A tale of dining out… a lot

By Joseph L. Garcia, Senior Reporter

WE’D like to preface this review of the restaurants in NUSTAR Resort and Casino’s adjoining NUSTAR Mall by telling the world of the virtues of the Fili Hotel, the first five-star Filipino-owned hotel, built by Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC) and Universal Hotels and Resorts, Inc. (UHRI). Real natural stone (marble, onyx, and granite), and real flowers one can smell were used in the hotel, making for a truly luxurious experience.

As for the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, the Fili Cafe, even the breakfast buffet should not be skipped. We can say with all certainty that this was one of the best breakfasts we’ve had in this lifetime. Think of the most obscure dish one can have for breakfast: they’ll probably have it. Seafood? Check. Lechon Cebu sisig? Check. Eggs Benedict? Check. An egg-white-only frittata, served not as a special order but part of the spread? Check. There’s even braised Korean pork belly and Hainanese Chicken (and that’s just one part of the section). They even have multiple kinds of hot chocolate — from sweet Western-style milk chocolate to local sikwate from Cebu.

BusinessWorld was part of a media tour last week to explore the new property’s mall. NUSTAR is the first and only integrated resort property outside Luzon. While today, the Fili hotel stands in Cebu, its five-star concept will be brought to other cities, including Metro Manila (and possibly abroad). Quoting RLC President Frederick Go, Senior Consultant for RLC Winnie Nazareth told BusinessWorld during the tour, “The Philippines has no representation of a five-star hotel, and yet we are known to be a service-oriented culture.” The rest of the complex is beginning to rise: soon there will be a four-star hotel called Grand Summit, and a five-plus-star hotel named NUSTAR.

As for the mall, there’s space for 80 retailers (according to Ms. Nazareth, all the slots all been snapped up), in a space measuring between 18,000 to 20,000 sqm. Luxury brands, some of whom will have their first outposts in Cebu, will open beginning December of this year.

NUSTAR MALL’S RESTAURANTSAfter the filling breakfast at Fili, we were all trooped to Cafe Laguna, named after the founders’ home province. We were served familiar Filipino favorites like salmon sinigang (a soup soured with tamarind), deep-fried kangkong and crablets, kare-kare (a peanut-based stew), and cochinillo (suckling pig). While the sun was still up, we were brought to Abaca Baking Company, a well-known Cebu chain serving brunch favorites and baked goods. While already full from both breakfast and lunch, we will say that this is the source of one of the best chocolate-chunk cookies one can have in this country. It’s crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, sprinkled with salt. The fact that it’s almost as big as a baby’s face and had chocolate chunks and not tiny chips didn’t hurt either.

Kazuwa Prime, which has a less-luxurious branch in Makati, offered up a teppanyaki show with the chefs performing with their food. During the course of the dinner, our chef tried to shoot eggs into our mouth (failing to catch it was this reporter’s deficiency), and made a luxurious beef teppanyaki with A5 Wagyu (the highest grade possible for the Japanese beef). Sadly, it turns out that this should be had in small doses, since the marbled fat of the beef tends to feel like chewing butter after having too much. We will say that the first three bites were heaven, though.

For a late lunch the next day, we headed over to Taiwan Shabu-Shabu. The broth base was mild, and while dipping slices of beef and vegetables into the mild broth was comforting, it provided little excitement. Still, we can imagine winding down after a few rounds in the casino right here. We moved on to Koshima, a more luxurious offering of Nonki, a Japanese chain that operates within the Visayas and Mindanao. We had truffle sushi (with the truffle infused into the rice), and a very thick tonkatsu (pork cutlet), but even then, they pale in comparison to the wagyu hotpot. The beef slices dipped into the soup were some of the softest things one can put in one’s mouth, and the broth, by then absorbing all of the meat juices, was restorative.

The last meal we had at the mall were drinks and a proper cochinillo at familiar Barcino, and this reporter and the other guests used the time to decide which restaurants they would come back to, should they ever find their way to Cebu again. The winners were definitely the Fili Cafe (and the luxury restaurant Mott32, also in the complex), but also Koshima.

Neil Banzuelo

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