Thursday, 30 April 2015

Restaurant Review: DJC Halo Halo & Snack Inn (Tiwi, Albay)

DJC Halo-Halo & Snack Inn

From Sinimbahan Ruins, we again boarded our van and were driven back to the Tiwi Municipal Hall were we were to all have lunch at the small DJC Halo-Halo & Snack Inn.  This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and snacks at an affordable price. 

Among other dishes, I tried out the Bicol Express, a first for me. However, this restaurant is famous for their unique, delicious and popular halo halo. The business actually started as a halo halo place and they eventually added more snack items. 

Djohn's father - Mr. Domingo Clutario

As we arrived in Albay in April, the height of summer, it was only fitting, after our filling repast, that we find relief from the heat by indulging in their very own version of the Filipino summer favorite. DJC, by the way, is the initials of the proprietor, the 28 year old Mr. Djohn G. Clutario. I was truly bowled over when I tasted their halo halo, served Tiwi style, which made me close my eyes and just lick my lips with my tongue.  

Its taste was really indescribably good and it had a milky and smooth texture that melted in my mouth.  It had the usual but generous toppings of minatamis na saging saba (plantain bananas sweetened by being cooked in sugar syrup), tasty halayang ube (purple yam), macapuno and red gelatin sprinkled with lots of evaporated milk.

Most halo-halo I’ve tried was composed of about 70% shaved ice and 30% ingredients, but this halo-halo seemed like it was 70% ingredients and 30% ice. 

What makes this simple concoction truly unique is the hefty serving of not so sweet, but very yummy and super creamy leche flan (milk and egg flan) on top (which kind of binds the ingredients), the finely shaved ice (so easy for me to munch, it uses coconut juice and not water to make the ice) and the clincher to this mix which balances the sweetness – the salty grated cheese topping which created the perfect taste - savory and sweet in the mouth. There simply aren't enough words to describe the experience. 

DJC’s Halo-Halo is also served with ice cream on top but, in my opinion, the dessert tastes better without the ice cream which tends to overpower this dessert’s true taste. There are two servings of this not your usual halo-halo, the Special (PhP70) and the Supreme (PhP85). Extra milk cost PhP15. Other DJC specials include macapuno-ube (PhP50), banana-langka (PhP50) and saba con hielo (PhP35), toasted siopao (PhP25), pancit bihon (PhP90), pancit palabok (PhP40). DJC Halo-Halo and Snack Inn has started to expand and now has several branches in some malls in other cities in the Bicol region.

This colorful, taste bud-friendly treat, a reflection of the Pinoy palate (where sweet meets salty), truly brought a very Filipino dimension to the whole Tiwi experience. 

It may appear just like any other halo-halo in the country but, I could attest that it really tastes better than the rest. They should add this to the list of Bicol favorites that includes pili nutBicol Express and pinangat.
The restaurant (where the success of this business all started)in itself, should be declared as a must-see tourist attraction where one could taste the local culture of Tiwi. 

Whatever are DJC Halo-Halo’s secret ingredients, it has since made its mark across Bicol and I would definitely be coming back to this place to dine on this surprising, colorfully presented, really delicious, refreshing and creamy treat.

DJC Halo Halo & Snack Inn: 330 San Lorenzo St. (adjacent the municipal hall), Tiwi, Albay. Tel: (052) 488-5220. 
DJC Halo Halo & Snack Inn: Landco Business Park (near  near Gaisano  Pacific Mall), Legazpi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 480 6868.
DJC Halo Halo & Snack Inn: Albay Tabaco City Mall, Tabaco City, Albay. Tel: (052) 435 3259. 
DJC Halo Halo & Snack Inn: West Park, Magsaysay Ave. (near the Basilica), Naga City, Camarines Sur. Tel: (054) 472 0446).

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Restaurant Review: Balay Cena Una (Daraga, Albay)

Balay Cena Una

Entrance to European-Bicolano fusion cuisine
Balay Cena Una (roughly translated as "old house" in English), a home turned into a fine dining restaurant opened last May 2009, is one of Albay's best kept secrets.  
This beautifully renovated, 2-storey ancestral house, a restaurant and museum in one, has a homey and very romantic ambiance and offers good European-Bicolano fusion food coupled with warm Filipino hospitality.
Table for eight

Reception Area
The grand wooden staircase
A beautiful example of adaptive reuse, its interiors are impressive. The ground floor has colored stained-glass windows and a grand wooden staircase while the second floor has very nice, sliding capiz-shell windows and sumptuous hardwood floors that creaked when we walked on it.
Both have old photos and Old World-style fittings, with every decorative piece tastefully put together.  A separate, spacious function hall at the back, a venue for private functions and gatherings, is also used every Sunday for buffet lunches (PhP325/pax, 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM).  They also have a small but very cozy house where guests can stay overnight.
Romantic table for two
Table for four
Its varied menu includes the best of international cuisine (steaks, pasta, etc.) as well as local Bicolano dishes. Their service and the presentation were also great. 
This cuisine was made possible by the culinary creativity of their proudly homegrown, world-class chefs, the husband and wife team of Diosdado (Dick) and Concepcion (Connie) Condeno, who were both trained in Europe but are Bicolano in heart. 
Cena Una marinated boneless chicken

Fresh lumpia ubod
Wild fern salad
We tried out their fresh lumpia ubod (heart of palm) as appetizer, wild fern salad and, for our entrees, fillet of lapu-lapu in gourmet sauce (the sauce marries the flavor of fish and prawns for a long interplay of tastes), beef peeper steak (generously sprinkled with coarsely ground black pepper, sauteed in butter, and served with a sauce made from pan drippings, stock wine and cream flavored with brandy) and the Cena Una marinated boneless chicken (the smoky taste of chicken that's been basked in coconut cream and other local ingredients).  All were served with Mayon Volcano-shaped steamed rice.
 Fillet of lapu-lapu in gourmet sauce

Their rich, decadent and sinful desserts were to die for. We had assorted French pastries which included Mayon Volcano chocolate boulders (balls of chocolate rolled in chocolate sprinkles and topped with whipped cream), English vanilla cheesecake with blueberry sauce, and opera cake (made with layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, layered with ganache and coffee butter cream, and covered in a chocolate glaze). 

One of the best value-for-money restaurants we have been to in the Philippines for quite a while, its prices are similar to average priced restaurants in Manila (PhP250 plus).
Assorted French pastries 

Balay Cena Una: 513 F. Lotivio cor. P. Gomez Sts., Brgy. Bagumbayan, Daraga, 4501, Albay. Tel: (052) 435-4338. Mobile number: (0917) 827-9520 (Ms. Badeth Mitra).  E-mail: Website:  Open Mondays to Saturdays, 10 AM - 10 PM, Sundays, 11:30 AM - 9 PM.  

Restaurant Review: Waway's Restaurant (Legaspi City, Albay)

Waway's Restaurant

Entrance to authentic Bicolano cuisine
If you really want to really try the best of Bicol's distinct and spicy cuisine in Legaspi City, then Waway’s is the place to go. One of the city’s venerable and beloved restaurants and a household name and a landmark, Waway’s was established in 1967 and was named after the owner Laura Cristobal. 
It is often recommended as a must-try for first-time visitors to the city.  Once you do check it out, you'll immediately notice that the main theme of most of the meals they serve have coconut milk/cream and chili peppers, indeed typical of Bicolano cooking wherever you are in this Philippine region.  
 For those not used to but are willing to try this spicy fare, have glasses or bottles of milk (not water) to cool your tongue. A brilliant counterpoint to these coconut cream-based Bicolano foods is a marinade of calamansi and salt, an old -fashioned Filipino way of balancing saltiness and tartness.  
The clean and spacious interior
An array of Bicolano comfort food

Appetizer section
Tempura-style kangkong,
okra and eggplant 
Waway’s has around 8-10 choices for viands, plus 6 choices of appetizers and side dishes. The authentic Bicolano comfort foods served are what our grandmothers would probably have brought, from the kitchen to the dining table except that they are offered turo-turo style.
Bicol Express, a Bicol specially and one of the big favorites in Waway's, is basically pork cooked in coconut milk with shrimp paste and long, hot chilies.  
Bicol Express

If you want a refreshing break from all that spice, try the very good and perfect to the bite beef kare-kare, another favorite dish which is a stew with beef and a variety of vegetables complimented with a thick and savory peanut sauce. 
Beef kare-kare

Kandingga, the Bicolano version of bopis (usually diced pig lungs, spleen and heart sauteed in tomatoes, chilies and onions), has a sweetish, textural appeal and was seasoned just right, with no offal smell  at all. 

The very tasty pinangat, a famous and nutritious Bicolano vegetable dish more popularly known in Manila as laing, blends taro (gabi in Filipino and natong in Bicol) leaves, select spices such as crushed siling labuyo (chili); garlic and a bit of red ginger; tiny shrimp; chicken, salted pork, or dried fish; and coconut milk. It is known to have medicinal benefits since its ingredients are herbs and every serving is Vitamin A-rich.

The traditional list of hot and freshly made favorites also includes ginataang malunggay, pancit guisado, lechon kawali, sisig, chicharon bulaklak, grillled liempo (great when paired with grilled okra, eggplant, tomatoes, onions and bagoong), lumpia shanghai, igado, dory fish with tausi, langka, sweet and sour fish, ginataang manok, nilasing na hipon and more. 
Chicken curry

I loved their tempura-style kangkong, okra and eggplant for starters. Other appetizers included atcharang ampalaya, boiled eggplant with salted red egg and pork, etc. They also have a salad bar. For dessert, I built my own DIY halo-halo, complete with sweet beans, jello, fruits and ube. Other desserts served included bananas, watermelon, pineapple, buko pandan, etc.  Alongside the drinks dispenser is the coffee vending machine. 
Dory fish with tausi

There is no ala carte fare in this restaurant, just pure buffet. Compared with buffet standards in Manila, their price was cheap at only Php250/head, a very good deal indeed. The restaurant is big and has a lot of seating but do come around before 12 noon as the place fills up rather quickly. It is not especially fancy, but I didn't go there for the ambiance anyway. Today, Waway’s, still a family business, is one of the top 5 restaurants in Legazpi.  

Waway’s Restaurant: Penaranda Extn. (National Highway), Bonot, Legazpi City, 4500, Albay.  Tel: (052) 480 8415.
City Tourism Office: Legaspi City, 4500, Albay. Tel: (052) 480-2698 and (052) 820-1843. Website:

Hotel and Inn Review: Ninong’s Hotel & Restaurant (Legaspi City, Albay)

Date of Stay: April 28-May 1, 2015

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: ********
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *****
Other Amenities: ******
Value for Money: *******
The 5-storey, contemporary Ninong’s Hotel & Restaurant has 40 clean and comfortable airconditioned rooms with double or family sized beds; private bath with bidet and hot and cold shower; telephone; intercom; work desk and LED cable TV. Rooms range from Standard, De Luxe Suite, Executive Suite, Superior De Luxe and Family Suite (with 3 beds), all with free wi-fi.  Some rooms have views of majestic Mayon Volcano.  Room rates range from PhP1,800 to PhP4,000.
Ninong Hotel & RestaurantNinong Hotel & Restaurant
Front Desk
Front Desk
Designed by Arch. Jeroby Ruiz Sevilla, this modern style, space saver hotel has a brightly colored exterior and all its stunningly modern  rooms, conceptualized by Interior Designer  Ms. Orleen Mojal Enriquez, are decorated in a Minimalist manner, with monochromatic colors and dim lights to emphasize the rooms’ spacious interiors.

Opened last October 20, 2013, this relatively new, elegant and classy boutique hotel with an unusual name (Ninong means “godfather”) started out way back in 2000 under the name Ninong’s Bar and Food Haus (with nipa hut and wooden tables and chairs) until it was converted by owner Mr. Roger Vibal into a hotel.

Main Entrance
Hotel entrance

Cofibreak, the ground floor restaurant and coffee shop, serves buffet breakfast (smoked fish, longganisa, sausages, scrambled egg, coffee, garlic rice, etc.) and, for lunch and dinner, a fixed menu of mouth-watering Bicolano cuisine as well as the signature Ninong's pansit guisado, the Ninong burger and the pasta de diablo.  

You can relax and unwind at Xponent, the second floor music bar.   The hotel also has 24-hr. front desk, 200-250-pax grand ballroom, and 15-20-pax board room.  

They also offer room service, laundry, dry cleaning and complimentary airport transfers (a 15-min. drive away) via van. The staff was professional, friendly and courteous.
Suite A03Standard Room

Ninong’s Hotel, strategically located at a highly commercialized area in front of Robinson’s Supermarket, is a few steps away from the famous Small Talk CafĂ©, Bicol Shirt Store, Mang Inasal, the 24-hr. Bigg’s Diner, Ysabelle's Restaurant and Jollibee.  

Also nearby is the big Albay Freedom Park, the Albay Astrodome, Divine Word College, the Legaspi City Hall, the Cathedral of St. Gregory the Great and the Albay Provincial Capitol.

Ninong’s Hotel & Restaurant: Gov. Locsin cor. Maria Clara St., East Washington, Legaspi City 4500, Albay.  Tel: (052) 480-0575.  Mobile numbers: (0998) 989-9811 and (0917) 844-1859.  Email:  Website: