No matter what anyone says to prepare you, there is no getting around it, or indeed past it quickly — Manila’s traffic is quite literally a show-stopper.
However, as the Philippines — one of the world’s most rapidly emerging market economies — confronts massive growth and industrialisation, the wheels are in motion so that its capital, Manila, can adapt to its newfound status as one of Asia’s most frenetic business hubs. Massive fly-overs are being constructed (in particular, ones close to the airport), under-road pedestrian walkways are spreading like rabbit warrens beneath the city, and more of the sheltered air-conditioned walkways that Hong Kong is famous for are on the way.
So when a business trip to Manila beckons, or if you’re understandably keen on experiencing this incredibly historic city that owes some of its culinary offerings, vibrancy, and cultural diversity to centuries of Spanish rule, there’s all the more reason to ensure that at the end of a long day, you can retreat to a sanctuary of luxury and calm.
Peninsula hotel staff across the world are renowned for surprising guests with special touches that many of the larger chain hotels overlook, and stepping into my Executive Suite after a long ride from the airport, I see that they have truly outdone themselves. On the coffee table is a miniature typewriter with a draw in its base. Opening the drawer reveals a row of truffle chocolates, which is a delight in itself. Then, upon close inspection, the feature article clippings resting beside the typewriter as though they’ve just been zipped out of the spool (recent features from The CEO Magazine) are made from white chocolate, and so are entirely edible. I can’t wipe the smile off my face, as I eat my words with a cup of tea before retiring to bed.
There are many levels of rooms and suites at the The Peninsula Manila, and the Executive Suites exemplify The Peninsula Manila’s attention to detail in the many luxurious appointments. There’s a choice of one- or two-bedroom configurations (management having noted that many executives travel with family or assistants), a spacious living area with lush sofas and daybeds, and a separate master bedroom with a large walk-in closet, dressing area, and an ample marble bathroom with a bath.
The Peninsula Suite takes things to an entirely different palatial level, and it’s whispered about in some circles, as the dignitaries and celebrities in the know do their best to keep
it a secret. A grand marble-floored entrance foyer has been bestowed with a beautiful mixed media artwork by an award-winning Filipino artist, and the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the city have anyone lucky enough to enter into the space awestruck by the views of Manila by night or day. Handmade silk rugs, deep-pile carpets, opulent cream silk upholstery, classic and contemporary furnishings, and magical lighting ensembles make the place even more of a fairy tale. A resident butler and an awarded chef ensure that guests can have their own meals prepared, and anything else they need delivered, 24 hours a day.
There’s a range of impressive dining options in the hotel, such as the Escolta International Buffet for those in a more of a hurry — it has live cooking stations, home-baked breads, fresh pastas, hand-rolled sushi, charcuterie, Chinese noodles, carving stations, artisanal ice creams plus a ‘farm-to-table’ concept that highlights fresh produce and a range of favourite Filipino dishes. There are pool-side snacks and drinks to be had, dining in the grand Lobby any time of day, room service, or if the agenda is more focused on Champagne or cocktails,
Salon De Ning is an intimate 30s nightclub space inspired by the fanciful socialite Madame Ning. Art Deco objets d’art bring to life the foxy former era, and the signature Ning Sling cocktail is a must. There are four themed private rooms: the Boxing Room, which pays tribute to the legendary Joe Louis, a boudoir dedicated to shoes, a silver-strewn Zeppelin-themed room, and an Oriental-inspired alcove.
For a memorable experience that brings the offerings from two of the hotel’s most revered dining hotspots together, embark on a moving culinary journey to experience Filipino appetisers at Spices (a South East Asian restaurant), and some clever gastronomical delights and a main course at Old Manila, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant. Spices is in a warm, inviting, Balinese-inspired gazebo-type space next to the pool, overlooking tropical gardens. The dishes offer a tantalising mix of exotic flavours from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka and India. A specialty chef from Thailand is at the reins, and it’s like being in a haven within a haven, the calming buddhas, purple- and green-hued décor, and soft oriental music creating a serenity that is in complete juxtaposition to the world outside in Manila’s busy CBD. Make sure you try the Yam Pla Duk Fu — crispy catfish salad with green mango, lime and shallots — it’s tongue-tinglingly refreshing.
Across the Lobby, tucked behind the reception area, is a glamorous two-level fine-dining restaurant that has been seducing gourmands for years. Fine food and stunning artworks unite in this Art Deco inspired space: award-winning photography, sculpture by Kenneth Cobonpue, and a modern chandelier comprised of many pieces of hand-blown glass that seem to fly like a flock of birds, are enough to take the breath away. The bold black lines and swanky 20s references guide the rest of the décor choices, and the chef behind the scenes, is nothing short of a magician. For lovers of foie gras, the pan-seared foie gras with Yellowfin tuna, caramelised apple and pickled ginger is worth rejoicing over (with a flute of fine Champagne) and the lobster bisque made from Slipper lobster, red gambas, and clams
is simply sensational.
Continue on with this marvellous moving feast in the hotel’s lobby, where Manila’s movers and shakers can often be found seated at the marble tables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings. Here, indulge in a rightfully famous local treat named the Halo-Halo Harana, which is a cooling tropical dessert made with shaved ice and tropical fruits topped with purple yam ice cream. If you’re lucky enough to be in town when a famous singer or orchestral band is performing on the balcony fanning out from the hotels’ upper tier like a private opera box, beneath the soaring ceiling complete with a gigantic sun-inspired copper sculpture, you won’t want to leave. Why would you, when The Peninsula Manila’s mission is to bring the most magical moments right to you?