Restaurant chic is in. Today, great cuisine must be married with fabulous interiors. The trend for simplicity is over – elaborate, over the top, themed or sheer luxury provide moods and foods for the gastronomically inclined, bland and boring eateries are out, atmospheric cuisine is in.
The trend of luxury restaurant seems to be kicking off, Pino’s, the gourmet brainchild of Cebu socialite Madame Amparito Llamas Lhuillier and restaurateur and managing partner Monsieur Joel del Prado, resonates luxe and elegance in fine dining. Nothing can beat it for its sheer sprawl and space in a metropolis that is normally afraid to breathe, imparting a grainy feel in uptown Wilson Street in Lahug. Pino’s in the neighbour-hood is a few notches upscale ladder with it’s name-dropping labels( think the Lhuilliers, the Osmenas and the Ramas of Cebu).
The restaurant is spectacularly large with intricately faceted, polished, hardwood panelled surfaces, like being in the inside of a tree. Venetian crystal- chandeliers are suspended from the ceilings. The cuisine presents a modern approach to classic native flavours, very much like the interior design itself by the famous Sheila Solon.
The classic native cuisine – international wines paired with innovatively tweaked classic Cebuano recipes like white fresh marlin marinated with coconut milk and baked with local spices is complemented beautifully by the sumptuous interiors. Heavily adorned Venetian mirrors, dimly lit chandeliers, and lavish contemporary bohemian chic-hacienda feel make for a warm dinner and lunch. The exquisite décor makes an unapologetic statement of ancestral hispanic splendour, impossible to ignore.
How do the stylishly turned out and terribly talented Cary Santiago in Bottega Veneta arm candy and Project Runway winner Philip Tampus as my lunch hosts and friends strike you? As the kind of people to do things by extremely Haute and Couture? Blink again…I am just simply lucky!
The menu proffers ‘native cuisine’ with a Spanish influence.” Pino” which means fine, impressive craftsmanship and impeccable taste, is a leisure repast sit-down family and friends type dinner in relaxation buffet mode.
Lowly veggies are now turning up on the tables of the elite and the nouveau-snobs. Take the “LATO” and “Gozo’ sea weeds and a staple of the working classes — it can now be found on the best tables and in fine dining restaurants. Chefs in many-starred restaurants even top this sea vegetable with caviar.
Similarly, a leafy plant that used to grow wild is now cultivated and served as trendy soups with ulo ng isda and even with delectable sauces. What the poor once ate has now become retro-chic. As have traditional, easy-on-the-stomach dishes like pot-au-feu, local soups and stews.
Necessity has always been the mother of invention, or indeed creativity, when it comes to cuisine in the Philippines. Vegetarian food evolved an exquisite vegetarian cuisine that could be an epicurean’s delight. For example, dishes made from the flowers of a banana plant, langka and coconuts.
Perhaps, it is time to go back to the future — to the roots, literally speaking too. The health conscious have discovered the virtues of traditional cuisines — even those of the masses. But there is another reason for a return to a simpler past. To the kind of traditional cooking that allows for sudden increases in the number of guests of Pino’s.
Maybe it was the uncompromising beauty of the locations, or the richness of colour (that our hazy city-life makes drab and grey), or the sheer understated luxury of the environs that made one feel desperately pampered – spoiled even, as if we were the only ones that truly mattered here, or maybe it was the fact that here, no one else mattered to either of us. It completed us.
Seen at the Restaurant: the mother of Ruffa Guttierrez, Eddie Guttierez and Raymond Isaac
Thanks to Cary Santiago and Philip Tampus for my memorable Cebu trip and thanks too for the bottle of wine and the fabulous lunch courtesy from the affable Managing Partner of Pino’s- Monsieur Joel Rama del Prado (above photo)