Grandiose and commanding, Buddha-Bar Manila in Picar Place is something to talk about. Buddha-Bar Manila can accommodate over 500 guests in its three storey structure; it boasts being the biggest franchise of the Buddha-Bar brand (with others located around the world like in Paris, London and Mexico). I've never been to the other Buddha-Bar outlets in other countries, so my starting point for the Buddha-Bar experience is right at our homebase. And I can say its aesthetics -- both in food and design -- do not fail to impress.
Visit Buddha-Bar in Kalayaan Avenue, Makati
Let's walk you through the flavors, sights, and sounds of this strikingly beautiful bar-lounge-restaurant hybrid in Makati.
Taste the Sights
If Buddha-Bar were a woman, she would be sexy and mysterious, an instant hook for everyone meeting her for the first time. Its three full floors are washed in scarlet and gold -- two bold colors that can be gaudy if they were to fall on the wrong hands. Buddha-Bar infuses these colors elegantly so all over the place, knowing where to restrain and when to enhance the details. The lighting does the trick too, in creating a soothing, sensual atmosphere.
Scarlet and Gold numbers sprawl all over Buddha-Bar Manila's three floors
Achieve nirvana and blissful dining on their third level
It feels exotic, and on my first visit, remarkably so that we all felt like we weren't in Makati for dinner. It's as if we were invited by a royalty (or a very, very rich friend) to a private party at their house. We indulged by seating ourselves in plush sofas in rich mahogany, while appreciating various Asian art pieces, statues, decorated wood panels, luxurious fabrics and mosaics. On the second floor, I noticed different kinds of buddhas are encased in glass. Even the ladies' bathroom was beautiful and sexy, and the elevator holds a surprise, too -- a dragon etching is lit up, while the walls glow a soft pink hue.
All in the details: mahogany, intricate wall design, amber-colored lighting
Savor the Sounds
To match its signature look, Buddha-Bar has its signature musical ambiance. Don't expect your mainstream club, house, or hip-hop tunes blasting from the speakers. The volume of their music is also just right, that you need not lean close and shout at your companions while having drinks to have a decent conversation.
Enjoy their signature food while treating your ears with their eclectic mix of music
If you enjoy their in-house music, then you'll be delighted to know that you can bring home the Buddha-Bar soundtrack -- an eclectic mix of world, lounge and energy. The CD compilations are being sold by the main entrance, along with other Buddha-Bar merchandise.
Experience the Flavors
Dining at the Buddha-Bar is yet another unique experience. Everything here is new and fresh, created exclusively for the restaurant; there are select items that are only available at Buddha-Bar Manila, in fact. What they offer here is labeled as 'Pacific Rim' cuisine, explained Executive Chef Soc Santos. It's a combination of Asian and French flavors and cooking methods. My assumption prior to my first visit was that the restaurant was offering Chinese dishes because of its name. But what they showcase here are an interesting array of culinary creations, such as sushi, sashimi, seafood, salads, and creatively concocted cocktails.
Start your feast with some modern Japanese appetizers. The Pink Lady (P210 - 4 pcs, P420 - 8 pcs) and Buddha-Bar Rolls (P760 - 6 pcs), both signature creations of Buddha-Bar, make for a couple of delicious starters. The Pink Lady is a personal favorite, a plate of maki sushi that is both sweet and soft, with a suprising little crunch at the middle once your teeth meets the crisp coating of the shrimp. The Buddha-Bar Rolls are six pieces of spicy seafood rolls, with a crisp and cool outer layer of cucumber that succumbs to the soft pieces of tuna and salmon.
New Style Tuna Sashimi
Follow up the sushi samples with New Style Tuna Sashimi (P400 - 6 pcs) or Tataki (Seared Tuna or Salmon, P90 per piece). Both of these raw appetizers are expertly sliced and chilled, with bits of herbs and spices that give it a leafy texture.
Shrimp and Avocado Jalapeno
Crunchy Rice Salmon
One can have a plateful of sushi, sashimi and rolls at Buddha-Bar and end up with a happy belly. If you want to leave space for the main course, then try to decline items with rice and carbs. But then that means you'll miss out on their specialty Crunchy Rice starters, like the Shrimp and Avocado Jalapeno (P320 - 5 pcs) and Crunchy Rice Salmon (P260 - 5 pcs). These two look like tofu from the oustide, but one bite reveals them to be golden nuggets of crispy rice. Shrimp lovers should choose the former appetizer while salmon sashimi fans opt for the latter; both are slighlty hot on the palate as well.
Buddha-Bar Chicken Salad
If it is your first time at Buddha-Bar, I urge you to try their Buddha-Bar Chicken Salad (P380). I was immediately smitten on my first bite of this lip-smacking salad during my first visit to Buddha-Bar. My girlfriends and I just love this cold salad, which is apparently a worldwide favorite, and it's easy to know why. The sweet, tarty and spicy meet your tastebuds while introducing various degrees of crunch and crisp with its fresh greens and wontons. The slices of chicken are tender, and the spices and sesame seal the deal. I can't imagine dining at Buddha-Bar without ordering this salad. I tell Chef Soc that it's my ultimate favorite, and we'll try to recreate the dressing at home; she just grins and says the recipe is so intricate and the ingredients complex that it would be quite impossible to duplicate this well-loved dish. I guess I'll always have a reason to visit Buddha-Bar, then.
Crispy Boneless Chicken Wings with Spicy Ginger Sauce
The Crispy Boneless Chicken Wings with Spicy Ginger Sauce (P580) is the chef's recommendation and personal favorite, and again, it's not hard to see why this is also one of the top picks of our dinner that evening. Chicken chunks are perfectly fried that every piece has those irresistible crunchy morsels as coating. Pick a chunk, and dunk it in the sweet and spicy vinegar, and you have your ultimate bar chow! Or, if you wish, go Pinoy and order some rice with this appetizer and upgrade it to your night's ulam.
Thai Style Red Curry Shrimp
Artfully presented, the Thai Style Red Curry Shrimp (P850) was up next. A coconut shell serves as its bowl, and there is more curry sauce on the side for you to drizzle on your shrimps. I enjoyed this dish by scooping it from the coconut, and was delighted to discover some lemongrass rice under the pieces of shrimp. This dish is mildly spiced, and I found that scraping some of the coconut's meat and adding it to every spoonful of rice and shrimp made it even more flavorful.
Now, on to dessert. Everyone should always leave room for dessert. Ending a good meal on a sweet note has always been important to me. There was this one weekend where I went dessert-free, and it left me with very graphic dreams of ordering imaginary cakes (even in my sleep, I need dessert). So to hear that Buddha-Bar does not scrimp on their specialty dessert was music to my ears.
Chocolate Sesame Bars
"Order their chocolate bars!!!" was the text message I received from my friend when I told her I was going to eat at Buddha-Bar. The extra exclamation points got me, so we ordered the Chocolate Sesame Bars (P290) for dessert. And my, exclamation points indeed. This best-seller is a plate with three thick, long sticks of chocolate and sesame wafers, and sitting pretty in the middle is a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you can imagine how Ferrero Rocher would taste like if it were on stick form, then this would be it. Slightly crisp, sweet, and addicting -- it's the kind of dessert goodness you want to be all selfish about. How I wish they can sell these by the box!
If you want something new to introduce to your palate, then be bold to try Black Sesame Ice Cream with Seaweed Tuiles (P210). It's quite an acquired taste, with only a tease of sweetness, not like the usual saccharine punch of the typical ice cream flavors. Buddha-Bar also has assorted sorbet and ice cream in other interesting flavors, like Green Tea, Pineapple Ginger, Lime Mint, and Young Coconut.
Warm Chocolate Cake with Praline Cream
If out-of-the-box dessert is not your thing, then a classic chocolate cake will satisfy your sweet tooth. Chocoholics, meet your new lover: the Warm Chocolate Cake with Praline Cream (P280). It's sweet, soft, and will warm you up just right after a long meal. It's that perfect chocolate cake that can make you close your eyes to savor every bite. If nirvana is what you want, then end your meal at Buddha-Bar with a blissful belly by ordering this moist and sinfully rich cake.
Additional photos courtesy of Buddha-Bar Manila.