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Calle Arco x Cafe Ilang-Ilang: A celebration of flavors and culture |


Calle Arco x Cafe Ilang-Ilang: A celebration of flavors and culture

OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes - The Philippine Star
Calle Arco x Cafe Ilang-Ilang: A celebration of flavors and culture
Chef Koran Walter, executive chef of The Manila Hotel
STAR / File

There’s a small restaurant in the quaint town of Pagsanjan in Laguna that has been on the radar of food enthusiasts near and far:  Calle Arco. The name is derived from the century-old town arch, which was declared by the NCCA as a National Treasure.

Just like its namesake, the restaurant is considered by the locals as a cultural gem, a repository of culinary history.

Calle Arco is a 70-year-old ancestral home that was converted to a restaurant in 2006 by its owners, Anna and Ronald Cabrega. It’s the kind that reminds you of a relative’s home you used to visit in the province in your childhood, conjuring up images of warm relationships and home-cooked meals that leave a lasting mark on your palate.

Inside the resto are vintage pieces such as the colorfully painted oars, a century-old piano, a European grandfather’s clock and other keepsakes from all over the world.

Now let’s talk about the food.

Sample Calle Arco’s Binagoongang Crispy Pata at the “Anilag Food Festival” at Cafe Ilang-Ilang

Calle Arco is known for its Sinigang na Baka na may Langka and Binagoongang Crispy Pata, which has the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness.

“Our regular customers find our Sinigang na Baka na may Langka unique and flavorful because we only use unripe jackfruit as a vegetable for our sinigang,” shares chef Pauline Cabrega of Calle Arco.

Another dish that complements the Binagoongang Crispy Pata is Calle Arco’s version of Kare-Kare.

“We use pure ground toasted peanuts and galapong (ground toasted rice),” adds chef Cabrega. “It has a unique texture and taste. Our customers never leave the resto without ordering the dish.”

Another bestseller is the pinakbet, a veggie dish with bagoong sauce.

“We make our own bagoong from the heirloom recipe of our grandmother,” enthused chef Cabrega. “We now use it for the dishes in the restaurant.”

Ensaladang Talong and Pako Salad

A delicious collab

The good news is one need not travel all the way to Pansanjan just to sample Calle Arco’s home-cooked meals prepared with heirloom recipes. Cafe Ilang-Ilang, the The Manila Hotel’s iconic dining destination known for its extensive international buffet spread, has partnered with Calle Arco for its month-long “Anilag (Ani ng Laguna)” food festival.

“This partnership celebrates the region’s rich culinary heritage,” says chef EJ Yap, assistant F&B director of Cafe Ilang-Ilang. “‘Anilag’ is a wonderful opportunity for our valued patrons to explore and taste the well-loved dishes of our partner restaurant, as we aim to provide an authentic taste of Laguna’s cuisine and promote the country’s culinary heritage.”

According to Yap, this is Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s first time to partner with another restaurant.

“While we have featured celebrity chefs like ‘Lechon Diva’ Dedet dela Fuente and chef Jessie Sincioco, among others, this is the first time we’re collaborating with a popular resto. And we are looking forward to more collabs with renowned establishments as we plan to highlight more regional cuisines and specialties in the coming months.

“Anilag at Cafe Ilang-Ilang” food festival is inspired by the desire to showcase dishes that highlight regional flavors that are unique to each province,” explains Yap.

This July, Cafe Ilang-Ilang patrons can now experience Laguna’s annual “Anilag Festival” through a carefully selected menu that highlights Calle Arco’s revered recipes.

“The partnership (with Cafe Ilang-Ilang) is a chance for us to showcase not only our dishes, but also to promote our province, Laguna,” enthuses chef Cabrega. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and being recognized by The Manila Hotel is a dream come true.”

I personally love the crunchy yet juicy Hurnong Lechon, slow-roasted pork belly; Sinigang na Baka na may Langka, which reminds me of Iloilo’s KBL; and the famous Puto Biñan.

“In our commitment to honor the culinary traditions and flavors of Laguna, we made a conscious decision not to make any adjustments to Calle Arco’s recipes,” shares Yap. “We are privileged to have worked closely with their team and ensure that our guests can experience these dishes in the same way they are served at Calle Arco, capturing the true essence of Laguna’s culinary heritage.”

Buffet dining in the new normal

Once heaving with row upon row of succulent churrasco meat items, bucketsful of fresh seafood, pasta dishes, dim sum, and delectable desserts, Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s interactive temple of gastronomy now boasts curated menus that put the spotlight on quality over quality.

The Manila Hotel executive chef Konrad Walter redefines luxury dining in the new normal.

“The quality of the food items on the menu has remained relatively consistent,” explains chef Walter. “However, we have introduced a new daily whole-salmon carving option, which has proven to be quite popular.”

Chef Walter also included some healthier options such as salads, seeds, and grains.

“The notable change lies in the presentation of the food — with a greater emphasis on pre-portioning to enhance service efficiency of our guests,” adds chef Walter.

In terms of food handling and preparation, the chefs follow a certain standard that goes beyond its norm of stringent safety and hygiene measures. Plexiglas barriers, designed to help diners keep their distance from the chef and the food items on display, are in place.

“Plexiglas barriers have become the new norm due to the ongoing presence of COVID-19,” says chef Walter. “Regular patrons appreciate the continued implementation of these barriers as they provide an increased sense of safety.”

Nevertheless, Cafe Ilang-Ilang continues to offer its valued patrons an exceptional dining experience.

As for the Calle Arco collab, chef Walter carefully evaluated the resto’s signature dishes and explored how these could complement Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s food offerings.

“Taking into consideration the unique characteristics and appeal of Calle Arco’s specialties, we skillfully integrated these dishes into our menu,” he enthuses.

* * *

The “Anilag Food Festival” at The Manila Hotel’s Cafe Ilang-Ilang runs until July 31.

For reservations, call 8527-0011, 5301-5500 or email

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