One of Enrique Yap’s most memorable dining experiences as a young boy growing up in the 1980s was eating at the Cowrie Grill with his family. “Back then, there weren’t a lot of places to go to eat and experience fine service,” he said. “My parents would tell us we have to dress up for the occasion and put our best behavior forward. When we get there, I would be astounded by the feel of the place and ambience. What really mattered to me, as a kid then, was the tableside service.”
Some 30 years down the road, the young boy has become part of the management team that is involved in the revival of the establishment. The Cowrie Grill has been an institution in the Manila Hotel ever since it opened in 1977, but it had to give way to the expansion and renovation of Café Ilang-Ilang in 2011. “We realized that Cowrie Grill had a strong equity and following so we decided to re-launch it and bring it closer to our clients,” said Yap, who is now Manila Hotel’s executive vice president.
Unlike him, I didn’t have any childhood story starring the iconic grill house, but I thought that it wasn’t too late to create new memories since Manila Hotel’s signature restaurant re-opened recently. Although it’s not located within the hotel premises, the establishment has retained the Grand Dame’s iconic cowrie shell in its interior décor, which also added drama to its lighting fixtures. I thought it provided a nice backdrop for an unforgettable dining experience.
Tableside service like no other
There were private booths in the posh restaurant, but I decided to get a comfortable seat under the cowrie-shell chandelier. With the dramatic lighting, I whet my appetite with some sesame-crusted bread and herbed butter. I veered away from getting another serving of bread, as I know that I was in for a rich meal.
A choice cut of beef cooked perfectly with its all its juicy goodness—it is no wonder that the steak is typically associated with fine dining. Brickfire, however, makes it accessible to more people, as it offers reasonably priced brick oven-roasted steaks and chops.
Despite its affordability, diners are assured of getting choice cuts since the restaurant gets it from a reputable supplier. All the meat is actually locally sourced. According to Aaron Macalinao, one of the owners of the restaurant, “We serve all our steak with thick yellow fat for that juicy, tender steak.” Macalinao is the one who supplies all the meat in the restaurant; after all, his family has been in that particular business for years now.
The meat of the matter
One of the house specialties is The Duke (P250), a juicy tenderloin steak that would satisfy any meat lover. It is cooked medium well, unless otherwise specified, and it is prepared with the restaurant’s original sauce blend, which highlights the traditional salt and pepper flavor. Each bite was a pleasure, as the succulent meat interacted with my taste buds.
Diners would especially enjoy paring it with a serving of creamy mashed potatoes with savory gravy. There are real potato chunks in it, unlike the more commercial ones that are made from prepared mixes.
The Broccoli Tex-Mex (P160) is also a nice accompaniment to the steak. A plate of broccoli flowers is smothered in rich cheese sauce and topped with grated cheese and crunchy bacon bits. Eating veggies also made me feel less guilty for indulging on a steak meal.