If Internet, Twitter, and blogging were present way back in time, you can bet that one Google search for Champagne Room will lead you to the lengthiest reviews and features of what was then the swankiest place to be in when in Manila.
It will probably show you pictures of President Quezon, enjoying his favorite Oven-roasted Cornish Hen Stuffed with Morel Mushrooms, with the other VIPs. Photos of Michael Jackson, Imelda Marcos, and whoever else was considered important back then are also likely to be included in Champagne Room's gallery of guests.
A red-carpet entrance
But of course, there's Champagne in here!
Fast forward to the present, Googling the term Champagne Room will lead you 'somewhere else,' thanks to the unfortunate defacement of the term by the modern lingo. But a more decisive search will still show you that the original Champagne Room-- the one that stood witness to hundreds of thousands of occasions, crucial meetings, and events of historical importance, still regally stands. This little piece of Versailles inside Manila Hotel is still open; entertaining its loyal patrons like kings and queens. And with the refurbishing of its menu, it promises to be better more than ever.
Originally, the Champagne Room was built to serve full-on French cuisine. This has changed over the years when international dishes like club sandwiches and dim sum made their way to the menu. But just over a year ago, the restaurant's carte du jour shifted back to serious French. Chef de Cuisine Christine Zarandin is largely responsible for the bettering of the options. A renaissance under a new chef, Champagne Room had.
For a refresher on what made Champagne Room a favorite option among fine diners through out the years, our group was invited to partake in a special six-course degustation that will showcase the best of the best among the restaurant's dishes. The meal, that was stretched to almost three hours, was relentlessly lavish and prime; it made everyone, including myself, feel no less like a princess.
The Poached Lobster Tail with Vanilla Custard and Oscietra Caviar willingly served as the day's palate primer. Our tongues, bare and thirsty from preparing for this meal, was as welcoming as a sponge-- porous to the flavors of the warm custard that's subtly sweet and decidedly briny, upon touchdown.
Poached Lobster Tail with Vanilla Custard and Oscietra Caviar
It had the smooth, delicate texture of a flan. There's flimsy soup on top; even more when you reach the bottom of the bowl. I'm guessing this is the broth from where the craggy lobster chunk in the middle was cooked. The chunk was at first resistive to the teeth, but eventually gave way to chewing. The sweet and rich flavor of the lobster oozed in tune to each movement of the jaws' muscles.
One bubble from the less than a teaspoonful of Oscietra caviar can justify why these eggs are so coveted. You wouldn't even need to exert even the tiniest effort to pop it; the salty and peculiar drop of juice will just melt on your tongue. The caviar served as the exclamation point in this dish. This is how you start your meal with a bang.
A soup sampler came next, charmingly fitting three small servings of soup in a tic-tac-toe plate. The Seared Scallop with Truffle and Wild Mushroom Cream, in the right-most side is thick but runny. The truffle essence wasn't as pungent as I expected, probably to give light to another ambrosial piece, which is the firm scallop. The Steamed Clams with Saucisson in Fennel and Curry is a brothy, thin, but powerful soup. The peppery sausage is the most pronounced flavor in this concoction; the clams follow. The fennel and curry kicks in as an aftertaste.
Steamed Clams with Saucisson in Fennel and Curry
A unanimous approval elected the Smoked Tomato Puree with Grilled Shrimp in Cheddar Bowl as the best among the three. The crusty cheddar bread paired with strongly smokey tomato puree perfectly. If couples-in-love were as harmonious as these two, divorce will likely be a thing of the past.
Smoked Tomato Puree with Grilled Shrimp in Cheddar Bowl
The warm wonderment was immediately followed by a cold serving of House-smoked Duck with Salade Caesar.
House-smoked Duck with Salade Caesar
This is my second time to have duck in my salad and this early, it's proving to be a very agreeable twosome. The woody flavor of the duck can tell how long and tediously was this smoked. Instead of croutons, a slice of bread is so rolled that the essential vegetables in Caesars are tucked. Eaten with the milky dressing, this salad is probably one of the best versions you can have in the metro.
A mild pause was taken with the Grape Sangria Sorbet. At this point, most of us are essentially full enough. But the thrilling promise of the upcoming dish kept the white flags down.
Cote de Boeuf et Pommes Frites, Caramelized Onions and Red Wine Sauce, was to come next, the menu said. Reading it alone made our salivary glands hyperactive. Our composures were forgotten upon the rolling of a wooden cart that carried a glorious boulder of roasted beef.
Cote de Boeuf et Pommes Frites, Caramelized Onions and Red Wine Sauce
“I hope you eat rare,” Chef Christine asked us. When no one complained (thankfully), slices of steaks, that were beautiful and brown on the outside yet crimson on the inside were served with fried potatoes that interestingly looked like wonton wrappers.
As expected, slicing a piece to bite was a cinch. Biting was even easier. It was that tender. Sans sauce, the meat comes across as perfectly seasoned; with the sauce it becomes the best thing you can have at this side of town. The pomme frites, or french fries in lay man's terms, are also exceptional; they were as memorable as the steak.
Mascarpone Cheese Souffle, Strawberries and Warm Hazelnut Ganache
The Mascarpone Cheese Souffle, Strawberries and Warm Hazelnut Ganache is supposedly the dessert that made one Hong Kong based patron e-mail Chef Christine for her commendations.
Though beautiful and agreeable in all rights, I on the other hand, fell in love with the other dessert: the Chocolate Pots de crème, Maple and Salted Foam.
Chocolate Pots de crème, Maple and Salted Foam
I haven't seen anything like it before, and I'm betting you haven't, too. This piece of artwork and tedious craft, that layers a mousse-like milk chocolate and a salty, stark white foam inside a perfectly cut egg shell, is definitely one for the books. It's something I only get to see in shows like MasterChef. Not only does it get an A+ for presentation, it deserves an ovation for the bold mixing of sweet and salty flavors in a dessert.
A degustation at the Champagne Room will cost you at least P2000 per head. When partaking in their dishes this way, there's no point in seeking out a particular dish, since the menu is ever-changing. Ala carte is also an option if you're not prepared for dishes that many.
Aside from the food, it's the Baroque- influenced room that is the real attraction at this restaurant. The red carpet that leads to it, the towering glass trees, the full, dramatic draperies, the dedicated pianist, the coordinated floral fabric-- all of these have carefully preserved the regal era like a time capsule. This is definitely fine dining at its finest. No wonder VIPs from since then have been frequenting this place.
So save up and dress up and prepare yourselves for a trip back to the grandeur of Old World Europe and feel like royalties* at the Champagne Room.
*Tiaras and crowns not included.