Calo’s take on modern French food will surely be exciting, as Manila is already aching to see what the former L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon junior sous chef can do. A local restaurant hasn’t generated this much buzz before opening in a long time. Metronome's Instagram account promises it will open soon.

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Ground floor The Grand Midori Bolanos Street, Legazpi Village, Makati

Special Mention: North Stars

Casa Lourdes

While chef Robby Goco is best known for making Greek food popular (Cyma, Souv) and healthy eating universally delicious (Green Pastures), he has also made it his mission to elevate Ilocano cuisine. Guests planning to visit the historic city of Vigan can call ahead and, for a group of eight or more, Goco’s team (headed by chef Chester Delos Velas) will prepare a modern and ingenious interpretations of pinakbet, empanada, and lomo-lomo, to name a few. Bold yet respectful of local ingredients, it illustrates Filipino food at its best.

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11 Calle Encarnacion, Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Message (63) 917-713-1694

This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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