Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Icings Cakes. Breads. Cafe

When I and my regular food buddy went to Icings to have a quick meal, the country was then being slammed by one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit Manila and, at that time, heavy floods were already inundating certain parts of the country, including the nearby provinces. But, what can we do? We just love food and no typhoon – weak or strong – can stop us from eating!

Hence, soaked and all, we still went to this place. I honestly thought that the security guard wouldn’t let us in because our clothes were literally sodden and dripping with rainwater, but he allowed us to step inside anyway.
Icings, by the way, is a café near Tomas Morato but it is strategically located in such an inconspicuous area, far from the bustling crowd and peppy diners.
It’s really hard to notice and even the sign is barely visible to passersby and walk-in diners.
icings cakes breads cafe
Inside, the place looked much like any other café - tiled floors, warm lights, paintings, and all.
There were plenty of cakes here too.
Now, this one's my favorite - the "Basket of Fruits". Too bad, they don’t sell cakes by the slice.
One more thing that's interesting is that their menu is bound on a chopping board. 
And, finally, here's the dining area. Look at how clean the floor and tables are.
Generally, The restaurant is very simple and straightforward. It wasn't really any different from other cafes out there. Uniqueness, I should say, is not really the shop's strongest point, but its cleanliness pretty much makes up for this shortcoming. Having said that, I still think that this is a really decent and quiet place to have a quick snack or some coffee and cake with friends and family.
Actually, the place was comfier than it looks. It was so cozy, we spent almost half an hour drying ourselves inside before actually ordering. When we’re already comfortable and dry, I flipped through the menu and called the waiter to have our orders taken.
Since we’re relatively new here, all I wanted to try out is the Ostrich Pasta. I’ve never really had ostrich in my life so I wanted to know how it feels to eat this fowl’s meat. So, I ordered one serving of this dish and this is what they served.
ostrich pasta
Ostrich Pasta (P 245.00)
Seriously, who wouldn't love to have a taste of this dish? This plate of pasta looked really good! The presentation was very clever. It had me drooling at the dish right away. I took a bite of the meatball and, surprisingly, it didn’t even taste like any other kind of fowl. It tasted closer to beef. However, it was also a tough meat. It’s a good thing that this one’s ground and formed into a meatball because it made the meat easier to eat.

The pasta and the sauce were good too. The spaghetti was al dente and the red sauce was very rich and creamy. I think they used fresh tomatoes for the pasta sauce, which is good. I had a pleasant first encounter with the ostrich because of this meal. This is a must-try!
lemongrass chicken skewers
Lemongrass Chicken Skewers (P 195.00)
Because we found it really hard to pick what else to eat, we just asked the waiter what their bestsellers are and when he told us about the lemongrass chicken skewers, we were convinced  to have this added to our order. This was also a good choice. It had this char-grilled flavor and was very flavorful. It was juicy and tender and was just plain good. The serving size is quite small though. Thus, we didn’t even notice that we have eaten all of it.
Overall, we were satisfied not only with the food here, but also with the service. The waiter on duty that time (whose name I forgot) was very professional. He was smart and friendly. He was not pushy. He didn’t force us to order right away and follow-up on us every now and then. He just allowed us to dry ourselves first and feel all relaxed and comfy before taking the order.
He was also very attentive to our needs. He gave excellent recommendations, served us a glass of water each, and refilled our glass every now and then when he felt like we needed more water.
With such excellent service and above average food, I would definitely come back to this place. The prices may not be affordable, considering the size of the servings, but it was satisfying anyway. I’d have to get back here and try other ostrich meals. I think I’ve just become an ostrich fan!
Ambiance – 3/5
Food – 4/5
Service – 5/5
Value – 4/5   
TOTAL – 4/5 

Icings Cakes. Breads. Cafe
(02) 372 0351
101 Sct. Lazcano cor. Tomas Morato
Quezon City, Metro-Manila

Sunday, October 16, 2011

H.K. Choi by Choi Garden

I had a fairly fast and traffic-free trip from the province back to Manila on a cold and rainy Sunday night and because I had some time to spare, I decided to get off at Megamall to have a well-deserved dinner.
Unfortunately, because it’s a Sunday evening and many families were dining out that day, almost all of my favorite restaurants in Megamall were chock-full of diners, so I decided to go to the Megamall Atrium as I believe there are fewer people around this area. Here, I stumbled across a restaurant called H.K. Choi.
I was instantly lured to eat here as the signage says Choi Garden - a now favorite restaurant of mine. I didn't really bring a lot of cash that time but, knowing that this restaurant is being run by the same owners of Choi Garden, I didn’t anymore mind the price, shut my eyes close, and went in right away regardless of what awaits me inside.
The interior's set-up is quite similar to its mother company, minus the hanging Chinese lanterns, the grand tunnel-like entrance, and the dominant red hues inside.
Also, unlike in Choi Garden, there’s not a lot of people when I went in and the place was very quiet.
Interestingly, they have these hanging lamps, which are rotating on their own.
And while there may have been some signs of deterioration in this place, it was evident that the management pays so much attention to the cleanliness of the store. In fact, as can be seen in the photo above, the floor was very clean and well-mopped.
Having said all of that, I think that, overall, this establishment looked very warm and inviting, especially for a restaurant located in a mall.  
Satisfied with the place, I ordered a lot of food but first, they welcomed me with this free house tea, which was okay but not really my cup of tea.
I thought of ordering one variant of dim sum, two kinds of rice toppings, and one for dessert and I swear I really felt the need to go to confession right after this meal - I really am a glutton!
Sio Long Pao (P 95.00)
For dim sum, I had their Sio Long Pao. This was served steaming hot and I guess it had to be eaten really hot as it can get too dry and gummy if it’s left to cool for a while. Compared to Choi Palace's Xiao Long Bao, the wrapper of this dim sum is a bit thick and gummy. Nonetheless, the soup inside was superb. This was gone in a flash.
Braised Beef Brisket Rice (P 195.00)
I took a risk and ordered something that is not recommended, which was the Braised Beef Brisket Rice. This was okay but not stellar. What’s good is that there was a hint of ginger in the sauce and the beef was super tender. However, though it was pleasant, it can get too salty if eaten without rice. I am not a fan of this dish but it was okay.
Roast Layer Pork & Soy Chicken (P 210.00)
Since I know I can’t consume an entire platter of cold cut combination, I just had a rice topping with two cold cut variants from that set. By the way, there were 4 slices of pork in this dish but, because I got too excited to eat this, I mistakenly ate the first slice without noticing that I haven’t taken a photo of the dish yet.
Soy Chicken
The soy chicken did not disappoint as expected. It was as good as the ones from Choi Garden. The meat was tender and it was very juicy and flavorful. 
Roast Layer Pork
I was, however, slightly disappointed with the Roast Layer Pork. It was alright because the taste was still spot on and the skin was really very crispy. However, the meat was not as tender and is a little tough and chewy. It’s still good though but not the best one I’ve tasted.
Free Soup
Every rice topping order comes with a free bowl of soup, which was a good value to me. This one's delicious. I have a hunch that this is somewhat similar to the Chinese Egg Drop Soup with the beaten eggs floating on the soup’s surface but I can't be too sure. 
Buchi (P 65.00)
This one’s tasty too. It’s so big, I can’t stuff the entire thing in my mouth. I really enjoyed eating this. It’s not too sweet but it can be a little filling. 
Good food coupled with excellent service is what most diners are looking for in a restaurant and I think this establishment has both of these qualities. Servers here are very attentive, responsive, and professional (except for a few of them who are chitchatting during business hours). Service was also very fast - there was almost no wait time here. Ten minutes was all I needed to have everything served hot and complete. 
Overall, there is good value for money here. I didn’t really think that the price of the food here is at all affordable, but it is. The serving size is big and the food was enjoyable. For everything that I ordered, which, of course, wasn’t all consumed, I only paid more than P 500.00 and that’s a meal for two or three. For a quick and quality meal while in the mall, I’d definitely recommend this restaurant.
Ambiance - 4/5
Food - 4/5
Service - 4/5
Value - 4/5
TOTAL - 4/5
H.K. Choi by Choi Garden
(02) 470 4233
2nd Level SM Megamall Atrium
EDSA cor. Julia Vargas Ave.
Mandaluyong, Metro-Manila

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ho-Land Hopia & Bakery

For the best hopia in town, of course, Ongpin Street in Binondo is the best place to go to. Nothing compares to the Chinese delicacies that can be bought in Ongpin. They're affordable and worth every peso you pay for them.

Although I've only tried three brands of Hopia here (Eng Bee Tin, Salazar, and Ho-Land), I think Ho-Land's Mung Bean Pastry (Hopia Mongo) is the best one I've tasted so far. This pastry is simply heavenly. It has a very light flavor and just the right sweetness for a Hopia. 

I'm not saying that Salazar's and Eng Bee Tin's Hopia are not as delicious as this one but I just prefer this version over the others. It's hard to compare the different versions of Hopia in Ongpin because every one of them has its own special feature. Salazar's Hopia crust, for instance, is well-toasted and firmer than the other brands sold in Ongpin while Eng Bee Tin's is softer, sweeter, and very white (it seems as if it's not at all toasted). Ho-Land's Hopia crust, on the other hand, has this distinct  flaky, almost papery, consistency, which is so delicate, it feels as if it just melts in your mouth.

I think this flaky consistency is really what makes this Hopia very delicious and appealing though a lot of people might feel that this makes the pastry very messy to eat. Nevertheless, I don't mind dirtying the floor with the heavenly flakes of this Hopia. I'd clean the house anytime to have a taste of this delicious delicacy.

Ho-Land Hopia
(02) 242-9707
551 E.T. Yuchengco St. cor. Carvajal
Binondo, Manila

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Lemon

Okay, I have to admit. I’m already left behind. Trends in food and dining are really changing so quickly and sometimes I just can’t follow through. For one, I didn’t really know that tea-based beverages, such as milk teas, have seeped into the otherwise coffee-frenzied culture of the Filipinos. It was, for me, surprising to see so many teahouses sprouting everywhere!
Happy Lemon is among those mainstream teashops, serving modern blends of tea and, because I wanted to feel “in” even if I don’t really drink tea, I decided to give this anime-inspired shop a go.
I’ve seen Happy Lemon featured in several blogs and many of my friends claim that this teahouse has a relaxed and laidback atmosphere. However, when I went to visit this shop with a friend of mine, I almost had a heart attack! I hate the crowd and this is exactly the kind of place I wouldn’t want to be in at any given time - it was totally jam-packed!
All the chairs outside were occupied.
The line was very long!
Plus, there were plenty of people scuffling around the counter to claim their orders.
Literally every part of the shop was filled with people and it had a rowdy, noisy, oppressive, and absolutely unbearable feel inside. This was very far from the supposedly light and relaxed atmosphere others are claiming.
To make matters worse, the place looked like a huge garbage bin. We saw plenty of used cups and plastic bags lying untidily on the floor, stools, tables and everywhere and no one really bothered to clean them at all!
I guess if only there were less people the day we went here, we would’ve appreciated this teahouse more, especially with its fun and friendly façade and design but, unfortunately, we encountered a completely different scenario.
The crowd, however, did not stop us from trying out the beverages sold here as we travelled so far and we were already parched by the time we arrived in the shop. We had one order each of Happy Lemon’s specialty teas.  I ordered their Green Tea with Rock Salt Cheese and my friend had the Milk Tea with Oreo Cookie.
Honestly, I didn’t like any of the teas. I took a sip of my friend’s order and I found it to be too bitter. Then, after some time of drinking mine, I actually just asked her to finish it because, as I feared, it was not my cup of tea.
Green Tea with Rock Salt Cheese (P 90.00)
If you want to feel all holy and divine, try out this tea. Drinking this blend made me feel like I’m some kind of patron saint or even the “Poong Nazareno” with whom Sampaguita flowers are being offered! The green tea had this jasmine-like feel and it was fragrant to the mouth but definitely not pleasant. The rock salt cheese is meant to be eaten with a straw, I think, because it tasted sweet and cheesy, which is a perfect contrast to the bitter taste of the tea. Mixing it with the green tea would definitely be a mistake because its distinct sweetness would be overpowered by the bitter tea. Honestly, I’d rather drink water with the rock salt cheese on top than this jasmine-based green tea.
Milk Tea with Oreo Cookie (P 100.00)
My friend ordered this one and I took a sip because I wanted to try and see if this was any better from my disastrous pick. Anyway, I guess this one’s a little bit friendlier and happier than my order. There were plenty of floating cookies in the drink, which somehow neutralized the bitter flavor of the tea. However, I still can’t stand drinking this. It was still too bitter for my sweet tooth.
Dreadful service - that’s all I can say. I can’t blame them though as there were plenty of people and the teashop was obviously understaffed. The crew can’t even clear the tables, clean the floors, and accommodate everyone.
The buzzer thing, which is supposed to be used to notify the customers that their orders may already be claimed, was nonexistent. I wonder why a lot of people are raving about it at all. We didn’t even get our change and they didn’t bother to remind us about it. My friend had to struggle once again with the customers around the counter to ask for our change. It was a mess, actually.
I was pretty disappointed with the experience I’ve had here - it was actually very unhappy.  I have yet to try some of their other tea blends to really pick the right one for me but I think I wouldn’t really bother going back to this teashop just to do that. Their drinks are reasonably priced but if I can’t even consume an entire cup of their tea, I guess there’s no value for money there at all.
Ambiance - 2/5
Drinks - 2/5
Service - 2/5
Value - 2/5
TOTAL - 2/5

Happy Lemon
2nd Level, Promenade, Greenhills Shopping Center
Ortigas Avenue, Greenhills
San Juan, Metro-Manila

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gelatissimo Cafe

I am not really a fan of cafes located in malls because I hate the crowd. However, because of my craving for ice cream, I really had to get past the busy crowd of Trinoma Mall just to have a taste of the gelato they’re serving in this gelato bar. 


I had no other option as I’ve noticed that, because of my series of eating sprees, I have gained some extra pounds and I didn’t really want to pack up some more by eating more fatty desserts. I thought that this was just the perfect place because, as I’ve heard, the ice creams they serve here are fat-free.
As usual, I went to this cafe with my regular food buddy (as I wanted to taste the gelatos she’ll order too). It was a very rainy day and it was a good thing that this place is located in a mall as we got to dry ourselves in Trinoma’s restrooms before we went here. 
When we finally reached the store, dry and all, I was instantly impressed by the shop’s interior because, for such a small café, I found this place to be well decorated and very refreshing. 
What’s noticeable is that the interior is predominantly red.
The entire store was also very clean and the chandeliers inside gave the place a more elegant air.  It’s also worth noting that the chairs and benches here are very soft and comfortable to sit on.
Also, the walls at the far end of the shop have some patterns and illustrations printed on the surface, making them more interesting and, to complete the cafe experience, there were several Christmas songs playing in the background while we were happily eating our gelatos. 
Overall, I was fairly satisfied with the place. My only qualm is concerning the acoustics of the shop. This is probably not a very good meeting place as it can get very noisy inside, especially if there are many people.
There are plenty of gelato flavors to choose from in the shop, ranging from the common fruity flavors to the specialty ones. It was so hard to pick which ones to order.
Thankfully, we were allowed to taste some of the gelato flavors before ordering a full scoop by requesting the staff to give us a small sample on a plastic spoon. 
After the tasting, I and my friend both decided to have two scoops of gelatos. I tried their Panna Cotta and Lemon Cheesecake flavors and my friend had a combination of Chocolate Truffle and Forest Berries. By the way, a scoop of gelato costs P 110.00 and with just P 50 more, one could get two scoops already.
Panna Cotta & Lemon Cheesecake (P 160.00)
This was a slightly boring combination as both of these gelato flavors are light colored and they look pretty much the same. My friend said that my pick didn’t have any personality at all but I liked this combination anyway. 
Panna Cotta 
For me, this is the best flavor we’ve sampled for the day. It was very light and just had the right sweetness. It felt like I was eating a slice of cake or some chilled Creme Brulee without the unnecessary fat content. No wonder, it’s a bestseller. Look at how it appears almost sold out!
Lemon Cheesecake
This was sweet and creamy with a light lemony flavor. I didn’t enjoy this much at first try but it easily became my favorite after a while. I just love how the flavor of the lemon blended with the sweetness of the gelato. It felt like eating a real cheesecake!
Chocolate Truffle & Forest Berries (P 160.00)
My friend had this weird chocolate and berry combination, which, according to her, had more personality. However, it was a little over-the-top for me as the Forest Berries flavor was very strong and tangy and the chocolate was dark and smooth. It was, to me, two completely different flavors clashing against each other and they’re both overpowering.
Chocolate Truffle
The chocolate truffle gelato was nice and smooth and it felt like a deluxe chocalate ice cream flavor. There were tiny bits of chocolate truffles in the ice cream, which added a distinct texture to this gelato. It was very satisfactory.
Forest Berries
Hands down, this is the prettiest gelato flavor in the entire café but don’t be easily lured by the looks of this cutesy ice cream.  This is certainly not for the soft and delicate as this one’s pretty strong and tangy and it definitely has a certain kick! However, when I mixed it with my panna cotta, its strong flavor was somehow neutralized, making it more pleasant and tolerable. 
Overall, the gelatos were fantastic and I definitely want to come back to try out the other flavors. I thought two scoops was just not enough! Next time, I’m sure to grab three gelato scoops! 

We were definitely satisfied with the service of the shop. When my friend was sampling some of the flavors, the staff was very friendly and accommodating (even if it took us  a while to decide on the ones we’ll have for the night). The waiters were also keen on wiping the tables right away so that the store appears neat and clean all the time. Of course, we weren’t expecting topnotch service as this is not a fine dining restaurant. Nevertheless, I think the staff’s performance met our expectations.

The gelatos may be a bit expensive but there certainly is value for money here mainly due to the overall dining experience we had in the cafe. The other food items sold in the shop are also fairly priced.

Ambiance - 4/5
Food - 4/5
Service - 4/5
Value - 4/5
TOTAL - 4/5
(02) 915 - 9997
4/F Trinoma Mall (Garden Area)
EDSA cor. North Avenue,
Quezon City, Philippines

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