If You’re Looking for Someplace to Go Tonight, Here’s Your Itinerary
[In the interest of comprehensive reportage, we undertook this assignment…
We are teasing, but we were curious about the 10 Days of Art food & drink partners that were serving up special dishes and drinks for Art Fair Philippines. To get to the bottom of it, we went on a crawl–or rather, something more like a sprint–last Monday, when, unfortunately, only 3 establishments were open in Poblacion. In any case, the three–Polilya, Z Hostel, and Ebi10–served up more than enough of a good time with excellent fare. Monday is usually the area’s “rest day,” but we have been assured that all the establishments participating in the 10 Days of Art food and drink festival are open this weekend.
We asked Joey Blanco of 80breakfasts.com to accompany us on the food crawl, not only because she has a sharp point-of-view about food and can describe any concoction down to its last delicious atom, but also because she is always good fun, game, and one of the nicest people we have ever met.–Ed.]
First Stop: Polilya (5658 Jacobo. Instagram: @polilya.mnl)
10 Days of Art food offering: pork skewers. Extras: gambas engkantadas and fried pickles.
Five juicy, tender pork skewers are served up for the dish. Joey: “It’s like a leaner version of old-school Pinoy BBQ…but although lean, no less tender. I imagine it would be great with beer!” We also tried the fried pickles and gambas engkantadas (cooked in Engkanto beer), both recommended by our EIC, and we couldn’t stop raving about them–the olive oil + beer “sauce” the shrimp was cooked in was lapped up by everyone with the accompanying bread even after all the shrimp was gone. The fried pickles were also a winner. Joey: “I love those! And the cool and creamy cilantro sauce was perfect with the tangy-spicy poppers. Highly recommended! I would have eaten more but it was the start of the night and I was trying to be ladylike.” So were we–now we know!
10 Days of Art drink: The Brew Berry.
This is exactly the drink you want to get if you want a cocktail without the excessive sugary-sweetness. Joey: “Cool and refreshing and not too sweet…with just the right amount of berry tartness. Quite proud that the raspberry lager in it was local! I absolutely need to try more of Engkanto’s offerings.” Polilya is the brainchild of the brewers of craft lager Engkanto, which has five variants–all fruity, light, citrusy, but still dry and crisp. The brewery incorporates a lot of tropical, local fruit to their flavour profiles, so expect hints of dalandan and coconut, which work surprisingly well. Engkanto lager deserves its own post. Needless to say, it’s a must when you go to Polilya.
Vibe and ambience: sophisticated but casual.
Polilya is easily the chicest place in Poblacion, but it lends to still a very casual feel. The owners wanted it to seem like it was someone’s lanai, and it captures that spirit completely with a very tropical, warm feel. Sophisticated (elegant) but casual (charmingly mismatched) furniture and lighting was a great touch. Joey: “The interiors and ambiance at Polilya were really charming. I felt like it could be the sala of a very cool and retro aunt–you know, the one that let you take sips of her cocktail when you were a kid!” There’s a gorgeous ceiling mural with tropical motifs painted by artist Mercedes Olondriz. (When you arrive, look up!) The walls are decorated with botanical prints of insects and moths (Polilya is Filipino for “moth”), giving the place a softer feel to balance out the industrial-looking bar–it’s a very pretty place, but it is still a place to have fun and unwind. Joey continues, “I never expected to find such a cute place in the middle of Poblacion, but then again, Poblacion surprises me every time I go. I really loved the vibe of Polilya, from interiors to music. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t feel like the oldest person there, although I probably was…Polilya has the spirit of another time, and simultaneously feels both old-world retro and youthfully energetic.”
Verdict: This place is a must. Try the Brew Berry, it’s a limited-edition cocktail, anytime until March 4 (although we would like to request Polilya to please keep it on the menu!), and Blame It on the Heat, but all the other cocktails and chow always hit the target. And don’t forget to have Engkanto beer.
Next Stop: Z Hostel (5560 Don Pedro. Instagram: @zhostelph)
10 Days of Art offering: Sining. Extras: Free sunset cocktail (happens every 6pm!) called #MayForever, chicken skin, and chicken inasal.
The team heads next to Z Hostel to try sining, which is pretty delicious; a mix of amaretto, vodka, and sours, and we’re feeling all the good vibes of this hostel. The chicken dishes (skin & inasal) made for the perfect accompaniment.
Probably 99% of everyone we ran into at the hostel was foreign and under 30. “I was transported back to my younger days when I worked abroad and saved my money so I could travel during the weekends,” Joey says. “The whole place was buzzing with that infectious energy of adventure being right around the corner.”
Vibe and ambiance: fun & young. The rooftop bar has an excellent view.
“If you’re my age: come with an open mind and comfy clothes…relax and enjoy the view,” Joey says. “Also, take a look at their billboard in the lobby as there are some interesting travel and tour information there for those that still have that sense of adventure. [The people there were probably half my age,] and you usually feel even older in situations like that…but there I felt almost buoyed by their youth and vibrancy.” Fun fact: Z Hostel now stands in what used to be a brothel called Palacio ni Don Pedro.
Verdict: Definitely the place to go for the best views from Poblacion. They don’t lie when they say they’re full of good vibes–it’s infectious, and everyone wants to be your friend!
Bonus round: The Ruins
Right around the corner a few steps down the street from Z Hostel is The Ruins, an old Poblacion house (almost) destroyed by a fire several years back. It is now an events place run by the owners of Z Hostel.
When we visited, The Ruins was housing an artist from France, Henri–he’s the guy at the bottom of the photo above, working on his canvas.
It’s places like these that make Poblacion fun–hidden treasures along its streets. For Joey, visiting The Ruins “was like discovering a secret garden in the middle of the gritty city.”
Final stop: Ebi10 (5779 Felipe. Instagram: @ebi10ph)
10 Days of Art offering: bird’s nest tempura. Extras: spicy tuna roll, jumbo shrimp tempura, stuffed mushroom tempura, uni nori shiso, corn and scallop tempura, vanilla ice cream and matcha ice cream topped with dulce de leche and roasted sesame seeds.
Tempura by the piece, and really big ones–what more can you ask for? Joey particularly liked the corn and scallop tempura. “Good crunchy tempura…just make sure to order the jumbo prawn one at a time as they are really quite…jumbo!” Joey warns. As for the bird’s nest tempura? “I do like veggie tempura and I thought it paired nicely with the ramen egg. I would have loved to pick it up with my hands and eat it like a taco with the egg squeezed in the middle!”
They have other things besides tempura in the menu, though–rolls and sashimi, soba, tonkatsu, and gyoza. At this point we were stuffed silly, but we’ll definitely come back for more.
Vibe/ambience: feels like an authentic tempura bar.
We chatted a bit with one of the owners, Celine Viray, who said their idea came about after a visit to Tokyo and the tempura bars she and her siblings would frequent. “They would be something similar to this–just a bar, a guy behind it, and big vat of oil. You ordered by piece, and you could have tempura anything and everything. We wanted to take this back to Manila.” Good thing they did, because it seems like a great place to go to for dinner or exactly the right place to hit before heading home after a night of revelry–they’re open until 2am, sometimes even beyond then. “I felt like I was in a Tokyo subway hole-in-the-wall eatery,” Joey notes, and this was one of the best things about it.
Celine and her family are actually from Poblacion, with her dad and his family having grown up down the street on Don Pedro. (Joe’s Brew at Mathilde Street is her brother’s, her other brother Marco owns the bar above Tambai, and Tambai itself is owned by a distant relative.) Instead of feeling as though people and partygoers were beginning to encroach on her neighbourhood, she and the rest of her extended family welcomed the change. “What we like about [how it’s developing] is that people can come here and go bar hopping without having to ‘dress up’ or come in heels or put on makeup. It’s really cool.” Very. It was a quick crawl–but we’ll definitely be hopping back to her neighbourhood very soon–and often.