The chef’s all-day al fresco dining restaurant will serve Italian and Spanish cuisine within the Palacio de Memoria in Parañaque.
A year into the onslaught that is the COVID-19 pandemic, people are now slowly going out to dine as more establishments reopen. But the looming fear of the virus still reverberates in the minds of many. Opening a new restaurant is certainly a gutsy move in this uncertain time. But our host, Margarita Forés, is doing just that, with her new al fresco dining concept The Loggia.
The Loggia, which opened on March 9, is situated inside the three-hectare grounds of Palacio de Memoria in Parañaque, near the edge of Roxas Boulevard. The expansive, open air grounds enveloping the seven-storey mansion seems like a fitting backdrop for Forés’ new dining concept. With the pre-war mansion, guests feel like they have been transported back into the glory days of Old Manila.
More importantly, the fresh air afforded by the al fresco space will give guests a certain peace of mind with regards to their health and safety. “We love this place,” says Forés, when welcoming us, wine in hand. “I think this big open-air space is attuned to what the market is looking for, precisely because the situation has not yet normalized.”
Forés, who was named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016, describes her newest creation. “The Loggia is going to be an all-day dining restaurant,” she says. “It’s meant to celebrate the heritage of the space, and at the same time to allow the people to enjoy the outdoors.” She says al fresco dining is the way to move forward in the new normal restaurant scene.
“My relationship with Camille Lhuillier (General Manager of Palacio de Memoria) and their family, is a very close one,” continues Forés, now explaining the origins of The Loggia. “And as we all know, their father is the ambassador to Spain, and at the same time he was the ambassador to Italy. And, of course they know that I’ve always worked with Italian food.”
Chef Margarita then describes the menu. “So we’re doing an Italian menu, just very simple, light, tailored for outdoor dining,” she says, adding that they will also incorporate Spanish cuisine as a reference to Lhuillier’s father. “Maybe some paela or tapas. So people can enjoy a little bit of Italy and of Spain.”
For the tasting event, Chef Margarita presented an exhaustive menu consisting of antipasti, dips, salads, soups, pastas and mains.
For the antipasti, we had Pate de Fegato, served in crostini rounds and Fried Squash Flowers with Mascarpone Foam. There was also an Artichoke and Parmigiano-Reggiano dip and an Asparagus and Gruyere dip. For salads, there was an excellent selection of Negros Burrata, served in sourdough squares. There were three variants: Prosciutto & Truffle Paste; Cherry Tomatoes, Basil; and Lumpfish Caviar Duet.
The soups were served in small demitasse cups. There were two: Classic Pappa al Pomodoro and Yellow Capsicum.
There were three pastas served. The Penne Primavera in Cream was our favorite—made with yellow capsicums, corn, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and carrots. There was also a Spaghettini dish served with prawns, scallops, and tomatoes, swimming in ginger butter. Another variant of the spaghettini was served as well, which used anchovy butter.
For the mains, there was Cotoletta of Chicken Breasts, served with rucola leaves and cherry tomatoes. There was Lamb Shoulder Brasato, with mint butter. And finally, we were served a scrumptious portion of Grilled Australian Beef Tenderloin, stuffed with the smoky flavors of scamorza cheese.
For dessert, we had Mango-Prosecco Tiramisu, and Lemon-Olive Oil Cake.
Apart from dinner, we also asked Forés on how the business climate changed during the pandemic. How they adapted to the current situation, and how she planned to move forward.
“Definitely, the health protocols had to be adjusted. Most especially for catering events, because we’re not just running The Loggia here, we do catering events as well. The protocols have to be totally different,” she says. They veer away from buffets, and are now mostly doing plated formats. Their wait staff are not just wearing masks and face shields but also gloves. They also use food cloches, or food covers, when they serve the dish.
“It’s been a challenge. In the past, we would do events for 300 to 400 people. But now it’s down to the minimum that’s allowed by the government. The maximum diners allowed now are down to 20 to 25 pax,” she says. “Or, depending on the size of the area, the number of people allowed to dine are ¼ of the people that are normally allowed in that space.”
Despite the restrictions set by the government, Forés is excited to work with the space afforded by Palacio de Memoria. Apart from The Loggia, the chef is able to do different catering configurations in the three-hectare property.
“We’re available to do a variety of catering setups in the whole space, we can even do events in Elvis’ airplane,” shares Forés, pointing at the vintage airplane parked in the grounds of the property. “We can also do setups on the garden floor, where guests can sit on banig or throw pillows.”
“We’re just very happy to partner with the Lhuilliers. They’re very supportive, and we feel strongly about our partnership,” Forés says. “They really want to celebrate this place. We see the potential here. Especially since people nowadays are looking for nice heritage spaces that also allow them to get some fresh air.”
Forés notes how Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat recently visited and had lunch at The Loggia in Palacio de Memoria. Chef Margarita explained how Secretary Puyat understands the importance of establishments like Palacio de Memoria in supporting heritage tours around historic Old Manila.
“If people do tours in Intramuros or in the Bay Area, people can have lunch here after or have dinner. They can have cocktails at the bar,” Forés says. “In the future, they’re going to do cigar events here as well, and wine tastings and whiskey classes. Eventually I’ll be doing cooking classes here at the venue as well so it’s all very exciting.”
The Loggia is located at Palacio de Memoria, 95 Roxas Boulevard, Barangay Tambo, Parañaque. For more information, visit them on Facebook.