Once a secret among lovers, Sonya's Garden has slowly evolved into a landmark destination for romantic countryside dining. Today it has blossomed into a full grown restaurant business with a Bed and Breakfast facility, pampering spa and dreamy wedding venues in tow. Almost ten years since it first opened, the famed Tagaytay garden reveals yet another secret.
The Panaderia is a small bakeshop at Sonya’s Garden that’s easy to miss if not for the sweet aroma of freshly baked dough wafting from the oven. Lani, manager of the Panaderia, says that curious passers-by would come into the shop asking, “What smells so good?” Inside, baskets of breads and pastries are on display, but not for long. House specialties like the cheese hopia and Spanish bread often run out as soon as they’re made.
The chef is Sonya’s former driver, Artem, who was once a baker in his hometown. When Sonya wanted to start making her own bread to serve at the restaurant instead of sourcing them out, Artem traded his driver’s cap for a toque and began whipping up specialties like the Sesame Wheat Bread (P100), pan de sal (P70), and a bunch of nostalgic pastries that Sonya wanted to revive: Spanish bread, ogoy-ogoy, kalihim, putok, monay among others.
Artem’s version of the Spanish bread called Hispanis Bread (P80 for 10 pieces) is a sweet ensemble that envelopes butter and sugar in a roll of soft dough. Best served warm but still pretty good at room temperature, its one of those pastries you can’t resist dipping into a steaming cup of coffee. The bitterness of the coffee counters the sweetness of the bread, moistening the dough as it melts in your mouth.
My personal favorite is the Cheese Hopia (P70 for 10 pieces), a flower-shaped pastry made with parmesan cheese. I had the chance of sampling this minutes after it was taken out of the oven and biting into it was sublime. If you like your cheese like I do, this is a must-try. The rich flavors of parmesan kicked at every bite, made more addicting with a chewy finish. For an added crisp, I suggest toasting them at home until the sides are slightly browned and the cheese is a little melted (drool!).
Pinwheel and Peanut Butter Cookies
The selection of Homemade Cookies (P70 for ten pieces) are also some of the bestsellers at The Panaderia, with flavors like peanut butter, chocolate chip oatmeal raisin, pinwheel (a crunchy swirl of butter and chocolate) and Budda d’ Oro (P80). The latter uses a chewy butter cookie bed topped with chocolate cake batter and, for an extra choco boost, a small bar of melted chocolate on top. Anything with a double dose of chocolate is comfort food to me.
Speaking of chocolate cakes, The Panaderia is also where Sonya makes the chocolate cake she serves for dessert as part of the restaurant’s set meal. “Smashingly sinful,” as she likes to call it, the Chocolate Cake (P250 petite, P400 regular) is her mom’s recipe. The cake is moist but not too dense, and the best part is it’s smothered in rich chocolate icing. In the restaurant, they say the cake is served in small portions because the consistency is rich and might be too much for some. For the best of us chocoholics, it’s just right.
Artem stirs things up every so often by adding new items on the menu. Of the newest are the Adobini (P100/18 pieces), mini adobo rolls that can be devoured in three small bites, and Sonya’s variation of the Otap (P100 a pack), a thin, biscuit-like number minus the traditional flaky texture. Sonya’s Otap is, all at once, smooth, crisp and delicate, said to be patterned after a Japanese maple sugar treat but localized in flavor.
I know of some people who will drive all the way to Sonya’s Garden for the cheese hopia alone, but be warned that the Panaderia is small with no seating area inside. Still, stumbling upon this bakeshop is like one of those secrets that are hard to keep to yourself. Should you find yourselves there for lunch or if you happen to be in the Tagaytay area, make this a pasalubong stop and share the love!