Monday, 2 February 2015

Restaurant Review: Casa Roces (Manila)

Casa Roces

Casa Roces, a pre-World War II, 2-storey, 600 sq. m. house (on a 1,000 sq. m. lot) in the Malacanang district, is a perfect example of adaptive re-use that respected the integrity of the structure but gave the place all the comforts of contemporary living.  

Formerly the beautiful ancestral home of the late National Artist for Literature Alejandro R. Roces, freedom fighter and newspaper publisher Joaquin "Chino" Roces and painter and essayist Alfredo R. Roces, it was converted by Roces descendants Mercedes "Peachy" Prieto and her daughter Bianca Prieto-Santos into a Filipino-Spanish themed casual dining restaurant and café cum events place that opened its doors to the public sometime in 2011.

Prior to its opening, it remained uninhabited for 15 years, save for caretakers who made sure that the house was well maintained. Casa Roces is just across the gate of Malacanang Palace and is also near the churches of San Miguel, St. Jude Thaddeus, San Sebastian and San Beda.

Kape Chino

Designed by Architects Bettina “Tina” Bonoan, Rey Ilagan and Al Carongan, its interiors are a combination of old and new, with old white wood-and-glass French doors, beige machuca tile floors and elegant vintage crystal chandeliers, with warm light, interspersed with modern, round halogen lamps and new pipes, electrical system, bathroom fixtures and roof. An old aparador serves as a divider and display counter for take-home goodies such as jams and spreads. 

The walls were done in champagne, ash gray, with golden yellow accents.  The furniture are said to be excess furniture from the interrelated Roces, Prieto and Legarda clan’s other homes.


The old aparador

The art and family heritage gallery (Galeria Roces), formerly the receiving area, at the second floor, shows off an impressive collection of art that includes a small portrait by Juan Luna and paintings done by contemporary artists. It is a venue for art exhibits, poetry readings and live sketching sessions. Hung on the walls are prints of La Vanguardia and the old Manila Times news papers, photos and memorabilia from the 1950′s, 1960′s and 1970′s, all reminders of the family’s heritage.
Galleria Roces

The 100-pax ground floor dining area, called Kape Chino (after Don Chino" Roces), is run by the Cravings Group, the official food concessionaire which also runs the mall-based C2 Classic Cuisine restaurants. 

Its wooden tables come in different sizes, with 6 and 4 chairs for big groups; and 2 chairs for couples who want a cozy meal, and chairs that are a quirky mishmash from different styles and periods. Some chairs are reupholstered wood painted silver-gray while others are in traditional brown varnished wood with sawali seats. The inner cafe area has a more traditional restaurant set-up while the garden/ patio, an extension of the dining area, is where most people eat, al fresco, their dessert with coffee (it also serves doubles a smoking area). Out front, there’s a water feature with a big Imelda "Impy" Pilapil sculpture.

Water feature with a big Impy Pilapil sculpture

Its excellent menu includes heirloom recipes that would fit the Spanish-Filipino theme, picked and tweaked a bit by Chef Jose Amadeo S “Menoy” Gimenez (the executive chef of the Cravings group) from the Roces family cookbook. For breakfast, you can have comfort food like beef tapa chicken-pork adobotinapang banguslongganisa Tuguegarao, bacon and eggs with garlic rice or pan de sal; or a rich serving of champorado and danggit.

For lunch and dinner, start off with Bacalao Caviar Pate (creamy salt cod and potato pate with black caviar served with toasted baguette), Truffle Mushroom Puree soup and Crispy Lengua Caesar Salad (classic salad with deep-fried ox tongue croutons).  Entrees good for sharing include Callos à la Abolita (tripe stew with chorizo and chick peas), Ox Tail Kare-Kare, Bouillabaise de la Casa Roces (seafood in rich tomato broth) and Oven-Baked Salmon Wellington (baked cheese and salmon in pastry crust).
For those who prefer pasta dishes, there’s Fettucine with Bleu Cheese and Roasted Mushrooms; Fideos with Spanish Chorizo à la Diablo; and Spaghettini Gambas à la Jillo (angel hair pasta in sautéed shrimps and garlic).  Casa Roces also has a bar,also with mismatched furniture, for drinks, coffee and desserts (Malacañang Frozen Soufflé, Leche Flan Brulee, Basque Apple Tart, Baked Cherry Walnut Cheesecake or Crepe Suzette à la Mode), plus Filipino merienda such as Vigan longganisa empanadapancit palaboktapsilogguinataang halo-halotokwa’t baboyarroz caldopan de sal with kesong putihamon and Spanish sardines; turon à la mode; and fried suman with mango sauce and Spanish chocolate.
The second floor has chandeliers, steps and floor boards made with long, refinished wooden planks, and intricately carved, heavy hardwood chairs and tables.  It is divided into five private banquet rooms for meetings, functions and other gatherings, all designed after the Commonwealth Era and named after the periodicals and newspapers that were or are still handled by the Roces clan
Liwayway Room
The Tribune Room
Daily Mirror Room
The La Vanguardia Room (PhP10,000 - 4-hour room use only) has its own restroom. For bigger parties, the Liwayway Room (PhP5,000 - 4-hour room use only), formerly a master bedroom, can be combined with the Tribune Room (PhP3,000 - 4-hour room use only), a former bedroom. 

The Daily Mirror (PhP3,000 - 4-hour room use only),  also called the Terrace Room is, according to the staff, a favorite of Pres. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III when he dines here from time to time. A table was set up in the enclosed azotea or terrace.  

The Manila Times Room

This restaurant will truly transport you back in time as it speaks volumes of the heritage of this clan of journalists and social icons and the many people that have come and gone here through the past decades.
La Vanguardia
Casa Roces: 1153 J.P. Laurel cor. Aguado St., San Miguel, Manila. Tel: (02) 735-5896 and 488-1929. Email: reservations@casaroces.com. Website: www.casaroces.com. Open daily, 7 AM – 11 PM. Reservations (especially for large groups) are highly recommended. There are packages for private parties that can be personalized for one’s taste and budget. Valet parking is available.

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