A Father’s Day Throwback To The Restaurants My Father Used To Love
Today is Father’s Day and I miss my father. Fortunately, he left a lifetime of memories filled with celebration and joy. He had a handful of restaurants that were his favorites, places he visited frequently not just to eat but to dine.
Swiss Inn just outside Paco Park was five minutes from my father’s office. It was the restaurant, a pub really, of a small hotel, yes, an inn, owned and run by Swiss national Emil Landert. Back in the day, names were literal, ergo “Swiss Inn.” My father ate there almost daily, for lunch, for dinner, for lunch that went all the way to dinner. It was his quick bite, business meeting meal, a few and more drinks for happy hour with the buddies, family meal, date night with the wife kind of place. The waiters knew him by name, he didn’t need a menu, he didn’t even need to order!
The original Swiss Inn Manila
His aperitif was on his table even before he could sit down. Sausages, from schüblig to frankfurter, and fresh corned beef were made and cured in-house. A hearty bowl of goulash soup was more than enough for lunch and a groaning platter of pork knuckles, potatoes, and sauerkraut was a family treat. If we were lucky, our dessert-averse mother would let us order a cheesecake. A fire in the 1980s gutted the restaurant and it wasn’t until 1990 that it was rebuilt and reopened as Old Swiss Inn under new owners. They stayed true to the original spirit of Swiss Inn, keeping its pub-like atmosphere and filling the menu with the Swiss classic dishes that the regulars found comforting.
Today, Old Swiss Inn is run by the next generation of Limcaocos and can be found in two locations—the original in Paco and in Makati. The bar in Paco is reminiscent of its former self with a long wooden bar, dark wooden booths, and stained glass. The Makati branch has a brighter look but original stained-glass windows from Paco bring nostalgia to the fore. Its current menu is a marriage of the old and new.
Old Swiss Inn Paco today
Old Swiss Inn Makati
The classic dishes of Goulash Soup, Corned Beef Brisket and Gnagi are permanent fixtures in the list of signature dishes, along with the Pepper Steak, a prime cut of beef tenderloin that many a millennial today shun for a fat laden slab of rib-eye.
Gnagi or pork knuckles with sauerkraut and potatoes
Corned Beef Brisket
Fondues and raclette are a welcome Limcaoco introduction. Healthier choices are also being made available, including yogurt by family-owned Pinkie’s Farm. Originally established in 1946, it still feels like home.
G/F Somerset Olympia, Makati Avenue corner Sto. Tomas Street, Makati City, (02) 818-0098, open 24 hours 1030 Belen Street, Paco, Manila, (02) 521-3002, open Monday-Saturday, 10 am – 2 pm, 6 –10 pm
Anastacio de Alba of Avila, Spain moved to the Philippines in 1952 and opened Alba Cocina Española as a five-table restaurant on Isaac Peral, now United Nations Avenue in Manila in 1954. He brought with him, not just the food but also the culture of Spain, a successful formula that he replicated in the branches that he opened around the city. It was Alba Patio de Makati on the 11th floor of the Doña Narcisa Building that was my father’s special occasion place. It was where our family celebrated birthdays, no-occasion Thursdays (Araw ni Menang, a story for another day), and Valentine’s Day.
Formerly known as Casa Colas, the main branch of Alba is located in Polaris, a back alley away from the center of the crowd. But wherever Alba goes, so does it's patrons. Why? The great American Ralph Waldo Emerson, provides an answer to that. He says: "If a man has a good corn, or wood, or boards or pigs to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, or crucibles, or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad, hard-beaten road to his house, although it be in the woods". (Excerpt from "The Man with a dream", 1987)
My parents were big on February 14 and when we children were considered fit to dine in a proper restaurant, Valentine’s Day was a family date. We went religiously every single year until the restaurant was no more. My father loved the elegance, the view (the 11th floor in the 1970s was about as high as you could get), the food, the service, and the music. Oh the music! They had this roving minstrel trio armed with acoustic guitars and big smiles, serenading tables and when they got to our table, our father kept them there until they belted out La Paloma and he would join them for the CuCuRuCuCu refrain. We ordered the same things, over and over again—Sopa de Mariscos, Paella, Lengua, Callos, Solomillo, and Canonigo.
Alba’s Canonigo is a delectable melt-in-your-mouth meringue cake made from egg. This creation by Señor Alba is truly unique here in Manila and was dedicated to the Spanish priests who use egg whites to strengthen churches in the 16th century. How’s that for a back story? ??
Alba’s ambitious La Mancha opened in 1975, with a Don Quixote windmill that became a landmark in Magallanes Commercial Center. Construction of the Magallanes interchange kept people away and surrender was inevitable. He closed down and returned to Spain with his family. He reestablished himself in Manila two years later, opening Casa Colas on Polaris Street in Makati. He was a permanent fixture at the restaurant regaling customers with stories of how he cured his own sausages, lomo, and jamón, declaring pork to be the best meat ever.
Today, his son Miguel is the chef behind the string of restaurants that bear his father’s name. Albeit more casual in ambiance, it continues to serve classic Castilian dishes at very popular prices.
38 Polaris Street, Bel-Air, Makati City, (02) 896-6950 to 51, 890-4372,
Tomas Morato corner Scout Lozano, Quezon City, (02) 925-1912, 928-7129, 411-7052
Westgate Center, Commerce Avenue, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, (02) 771-2178 to 79
4/L Prism Plaza, TwoEcom Center Building, Bayshore Avenue corner Harbor Drive, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City, (02) 808-2326, 808-8210
Level 2, North Wing, Estancia Mall, Capitol Commons, Oranbo, Pasig City, (02) 253-8272, 253 4953
Ping Yang was my father’s go to no-nonsense Chinese restaurant. Mainly a shabu-shabu place, a stainless steel two-section bowl sat in the center of the table over an LPG burner. On one side of the pot was a mild broth and on the other a spicier soup. The menu offered a choice of meats, seafood, balls, tofu, noodles, and the freshest vegetables that were delivered daily. The fish, shrimp, and squid balls were made in-house so what you’d get would be a fresh delicious bite instead of a starchy one from frozen packaged commercially available seafood balls.
Fresh meats, seafood balls, and vegetables for shabu-shabu
Saucers of chopped fresh garlic, saté sauce, fresh bird’s eye chili, and spring onions came together with individual dishes of their house sauce, ready for you to customize to your liking. It was as comforting as any meal one can get.
Inside Ping Yang
In one of Manila’s biggest floods decades ago, we were stranded at the office, unable to get home. Luckily, the roads to Ping Yang were half a tire deep at the worst and we made it there easily. That steaming hot soup kept us warm and satisfied until the waters receded around 4 am the next morning.
It remains one of our family’s favorites, a never-miss meal for our two overseas residing third generation members. The shabu shabu is just as good, and the fried dumpling is the best in the city (and I never say the best).
They have since added dim sum and live seafood plus a freezer full of packaged takeout. It’s been around for over a quarter of a century and if it continues on for another 25 years, I’m certain the 4th generation children will keep it as a favorite.
556 Julio Nakpil Street corner M. Adriatico, Malate, Manila, (02) 525-7191, open daily 11 am –2:30 pm, 5 – 10:30 pm
Ping Yang photos by Maricris Encarnacion
Photo of Alba in the banner courtesy of Alba Restaurant