MANILA — A year after Sofitel Philippine Plaza closed its flagship restaurant, Spiral is rising like a phoenix, plump, glistening and strutting toward a reputation as one of Asia's finest new dining venues.
In anticipation of the restaurant's US $11 million renaissance, which was celebrated earlier this month during an extravagant grand reopening event, the hotel's executive chef combed sidewalks from Bangkok to Mumbai, sniffing out secrets that would inform the establishment's new concept — an inventive blend of traditional French markets and Asian hawker stalls, with a high-end twist.
“You can't fake authenticity or quality,” said Eric Costille, a Cannes native who took command of the kitchen in June after stints as the executive chef at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul.
“If you're going to promise customers the best (cuisine) of Thailand or India or anywhere else, you have to thoroughly understand all that goes into the product. You have to go to the nests.”
Costille's first stop was Hong Kong, where he spent three hectic days sampling everything from dim sum to Peking duck at a dozen of the city's premier Chinese food haunts. He also paid attention to service and presentation, but mainly he ate.
“I wasn't just tasting little bites,” Costille said. “I was really eating. I ate everything, even after I'd already eaten somewhere else. I wanted to experience each place fully and as a regular customer would.”
In Bangkok, the 13-year resident of Asia took a less organized approach, choosing instead to follow both his nose and the locals. His most revelatory moment came at a stall where he was given permission to observe the owners' cooking techniques and ask dozens of questions.
“With Thai food, I found it’s mostly about having the right herbs and spices and understanding how to bring the best out of those ingredients,” Costille said. “You memorize the flavors, textures and consistency, so you know what each dish — such as a green curry with chicken and basil — needs to have.”
Costille’s culinary tour concluded in Mumbai, where he discovered the many practical uses of a tandoor oven and learned how crucial traditional cooking equipment is to the production of authentic Indian food.
At Spiral, Costille has assembled a squad of seven master chefs, each of whom specializes in a different type of cuisine and adds a distinct flavor to the personnel mix.
“It's a diverse group, from Japan to India, Korea to France,” said Costille, who is also regional executive chef of Sofitel Asia-Pacific. “But I think we've blended everything in good balance.”
Spiral’s recipe for success also includes an interior conceived by Design Studio Spin, a Japanese firm responsible for the look and feel of some of Asia's most stylish hotels, residences and restaurants.
Appropriately, the signature design element is a majestic spiral staircase, which connects the 2,500-square-meter restaurant to the hotel's main lobby, one floor above.
Among Spiral’s other chief features are 21 distinct ateliers, a French word for “artist’s special workshop” and where the best of the world’s cuisines are masterfully prepared by Costille’s star-studded cast before guests’ very eyes; and La Veranda, a glass-enclosed, 1930s Parisian-style lounge that opens to an outdoor terrace, leading to the lagoon-shaped pool the hotel is renowned for.
The venue also includes six elegant private rooms outfitted with plush leather sofas and large dining tables, four outdoor dining gazebos flanked by water and fire features, and floor-to-ceiling windows that extend three stories high and provide extensive views of Manila Bay and a tropical ambiance rarely found in the heart of a bustling city.
Capiz fixtures, lustrous white marble, glowing glass counters and frosted glass doors combine to exude a comfortably bright and light aura.
“The idea was to take the best of the world and put it into one place under one roof,” said Goran Aleks, general manager of Sofitel Philippine Plaza. “There is simply nothing like it in the Asia-Pacific region and, dare I say, anywhere else in the world. It's a revolution in the art of interactive dining.”
Built in 1976 with input from former President Ferdinand Marcos and First Lady Imelda, Sofitel Philippine Plaza has long been the address of choice for guests of the country’s capital.
The only 5-star hotel with a resort setting in Manila is adjacent to the iconic Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and within 15 minutes of the international airport, Mall of Asia and historic Spanish walled city of Intramurous.
At 609 rooms, the property is the biggest in Sofitel’s portfolio and, in true Sofitel spirit, exudes a combination of French savoir faire and authentic local touches.
For more information about Sofitel Philippine Plaza or Spiral, visit www.sofitelmanila.com.