By: Martin Cruz
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place quite like Casa Roces, at least in Manila. The old mansion of the Roces clan-cum-bistro, cafe, and art gallery is a watering hole that even the politicos of the Malacañan Palace across the street visit with frightening regularity, so much so that only a quarter of the place’s clientele are walk-ins. Everything else is made via reservation.
That’s the way of life in Casa Roces, and has been so for a year now. What keeps the patrons coming back to their gates, aside from the riveting ambience?
“We keep the food interesting,” said Rod Baumann, the director of food and beverage of the Cravings Group, during the anniversary luncheon held last July 25, 2012. And that’s not something new; innovation has always been a staple in the menus of any restaurant run by Cravings. Of course, there are folks who eat pretty much the same thing over and over – President Benigno Aquino III, for example, eats mostly Casa Roces’ breakfast offerings whenever he holds luncheons at one of the many function rooms in the restaurant’s second floor.
But for the rest of us with excitable palates, Casa Roces has plenty to offer, especially since they’re gearing up for their second year of operations. The members of the press were treated to some of the select items in their new menu, starting with the Limon Basilica.
The Basilica is a twist on the ubiquitous iced tea. The idea behind it is that the initial drink is supposed to refresh the palate, getting the diner in the mood to, well, dine. Lemon’s good as a palate cleanser, but with the unusual infusion of basil leaves, you’ve got what I’ve come to calling the Pesto Iced Tea. Because that’s exactly how it tastes like: sweet lemon-pesto. Strange as that may sound, this gave me the impression that I was in for quite a treat, and I was right. The first sip will have drinkers bewildered, but the drink grows on you, and by the time you’re done with the glass, you’re ready to start eating.
Duo of Choritos and Tinapa Mousse with Chicaronnes and Breadsticks
The actual main entrees were breadsticks and chicharon, but they were served with a duo of Choritos and Tinapa Mousse. You could call them pates made from pork and fish. The Choritos pate was what you’d expect from a pork-based paste, but the Tinapa Mousse made my day. Imagine dipping your breadstick in what looks like sour cream and onions, and coming up with the salty, smoky taste of tinapa. It went well with both the chicharon and the breadsticks, but you could taste it more with the breadsticks.
Sopa de Ajo
After the soup course – sopa de ajo – we moved on to the main course(s). The pasta course was served first. It was a delectable vegetable lasagna. The problem with lasagna is that it’s difficult to get it al dente, since most cooks tend to overpower the pasta with either too much cheese or too much sauce. Casa Roces’ offering, however, was chewy and not at all soggy, so it didn’t feel like you were chewing on a sponge. There was a hint of crispiness when you bit into the dough, and the cheese was felt without being smelt, which was a good thing, as vegetable lasagnas tend to have a milder flavour when compared with meat-based lasagnas, and this was just the right mixture.
Clockwise from top: Callamares Relleno; Chicken Galantina; Vegetable Lasagna; Morcon Estofado
The meat courses were Chicken Galantina, Morcon Estofado, and a Roasted Leg of Lamb. These were all served with a side-dish of mashed potatoes or rice. It’s hard to argue with a deluge of rich meat, but I especially liked the lamb, which is a dish that is notoriously difficult to prepare (the serving was accompanied by a dab of mint jelly, just to make sure, but it didn’t need it).
There was also a seafood dish of stuffed squid (Calamares Relleno), which was also surprisingly good. This was probably because it was a refreshing contrast to the multiple servings of meat. It’s astonishing how Casa Roces prepared its rather creative fish courses throughout this meal, actually. For that alone, they deserve an A+.
Basque Apple Pie
The dessert course was served courtesy of Kape Chino, the bakeshop and coffee house arm of Casa Roces. I was not disappointed: the Basque Apple Pie was sin in a cup, thin layers of apple slices with cinnamon atop a solid graham crust. It sounds so pedestrian, but the preparation was perfect, and eating it felt like scooping out a cup of smooth ice cream.
Ensaymada Bread Pudding
There was also a dessert pudding made out of repurposed ensaymada bread. I had only recently been introduced to the idea of bread pudding, but I loved the idea instantly. That said, it should come to no surprise that the Ensaymada Bread Pudding was a hit with me.
These were just some of the new offerings Casa Roces had on its refurbished menu. I don’t know how the old menu looked like (read Tiffy’s old post about Casa Roces here for more on that), but it looks like the restaurant’s focusing on including more of a Spanish-Filipino fusion in its menu. There’s also a special Bulto del Casa menu, which is a set of group menus that feature items that you won’t find on the regular fare. These are exciting times at Casa Roces, and you can experience it by paying them a visit.
Kafe Chino @ Casa Roces
1153 JP Laurel cor Aguado St. San Miguel, Manila
(near Malacañang Palace Gate #4)
Telephone: +632 7355896 | 7084020
Open daily 7.00am to 9.00p