The Tivoli: A culinary must-visit when you want to spoil yourself (GMA News Online)

The Tivoli


(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 2, 2014)

Every woman dreams of a Mr. Right who would wine and dine her and sweep her off her feet, and I am not shy to admit that I am just like any other woman in that aspect. Who wouldn’t want to feel like a princess and maybe get treated at a fine dining restaurant?

In Manila, one of the most impressive restaurants I have been to is The Tivoli at Mandarin Oriental. The hotel’s signature restaurant features fine contemporary European cuisine, and Executive Sous Chef Remi Vercelli, who has been with the restaurant since 2011, has introduced a number of new a la carte and degustation menus that any epicure would be happy to indulge in.

European-inspired treats

One look at the posh restaurant would inspire any diner to dress up and match the elegant setting of the place. The most noticeable feature is the splendid floral arrangement in the middle of the room. In the daytime, guests would have a nice view of the garden through the restaurant’s draped windows. At night, the mirrored walls would reflect the dramatic lighting emanated by the sconces. There are also a couple of semi-private dining alcoves available for intimate groups.

The servers at the restaurant immediately assist you as you take your seat by draping the napkin on your lap and serving you bread and butter as they take your order. If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will.

The knowledgeable maître d’ appeared at our table to present the dishes of the day. He also shared his recommendations for our three-course degustation menu. As a palate teaser, they served us tuna nicoise salad to prepare our taste buds for the barrage of flavors. It looked like there was a manicured garden on my plate and I was hesitant to take a bite and destroy its impressive presentation. I eventually succumbed to my culinary desires and ate every morsel on my plate—from the perfectly seared tuna slices to the quail eggs and micro greens. My palate was ready for more.

Even if the restaurant is known for its lobster bisque, I opted for the smoked salmon cannelloni as my first course. I had a glass of sauvignon blanc to accompany my appetizer, as suggested by the maître d’. Instead of cylindrical pasta, the restaurant’s version used salmon meat to wrap the creamy salmon filling. It was served with some salmon caviar and a side of grapefruit-fennel salad. My plate had only one piece of cannelloni but it was such a hefty serving that I thought I wouldn’t be able to go through the whole menu.

To cleanse our palate, we were given some caramelized apple sorbet while they prepared the main course. The sorbet was light and a little sweet; it felt cool on my mouth. It helped remove the fishy aftertaste and also made me look forward to the next course.

My choice of main dish for that night was veal cheeks confit, which was actually similar to beef bourguignon. It came with some sautéed pumpkin gnocchi, fresh mushrooms, and pancetta. As I savored every delectable bite of the tender veal, I thought that the serving size was ample enough for someone with a big appetite. The mushrooms gave the dish more umami, while the gnocchi made it even more filling. I was expecting a smaller serving since it was only a degustation menu but this was a pleasant surprise.

Those who prefer to go a la carte may also order these dishes separately. Other notable food finds are the Tivoli signature salad with lobster, scallop and pan-fried duck liver; braised lamb shank, and of course, the prime rib and steak. Diners should bear in mind that the restaurant changes its menu from time to time.

After the main course, I thought I wouldn’t have room for dessert anymore but I just couldn’t stop myself from sampling some warm gingerbread cake with poached spice pears and butterscotch custard. It smelled like Christmas! I especially liked the contrast of the warm and moist cake with the cold and creamy ice cream. The dessert wasn’t cloying at all—it was a wonderful way to end a decadent dinner.

It would have been nice if my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary there, but I suppose there would be other special occasions where we could have a date night at The Tivoli and spoil ourselves silly even just for one night.

Chef Richard Toix offers delicate plating artistry, Michelin-starred cooking (GMA News Online)

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 16, 2014)

Most children dream of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or even an astronaut when they grow up, but Richard Toix was not like most kids; he knew that he wanted to be a chef someday.

He discovered his love for food at an early age, and during his teenage years he secretly applied to a culinary school without his parents’ permission. His tenacity to enter the culinary world to hone his cooking skills has led him to what he is today—a Michelin-starred chef.

A pinch of passion and a dash of determination

Toix, who recently spoke to Manila journalists on Skype, is a native of Perpignan in France. He got his culinary education at Lycée Hotelier, then moved to London to do more training with the Roux brothers at their three-Michelin-star restaurant. He returned to France when he was around 30 and worked for various restaurants before opening his own establishment.

It was in 1993 when he and his wife, Laure, launched their first restaurant, Le Champ de Foire in Lencloitre. They opened another restaurant concept in 2007, Passions et Gourmandises, which offers traditional French cuisine presented in a modern way.

Barely a year after the Toixes opened Passions et Gourmandises, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, an honor for any chef.

Chef Richard said that he likes to work with the season, to ensure the freshness of the ingredients he uses. He also makes sure to support local suppliers, as sustainability in cooking is also important to him. In his restaurant, the menu changes every month and the degustation menu changes every day, depending on the availability of produce and other ingredients in the local market.

With over 20 years of culinary experience, Toix has mastered the art of food fusion, which diners may perceive in his artistic plating presentations. In 2010, he collaborated with Zhou Tiehai, a Chinese contemporary artist, to fuse painting with traditional French pastries as part of a grand exhibition.

Even after decades of being in the culinary world, Chef Richard says that he continues to wake up with a smile on his face, as his passion for cooking has not wavered.

A week in Manila

Manila’s gourmands will have the opportunity to sample his world-class cuisine when he visits the Philippines to cook at The Tivoli from February 24 to March 2. Food connoisseurs may either partake of the business lunch or the six-course degustation menu.

His menu includes potato black truffle croustillant with brown butter, lapu-lapu filet, crabmeat avocado cannelloni and shellfish vinaigrette, and lamb loin in seaweed crust, lemon pâte and garnish.

His culinary creations might be too pretty to eat; make sure to feast with your eyes first to fully appreciate the artistry of Chef Richard Toix.