Away from the maddening crowds of Manila, yet only 25 minutes away by private aircraft, is the paradise retreat of Balesin. With its pristine white sand, palm-fringed beaches, and blue warm waters, the island in Lamon Bay, Quezon, is home to what is perhaps the world’s finest membership-only resort, Balesin Island Club. The flagship development of Alphaland Corporation, the private resort occupies 500 hectares of the island. Equipped with seven themed villages inspired by international beach destinations like Bali, Saint-Tropez, Toscana, Mykonos, Costa del Sol, and Phuket, it is the weekend destination of choice for the country’s well-heeled families.
Although renowned for its casual style, luxurious amenities, and world-class sports and recreational facilities, it is the island’s offering of a culinary mosaic of tastes and cultures that just may be its trump card. Like small, intimate neighborhoods, each village has its own cozy restaurant serving local fare where the relaxed mood is magnified by the fact that the food is superb. “I am very finicky about food in resorts,” says Roberto Ongpin, the visionary behind the beach club. “I have been traveling around the world and dining at some of the best Michelin-starred establishments since I was 28 years old, and have found that the food quality of most famous resorts doesn’t match the quality of the service and surroundings.” Defined by its diversity, Balesin Island Club offers an ambitious culinary journey that will definitely raise the hospitality stakes. “I have been very demanding of my people in making sure we achieve the highest standards in our dining facilities. I believe we have delivered and have even put on a few pounds myself doing it.”
HOME OF THE GODS
With its transporting quality, Mykonos is one of the island’s most stunning villages. Its postcard-perfect white-washed walls, blue-tiled roofs, and sun-scorched beach front evoke the laid-back spirit and serene tranquility of the Greek Isles. As on any small island, at the heart of the village is an exceptional local tavern, and on Balesin, that special place is Thanasis Taverna.
Ouzo-based cocktails; a Greek meze; prawns with feta
A longtime acquaintance of Ongpin, its founding chef Thanasis Koumpiadis is the proprietor of one of the best-known restaurants on the island of Rhodes in Greece. That being Ongpin's favorite dining destination when traveling to that part of the world, he recalls that he conceptualized Mykonos with Koumpiadis in mind, and when the time came, he flew both the chef and his wife to the Philippines to train the local staff to ensure that every experience at Mykonos’ taverna would be as authentic as the original restaurant in Greece.
Moussaka; roast leg of lamb
Members know that a meal here is a must whenever they find themselves on the island, in a comfortable and colorful setting with both indoor and al fresco dining options, signature cocktail concoctions with splashes of ouzo, a popular Greek aperitif, are served. Specials include the simple, yet delicious meze of hummus, tzatziki, and a delectable pine nut salad, served with warm and seasoned pita bread made on the premises. Greek salad is uniquely thread through skewers and a traditional trahanas soup, not readily found on many menus outside of Greece, is not to be missed. Equally special is the moussaka made with minced beef, eggplant, and smothered with a rich béchamel that runs through its crevices. A succulent roast leg of lamb and vegetables can be ordered ahead for a large group. To end the meal, the award-winning Thanasis chocolate mousse is de rigueur. It is so light and airy, it could be blown away by a gust of wind.
BASKING IN THE SUN
Another village that draws its inspiration from the coastal towns of the Mediterranean is the Costa del Sol. Named after the southern region in Spain within the province of Malaga, this charming hamlet features handsome Spanish colonial architecture with imposing stucco walls and manicured courtyards. Luxurious accommodations are housed within six “casas”—Estepona, Fuengirola, Malaga, Marbella, Ronda, and Torremolinos—with all rooms and suites overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Cochinillo; Callos a la Madrileña
At the Casa Grande, Costa del Sol’s main dining facility, the warm and cozy interiors welcome all throughout the day. In the afternoon, families gather on the veranda for a plate full of churros con chocolate. Come evening, Spanish favorites are on offer and include a selection of tapas such as tortilla de patata, callos a la Madrileña, and beef salpicao, all of which are best enjoyed with a pitcher of sangria or with a bottle of Rioja from the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Afterward, a Spanish dinner can be had as elaborate or as simple as desired. Either way, a meal here would not be complete without a paella and there are three to choose from—Valenciana, Mallorquina, or arros negre. For a special feast, order a cochinillo at least six hours ahead and dine in one of the four private dining rooms—Vista de la Playa, Vista del Mar, Marbella Club, and Puerto Banús. Alternatively, spend the evening in the decadent Moroccan-inspired Alhambra lounge.
Canonigo; and paella Valneciana
TASTE OF THAILAND
Nestled in a lush green forest on the southernmost tip of the island, the village of Phuket reflects the style and quiet elegance of Thai culture and offers spectacular views of both Lamon Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Salathiep is Phuket’s main dining area and its interiors reflect a liberal use of wood. It is adorned with a mix of Thai design elements. Diners can eat either in the large open dining room or outdoors, in the large sala that overlooks the pool and the sea.
Crispy catfish salad; pad Thai; and chicken and pandanus leaves
The traditional menu lists Thai favorites with a complex mixture of the distinguishable bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and hot flavors. From appetizers through dessert, the food is successful in delivering the vibrant tastes, lush textures, and warming tingle of spices that the cuisine is known for. Some of the most popular items on the menu include the tom yam goong, a shrimp soup with fresh herbs; fla neung manao, steamed fish with lemon sauce; pad Thai goong, everyone’s favorite stir-fried noodles with shrimp; and tako, a Thai rice pudding topped with coconut cream.
Tako; and the interiors of Salathiep
LE GRAND BLEU
At Saint-Tropez, guests start their day with a croissant or a crêpe before hitting the surf. A popular breakfast spot for all visitors to the island, the outdoor crêperie offers sweet and savory crêpes with fillings such as bacon, eggs, and gruyere or the ubiquitous banana and Nutella combination. With a view of the pools and the calm waters, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or a cold, refreshing juice or shake at any time of day.
For lunch and dinner, guests can dine at any of Les Restaurants de Saint-Tropez consisting of several small dining areas such as Le Girelier, La Voile Rouge, L’Escale, and Place des Lices. Here, specialties include pissaladiere, a French type of pizza with olives, onions, and anchovies on a flaky crust from southern France, escargots de Bourgogne, a traditional French onion soup, or a light and healthy salade nicoise. For heartier fare, favorites on offer include a croque madame or monsieur, or a satisfying boeuf Bourguignon, and entrecote au poivre.
View of the sea from the suite; and pissaladiere
Crepe; and la tarte Tropezienne
True to its Saint-Tropez name, the signature la tarte Tropezienne, a soft brioche cake with custard cream, is offered for dessert. Intimate affairs call for dining at the striking Le Neptune, an enclosed private room that seats up to 12 people and looks out to the sea.
What would a beach holiday be without a perfect venue for sunset cocktails? Ask anyone on the island where one should linger come twilight and nine times out of 10, their answer will be Nusa Dua in Bali village. Members flock to this favored spot to watch the sun set. A scenic bar, it is set in a stilted-pavilion perched above the water. Guests sip their Warung cocktail made with Galliano, rum, and fresh pineapple and orange juice or ice cold beer, and nibble on small plates such as the kropok dan sambal with dilis and assorted satay sticks of pork, beef, and chicken. Afterward, they make their way to dinner at Warung where Indonesian decorative objects highlight the main dining area of Bali Village. Guests feast on authentic Indonesian and Malaysian dishes such as nasi goreng, nasi lemak, beef rendang, laksa, and sambal udang. Following Balinese custom, all meals are presented on a traditional platter, served with Indonesian rice, and garnished with fresh vegetables and sambal.
Grilled Satay; Warung cocktail, mojito, and margarita
Nusa Dua’s signature krupok dan sambal; and stuffed rice dumplings
Japanese being a favorite Asian cuisine, it is not by chance that Sakura, led by chef Edo-san, is the club’s most popular restaurant. Located inside the main club, it houses a teppanyaki counter and sushi bar, and serves everything from soba to tempura to prime steak. “Members fly in on their helicopters just to have Edo-san make them lunch,” shares Ongpin. “He has become so popular that we had to open two additional outlets in Makati, one at the Alphaland building and one at the City Club just to accommodate his loyal following, but come Friday to Sunday, he will always be at Balesin.”
Favorites include the much sought-after popped rice starter with its poetic presentation, the Edo-san maki of eel, cream cheese, avocado, tobiko and topped with baked crab, the spider roll, sea bass with miso, beef usuyaki, and of course, the beef and seafood teppanyaki with fried rice.