Tagaytay is about a 2-hour drive from Manila and when the summer heat becomes unbearable, it is an easy escape to higher ground where the palm trees transition into pine trees and the concrete buildings and billboards fade away into mountains, farms, valleys, and the great expanse of the beautiful Taal Lake. The glaring million and one food chain neon signs are pleasantly replaced with hand painted signs for fruit, veggie, homemade pies, and bulalo, a Tagaytay beef bone marrow soup speciality, roadside stands.
My friends Dunny, Joy and I did an overnight road trip along with their 2.5-year-old daughter, my goddaughter, Yomi. She is the easiest child to feed that I have ever encountered and will open her mouth to receive just about anything you put in front of her. Even the spiciest of foods she will devour, a testament to the Korean blood running through her veins. She may whimper a little in pain but she will keep chewing it anyway and after swallowing will ask for more. I couldn’t ask for the tiniest, cutest little foodie to tag along with us on our food trip. A lifelong love with food is surely in her fate. I could see it when she was begging for ice cream from anyone who would hear her cries late one night after eating a full meal for dinner and dessert. She has much in common with her godmother.
We left Manila for Tagaytay on a Sunday. That’s the best time to go other than a weekday. On a Friday or Saturday you will run into traffic on the highway, traffic on the winding mountain roads, crowds of tourists and out of towners filling up tables at all the popular restaurants. That means having to worry about making restaurant reservations, paying higher hotel prices, and all that jazz that makes it the opposite of a quiet, lazy, relaxing getaway. Steer clear of those days and roll into Tagaytay on a Sunday or a weekday and you’ve got almost the whole restaurant to yourself and none of the other nonsense. Now that’s what I call a getaway.
If you are going for the food, there are enough restaurants, cafés, and farms to give you a reason to go. Mine, however, was the most famous of them all, the Antonio’s group of restaurants, four Filipino concepts that explore the history and journey of the home-cooked Filipino cuisine from ancestral recipes passed down orally through family generations to its marriage to the Spanish and Chinese whose roots have laid firm since. All in spaces that inspire the imagination to hark back to the country’s colonial past in ancestral homes that were designed to accommodate large gatherings for the many religious and life celebrations. But what makes these restaurants even more special is the fact that they are all surrounded by the beauty and bounty of the Tagaytay land and Taal Lake waters, the one constant that has never waivered despite the hands it has passed through over time. It is undoubtedly as much about the experience as it is about the food.
As soon as we got in, we dumped our things at my Uncle’s log cabin and headed over to Taal Vista Hotel for the most stunning views. It is one of the oldest and grandest hotels in Tagaytay located on prime property. Although it was recently given a facelift, the hotel is still quite dated. But much can be forgiven once you see the views of Taal Lake as you walk out into the garden in the back. Oh, the views! The lookout runs along the length of the property and it is absolutely breathtaking. The large garden becomes a gathering space for kids to run around blowing and chasing bubbles while the adults sit around picnicking, snapping away photos, while all eyes keep watch of the magical sky’s changing colours as the sun rises and sets. “What person doesn’t have a childhood pic standing exactly right here with this background?” Dunny said to me. I didn’t, but now I do.
We had dinner at Breakfast at Antonio’s. The menu is extremely varied serving everything from traditional Filipino breakfast dishes to rostis, waffle and pancakes, egg bennies, sandwiches, and everything in between. We ordered a Reuben sandwich, bacon with Swiss cheese rosti, beef tapa, and the portobello truffle tagliatelle. Everything was absolutely delicious.
For dessert, we decided to head over for crêpe at Café Breton. It’s located at the Cliffhouse, a private, lovely little tree-lined strip of a few restaurants, cafés and a boutique hotel. We ordered just the basic sugar crêpe, one with lemon and one without. We all agreed we would opt out of the lemon next time and keep it simple. Just how things should be sometimes.
For breakfast the next morning we went to…Mcdonald’s. I know. But before you judge me, just like I did with everyone else, go there for yourself and take it all back. This was the nicest Mcdonald’s I had ever been to and if your budget is low and if food is not your top priority, then this Mcdonald’s is your best bet for value. The views alone are worth it, you will want to stay awhile.
For lunch we went to Balay Dako, another Antonio’s restaurant, meaning Big House in Negrenese. Just when I thought I had seen it all, the views at this place made my jaw drop once again. We ordered inihaw pusit, ginataang langka, tortang alimasag, bistek Tagalog, and garlic rice, of course. For dessert, we had piyaya, ordered fresh at the piyaya station where you can watch them flip these delicate, sweet, and flaky unleavened flat bread filled with muscovado sugar on the griddle. The reminded me of a flattened hopia but with a caramelized unrefined cane sugar filling than red bean. They are hot, hot, hot! And good, good, good.
Stuffed and in a trance, we hopped into the car and all dozed off on the ride home. And when we woke up about an hour and a half later, we were back in Manila. Back to the sounds of the horns of cars and buses, back to concrete buildings towering above us with billboard signs colouring the city from end to end. It’s amazing how it takes less than 2 hours to get you to calm and serenity where food is an activity and a way of life. If you haven’t been and you need a getaway I suggest you find a friend or two, large and small, hop in your car and just go. Relaxation, the beautiful outdoors, fresh air, and delicious food memories await you.