I was on a high after eating this course meal. The kind of high that peaks and then ebbs slowly as the hours pass by. I was in awe. I enjoyed every bite of food served, even the stinky cheese we’ve had (more on that later). I took a gazillion photos to my heart’s content. I had a great conversation about life, love, food, dreams, and the damn cheese again. It was the fine dining experience I’ve always hoped for.
How the hell did I end up at this restaurant in the first place?
Thanks to social media, I’ve seen ads about Gout de France all over my Facebook feed. Gout de France is an annual global gourmet festival celebrating — of course — French cuisine. Participating restaurants would then serve a traditional French course meal in their respective restaurants. I chose Bistro Manuel out of the 26 participating restaurants for this year.
Why Bistro Manuel?
Out of the restaurants I’ve skimmed through, their menu looks the most complete and already includes wine. It was also important for me to have a cheese course. Although it’s still hefty at 2000 pesos per person, I think it was already relatively reasonable for a four-course meal with wine.
I also did a “quick” research on Chef Ariel Manuel’s background. He was the chef at the beloved (now defunct) Lolo Dad’s restaurant in Malate. Everywhere I read online, people are still raving about that place. Obviously, I’ve never been but my curiosity was piqued.
My initial dilemma was who would accompany me to this fancy dinner. I don’t do this often for obvious reasons, and neither do my friends. We are all normal working individuals who save up for expensive stuff. A pricey meal wouldn’t be on our top to-do list now, would it? And so it was very hard for me to find someone who would willingly shell out money for a course meal, let alone travel southbound to Makati on a weekday night. I seriously contemplated why I would even do this thing in the first place. Why?
I considered just dining solo — in an upscale restaurant, yes. Alone. At the risk of looking like a sad person. With no friends. And no idea even what I would be eating in the first place. All because I just really want to.
I was willing to go solo, no kidding. But thank you Jesus, my dear friend Irish came to the rescue. I asked her if she’s free that Thursday evening (and she’s usually not free mind you), and she was all game. PERFECT! Now I’m even more excited because we’ll be able to taste all that’s on the menu. One of each. Mas sulit! (The solo dining would happen soon. I can smell it.)
Bistro Manuel is located on the second floor of Six Axis Center in bustling Poblacion, Makati. The restaurant is as simple as it can get, almost too simple. It feels like I’m inside someone’s spacious house turned into a sectional dining area. Decor-wise, everything is straightforward — white table cloth, traditional white plates and silver cutlery, a simple bouquet of baby’s breath, and linen napkins. That’s it. The uncomplicated vibe of this place beckons me to get comfortable in my seat and ease into some serious eating.
And boy were we in for a treat.
Before we got to the appetizers, we were served a bunch of hors d’œuvres in the form of canapés and a bowl of warm bread with butter.
This bread was divine — warm, soft, and creamy. And as I lathered the butter on it, the whole thing became a big fluffy cuddle in my mouth. I call it the bread of my dreams.
The canapés were tasty, too. Chrissy Teigen calls these things “shit on toast.” One had a quail egg on it cooked sunny side up, while the other three had juicy salsa and sausage on top. These perfect, bite-sized toasted bread made me excited for what’s to come. I’m already loving these little treats and I can’t wait for the real thing.
By this time, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I kept looking at the menu trying to decipher what these dishes looked like. And so when the appetizers were finally served, I tumbled a little inside. The plating of these dishes were gorgeous and very streamlined.
First up was the duck foie gras with poached pear and mesclun salad. My photo, again, does not do it justice. The mesclun salad looked like my grandma’s garden (but apparently this one’s from a garden in Provence noh?) — colorful and vibrant. The foie gras had a sear on it, so it didn’t feel like I was gobbling up an entire block of liver into my mouth. This made it more palatable for me, a noob.
The texture was on-point, too. Silky liver, check. Fresh crunchy salad, check. And ohhh salty breadsticks that made my eyes widen in confusion. I didn’t expect it to be that intense.
And now we come to these baked oysters with angel hair pasta underneath and foie gras on top. I was unbelievably excited for these oysters because baked oysters almost always taste great. I’m curious how the hell will they elevate this, bring it to top model status.
The answer is a generous amount of cheese, foie gras topping, and a surprise party of cheesy, stringy pasta underneath. I love this dish. I’ll marry this dish. It’s a sinfully cheesy dish that will melt your cheesy heart with more cheese and cream than your mouth could handle. I wish we had more than two oysters in it, maybe like six.
As we were about to get in to our main course, they served us a palate cleanser. This citrus sherbet came out all smoky and freezing, liquid-nitrogen style. I love how dramatic it looked. Sherbet means a frozen fruit juice. This one tasted like a classy version of our ice candies, of course it tasted way sleeker, subdued, below-zero cold lemon juice. And, true enough, it washed away all the remnants of the previous course.
Now we’re ready for the main event.
Please take a look at how pink that lamb is.
It’s medium rare. That’s how a perfect steak should be cooked (according to the TV shows I watch, okay?). I really have no idea what it should be. But, as I’ve said a million times, I’m a newbie to fine dining.
I’ve tasted my fair, humble share of lamb steak and most, if not often, they’re just “okay.” Lamb usually has a distinct smell, flavor, and aftertaste. You know what I mean, right? My mother sometimes jokes that it reminds her of someone’s underarms. Yes, I’m so sorry I had to write that out, all because this is nothing (I repeat nothing) like that.
Bistro Manuel’s rack of lamb is delicious. No off putting smell. It’s the steak I didn’t know I wanted. Every good thing you could possibly wish for a steak – packed with lots of flavor, soft yet chewy – is here. That “herb de provence” did it for me. It’s a big huge hug of herb-y goodness.
The other main course we had was rib eye steak with truffle-scented mashed potatoes. What is a rib eye steak? It’s a beef steak from the rib section that’s usually bone-free, with ample amount of marbling fat for a tender, juicy steak.
This one was paired with truffle-scented mashed potatoes. Irish loved this mashed potato so much she wanted to have some to take out. Just kidding. The mashed potato had a smoky, earthly flavor — a little extra compared to the regular mashed potatoes we have in real life.
You can barely see it from the photo above, but this steak is good too. It tasted almost the same as the rack of lamb. I was happy as a clam. It felt like I was in the French countryside, at the tail end of winter, eating steak and potatoes.
And we come to the most awaited and challenging part of our meal — the cheese course. It’s an understatement to say that I was excited for this dish.
Brie de Meaux is a kind of brie cheese named after the town of Meaux in the Brie region of France. I’ve tasted brie before but it did not stink as much as this one did. Maybe it was a fake brie after all. Let’s talk about this brie cheese instead.
This brie was gratinated, meaning cooked with a covering of buttered crumbs until a crispy surface forms. It melted in my mouth all right. But along with it came a rotten dead element I wasn’t informed about. And this one’s supposed to be the good cheese, right?
Maybe this is what durian tastes like for the uninitiated (I love durian, btw). Heck, for this night, this cheese was my durian. All in one bite, I could imagine the taste of five-day-old wet socks and other unsavory objects I conjured just to get through to one bite.
Good thing the warm and sweet flavor of the beet terrine provided some solace to this stink explosion. The toasts were useless. I could use a bowl of the citrus sherbet to palate cleanse my way through this cheese.
However, as challenging as it was, both Irish and I laughed our asses off to how much we both struggled with this “great cheese.” Our true Eden-cheese-colors were exposed. Ha!
And finally, my jam. Desserts!
I was mostly excited about the coffee soufflé. Gordon Ramsay said this is a hard-to-perfect dessert, mostly because it involves a lot of good timing on when you’d get the soufflés out from the oven. Too early and you’ll get no rise and fluff, or too late and you’ll have a sad, collapsed version instead.
Once again, Bistro Manuel delivers. The soufflé, as you can clearly see, was as fluffy as I imagined it would be. It felt like I was eating a cloud of coffee froth, light and airy and infused with creamy vanilla. Imagine eating a chiffon cake with custard topping, only this time it’s all in liquid frothy form. I love, love this dessert.
And because I gave all my fucks to the soufflé, this lemon meringue got only little love from me. The great thing about this though is its acidity. The citrus flavor of the meringue was the acidic punch that tapered the unapologetic sweetness of the other dessert. But I have to say, there was no contest, the soufflé won by a mile.
And there you have it, my Gout de France experience. I pat myself in the back for traveling on a weeknight from North Edsa to Makati. This meal was worth it!
I have to say Bistro Manuel exceeded my expectations. Most of the time when I go to fancy places like this, I feel cheated. A part of me always thinks it’s me, I was the kid who did not see the Emperor’s new clothes. However, Bistro Manuel (yes, this is my first visit) proved that great food is great food. Fancy or not, noob or sophisticate, if it’s good, it tastes good.
And as Irish pointed out, the restaurant appears to not be greatly concerned about elaborate, IG-worthy ambiance, but they more than makeup with delicious food. Now isn’t that a refreshing change?