Love and good luck at Heritage Hotel's Riviera Cafe

- Jojo G. Silvestre () - February 6, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines –  Think food, think love, and think good luck. These three important aspects of my life come to mind as we welcome the Year of the Rabbit, look forward to Valentine’s Day and celebrate both with food and more food. Think about it: the way to your loved one’s heart is through the stomach, and one reliable way to attract good luck is what goes into your stomach, or so we have been told. 

I didn’t have to wait for February to have my share of good health, wealth and happiness, and the delight of my heart, which is food and more food, as all these came my way very recently even before the clock struck the first second of 2011. Checking in at the Heritage Hotel and staying for three days and two nights meant I had good food, great relaxation, and sleep in heavenly peace. And since the hotel is close to the Mall of Asia, I should add good buys, good movies and good live shows.

Watching a movie or surfing the Internet was the better option in my suite, and when my eyes tired, soaking in the bathtub for celestial joy. It’s a beautiful suite, never mind that mine looks out to EDSA, or its beginning from this side of Metro Manila. “Contemporary chic” best describes it.

My recent stay at the Heritage Hotel was for a combination of sedate and bacchanalian reasons. Obviously, the first was for relaxing, forgetting about one’s cares and deadlines, and bonding with great company  namely, myself. The second, if I may stress, was for eating. Here you have the best choice of food at the Riviera Cafe. Whether you come for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can expect the variety that buffet veterans take great epicurean delight in. Talk about dijon beef sirloin, black pepper boneless lamb leg and baked salmon!

One hot night: Oysters are said to be aphrodisiacs

Believe me, I had more than my share  a whole lechon de leche, slices of roasted suckling pig, with crispy skin intact. I consumed plates of grilled beef while savoring sushi and maki in between. The sweet tooth that I am, I gorged on a cart of ice cream, filled with three old favorite flavors, ube, mango and chocolate. Deciding that was not enough, I filled my plate with petit fours of home-made apple and raisin strudel, apple crumble, choux a la crème, lemon mousse, marbled chocolate mousse, white chocolate crème brulee, heritage cheesecake of creamy cheese and dark chocolate, west coast lemon cheesecake and black forest cake, and enjoyed them thoroughly  one salacious bite after another. I’m the kind who does not start with soup and end with the dessert, so I next enjoyed the Hainanese chicken rice and laksa, a popular spicy noodle soup that combines Chinese and Malay culinary elements, and touted as the best in Philippine shores. Looking at my full and happy tummy, I told myself I was, indeed, very lucky to be at Café Riviera and decided next on pursuing my favorite pastime while getting ready to go back to the buffet table and attack.

At a corner table, I saw a familiar face from the 1980s world of showbiz, and I am told it is she who I had in mind. She goes there, I was told, very often for the halal food, which makes Heritage Hotel unique as executive chef Alex Cong, who is Malaysian, knows how to prepare dishes according to Islamic regulations. The lady now lives in the hinterlands of Mindanao, still looking very beautiful. It’s all about love, we hear. Stars and celebrities do check in before and after their performances in the nearby MOA while businessmen, magnates and honchos from the provinces bring their whole families while they attend conferences at the SMX convention center or display their products at the nearby World Trade Center.

The next day, breakfast was a thrill as I enjoyed the corned beef, hot dog and ham, along with fried eggs and assorted bread and pastries. I decided to be adventurous and tried the Nasi Lemak, the Malaysian breakfast staple of cooked rice in coconut milk, and served with anchovies, egg and vegetables. Finally realizing I needed to be healthy, I had fresh fruit, including papaya, honeydew melon, mango and pineapple. Then, I went back for a custom-made omelet of onions, bell pepper, cheese and mushroom. As an afterthought, I asked for two more eggs, sunny side up, not well done. 

Love, sweet love: The Valentine cupcakes

Lunch, which I took at about one in the afternoon, was another glorious feast. I didn’t just sample, but savored with gusto, the main hot dishes of wok fried salt and pepper prawns, seafood bean curd in oyster sauce, braised chicken and bitter round, sweet and sour fish fillet, lemon chicken, beef rendang, chicken curry, fish head curry and Thai-style sea bass in coconut milk, Andreoli-style citrus sea bass, sautéed clams Italian-style, cream dory with potatoes and ratatouille, spinach and ricotta-filled mussels, chicken cacciatore, duck breast in maraschino cherries sauce and roast duck orange sauce. I kept going back, like the rest of the diners, one of them seven times with his plate heaping full upon each return to his table. Now here’s one dining place where the whole family can go on a food trip and get more than their money’s worth. 

A month after, I am still dreaming of my great Heritage sleeping and dining adventure. As it is February, when we celebrate Chinese New Year, a feast that lasts for two weeks, and the love affair that we hope is for keeps, buffet lovers should visit the Riviera Café from Feb. 3 to 17 where they can feast on yu sheng salad (New Year rainbow raw salmon salad), tsong tsai fan (special mini pot rice with Chinese sausage), tsong tsai tong (mini pot soup), ho xi fatt choy (braised dried oyster with black moss and vegetable) and the tempting sweet muar chee (glutinous rice ball glazed with grated peanuts) as part of the Chinese Prosperity Buffet during lunch and dinner.

Now, I have a secret to share. Whether it’s Chinese New Year or any other day of the year, Riviera Cafe has a Chinese corner and I suggest that you help yourself generously to the usual favorites that I demolished when I had my second lunch  steamed, hand-made Hong Kong dim sum in bamboo basket, teow chew porridge and condiments, braised pork belly with salt yellow bean, egg omelet, pickle lettuce, olive vegetable, salted egg /century egg, braised soya duck, Sichuan vegetable, preserved bean curd and wok fried roasted pork with soya sauce. I’m sure lovers will love feeding each other with these delicacies, but if you’re alone, like me, rest assured they are the best comfort food around.

Finally, lovers who don’t just want to look at each other, but intend to have a good time listening to music and eating good food, should consider the Café Riviera pre-Valentine Weekend Special from Feb. 12 and 13, and the Valentine’s Day Special dinner buffets.

Romina Gervacio, the hotel public relations officer, promises “a sweet rendezvous with gastronomic details close to perfection” and I am looking forward to enjoying this dreamy buffet. For sure, I will start my one-man tryst, if there is such a thing, at the Asian and Western Appetizers Corner and console myself with jellyfish with century egg and pickled ginger, baked fish fillet with mango tandori sauce, prawn salad with shallot and roasted coconut, Asian chicken noodle salad with sweet soy sesame vinaigrette topped with sesame seeds, asparagus and smoked salmon salad, scallop mouse with saffron sauce and fisherman’s stuffed potato.

I heart Café Riviera: True love in a glass

And having given myself a good start, the grilling action should get me through the rest of my loveless meal. Romina says I should try the fresh red mullet, squids, salmon belly, red snapper, rib-eye, herb-marinated, barbeque-marinated chicken, and chicken/beef satay, served with six types of barbeque sauce.

Okay, but I couldn’t let this romantic day pass without my fill of pasta. Romina says it’s the best place to “satiate my unending appetite for pasta with the tortelloni al pomodoro (hand-made, ricotta-filled pasta with a plum tomato sauce); pappardelle al sugo (homemade flat noodles with classic bolognese sauce); or penne all’arrabbiata (quill-shaped pasta with tomatoes, herbs, pancetta and spicy sausage).

Lovers, by the way, who prefer something different can try the claypot creations of Chef Alex at the Live Kitchen Theatre. His chefs, Romina tells me, “will select fresh ingredients and conjure a wide array of claypot creations crowning the international buffet spread on a varying cycle menu per day of chicken and mushroom, marinated beef and egg, fish fillet, ginger and spring onion, prawn with black fungus and braised cod fillet with dry chili and leek.”

I can go on and on, but just so you won’t forget, there’s ice cream in the cart, all three flavors, and you don’t have to wait to enjoy it at the end of your meal. So, there: I had the best time ever at the Heritage and come Valentine’s Day, and the two days before it, I shall return with, our without, a lover. Food is all I need to make me happy. Especially if it’s the buffet at the Riviera Cafe. 

* * *

For reservations and more information on The Heritage Hotel Manila, call 854-8888 or e-mail inquiry@heritagehotelmanila.com.

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