In philippine culture, food is central to any event. No, let me take that back…in philippine culture, food is always THE event, anything else being celebrated is just coincidental. Having a birthday? You need lots of food. Baptism? Graduation? Wedding? Christmas? New Year? Food, food, food, food and yes, glorious overflowing food. In the countryside, where religious celebrations are still religiously celebrated (that was redundant on purpose), feasts in honor of patron saints become gigantic foodfests. Villagers turn their kitchens into food factories, churning out dishes in huge servings one after the other all day long, serving them to just about anyone who passes by. For a country that doesn’t really have a GDP per capita to boast of, you’ll be surprised at how much food each household can serve to just about anyone.
This tradition of outrageous feasts are no longer as pervasive among the city folk, especially among the middle and upper-class, however the love for food is definitely still there. You can throw a cocktail party and the more sophisticated, corporate types will appreciate it, but you can be just as sure that most of them will be digging into a full meal before or after the event. There has to be food in any celebration, and champagne and cocktails are no substitute.
So, in the absence of large feasts, where do these corporate and yuppie types get their food fix? 5-star hotels for one. Tourists and visitors on business trips will judge hotels by the crispness of their linens or the number of amenities, but for locals, the best hotel is the one with the longest buffet table. It’s not surprising if a local would prefer dining in a 5-star hotel and sleep in a 3-star one, than the other way around. 5-star food is sooo much better than a 5-star bed.
Makati Shangri-la’s Circles set the standard for “big buffets”, until the Sofitel challenged them with their very own Spiral, boasting of themselves as the largest buffet in the country. There are also notable “smaller” ones, though “small” is not really a good adjective…I just can’t think of any other. These are the likes of Edsa Shang’s Heat, and Manila Pen’s Escolta, which still serve enough food in half a day to feed a small town.
The most recent one I’ve visited was the Mandarin Oriental’s Paseo Uno. This restaurant has been around for quite a while, though for some reason I haven’t been able to go there since I moved to Manila 11 years ago. I just kept ending up either Circles or Spiral. It’s no wonder therefore that my first impressions of Paseo Uno will be a comparison with the “big two”.
First off, Paseo Uno is not as grand, though it can still make jaws drop, especially for those who haven’t seen this kind of lavishness before.
The buffet stations at the Paseo are definitely not as long as those in Spiral, and the variety is not as wide, but you can still chose to mix and match several cuisines in one meal. Japanese Yakitori, Chinese Dimsum, Western Lamb Chops, Spanish Paella, plus desserts ranging from Filipino Halo-halo to various types of Mousse? You can have it.
The restaurant itself looks more modest, though as the pictures show, it’s still not your regular weekend dining destination. It doesn’t give you the “wow! food paradise!” feel that you can get as you march into your table at Circles, flanked by an abundance of food left and right, but on the upside, it doesn’t confuse you. Their buffet stations are spaced quite far apart, so when you go to the sushi station, all you see is sushi, and you are not tempted to suddenly grab a tandoori on a neighboring station.
Overall, Paseo Uno really isn’t quite in the same league as the big two, but still I couldn’t find enough space in may expandable belly to take a bite from each dish that they have prepared. And just like in any big buffet, the experience is not really about how much food there is for your eyes to see, but rather how you pick the type of food that you can really enjoy, and Paseo Uno was as much fun for me as anywhere else. These buffets never come cheap though, but once in a while we would like to just throw it all in the wind and eat to our heart’s content, and Paseo Uno is certainly worth the experience.
We dined at Paseo Uno last July 2011. All photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.