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Ice creamed |

Food and Leisure

Ice creamed

- Scott R. Garceau -

It didn’t take much persuading to convince my daughter Isobel, just turned six, to come along to The Peninsula. This was, after all, for an “Ice Cream Journey.” She had just had her share of birthday cake the previous day; boatloads of ice cream was, well, the icing on the cake.

Isobel was also a perfect alibi. Who could blame me for chugging down tons of ice cream when she was there, alongside me, doing the same?

The Peninsula Manila has such a rich history, woven into modern Filipino lore, that it’s a little surprising to realize that it was built as recently as 1976. Still, its famed Lobby is the kind of place where dignitaries and royals parade; where sports heroes like Kobe Bryant, US leaders like Colin Powell and supermodels like Claudia Schiffer have been seen lounging and relaxing; and even where military tanks have been seen coming through the front door.

Yes, a rich history, and what has made it so is its inviting environment, a meeting place where people relax and enjoy… ice cream. The Pen Pals is just one reason people flock here after concerts, gimmicks and events: a fishbowl-sized container of 19 scoops of ice cream nestled on scoops of watermelon, pineapple, honeydew and cantaloupe, topped with whipped cream, waffle cookies, marshmallows and whipped cream… My first personal experience of this Manila institution came after catching a Pearl Jam show at Manila Bay. We capped it off with coffee and six or so spoons, dug into the fishbowl.

So memories are what lead you back to Peninsula, and this is why they were showcasing eight new ice cream concoctions — mixed up by executive chef Adam Mathis and created in partnership with Selecta, which allowed their classic flavors to get a reboot at the Pen.

Isobel and I arrived and immediately had our picture taken together. We didn’t know why until later, and sat down to await the mountains of ice cream. First there was the classic Pen Pals, which the other folks at our table helped attack. In between decadent shovels full of pistachio and strawberry topped with chocolate sauce, I noticed the décor was meant to conjure up the Roaring ‘20s, or maybe something even more quaintly historical: honky tonk piano music played throughout the Rigodon room; straw hats and top hats were in evidence, along with daguerreotype cameras and boxes of Alhambra old-rolled cigars. And there was the old-fashioned halo-halo bar set up in one corner of the room. The sight of host Carlos Celdran chatting up Chef Mathis, who is of PBA stature, easily 6’6’’, was another P.T. Barnum touch. “Is he a basketball player?” Isobel asked. “No, he’s the chef. He could be, though,” I agreed.

We were taken aback when waiters began arriving with more bowls of ice cream, two each, until the table groaned with eight or nine different desserts. There was no way we were going to finish all this. But it was worth a shot.

There was The Nutty Pageboy, with lots of chocolate and vanilla bean, chocolate crunch sticks and caramel sauce; Tutti Fruity Tropicana, which has buko and ube macapuno laden with fresh fruit; Sweet Strawberry Treat, with fresh chunks of the fruit added to the Selecta flavor, prompting Isobel to dig out the remaining strawberries from my bowl. “I love strawberries!” she said, eyes rolled back in her head, spoon planted in her mouth.

They kept bringing it on: the Pinoy Paradise, built on ube macapuno, quezo real and cashew ‘n’ pistachio ice cream then garnished with oven-baked pineapple flakes and coconut strings was a personal high. For those more diet-conscious (and really, what are you doing hanging out an ice cream orgy if you’re diet-conscious?) there’s the Fruit N’ Yoghurt Coupe which is a 97-percent fat-free mix of wildberry, strawberry, mango and passion fruit frozen yoghurt. The Banana Split Hit was a classic, one you can’t really mess with: scoops of ice cream over split banana, sprinkled with almond flakes and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The Choco Loco Brownie Sundae is for people who get nostalgic for the Pen’s Chocolate Festival during the off-months: it’s scoops of chocolate, brownie fudge and choco hazelnut ice cream impregnated with brownie chunks and topped with whipped cream. Yeah, it’s over the top, but in a good way. The coup de grace had to be the Halo-Halo Harana. Time magazine hailed it as “The Best Legal High,” and this could be why Chef Mathis spins out 7,300 orders per year. Isobel, as always, was intrigued by the halo-halo, and somehow reserved enough staying power to explore her order long after I had given up on filling my face.

Selecta itself has been around since 1948, so they know about tradition and memories. The Pen is also in the process of renovating its classic look in ongoing phases until 2009, according to PR director Mariano Garchitorena, who coincidentally celebrated his birthday on the day of the ice cream lunch, a day after my daughter celebrated hers. Hey, Garch, have a sundae on us. 

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