Sunday, September 22, 2013

Barbara's in Intramuros dining in old grandeur & stepping back in time

It takes a lot for me to get excited nowadays. Especially in restaurants. And this one made me feel the thrill of writing for something special again because it pertains to our past as Filipinos.

I have passed by Barbara’s many times, passing in front of it after walking around Fort Santiago or after visiting San Agustin Church which is across it. I have seen it but never visited it until the other day.

It was unexpected really. It was supposed to be a reconnaissance mission to find out where I can bring my balikbayan relatives in the city when my husband and I with our kid in tow found ourselves trying out the place for ourselves.

We couldn't resist its old world charm. When it felt like being beckoned by the rich ilustrados to dine with them in their fancy, elaborate dinner table. It's unlike any other Filipino restaurants I've been to before where they replicate the old way of Filipino fine dining. It doesn't feel same. I guess they lack something, maybe the authenticity that this place has.

At Barbara’s, they don't have to pretend something they're not because the place itself have been a witness to history. It is at the heart of Intramuros, the walled city during the Spanish colonial times.

Just opening the door at Barbara's and looking around, you will feel transported in another era with their vintage decor, glass chandeliers, old styled chairs and tables topped with white knitted cloth. They also have these vintage hanging lamps in nooks near wooden windows like the one we dined in.

And I loved our table, that cozy nook illuminated by a hanging lamp. I imagined how people back then dined, how they extended their hospitality by bringing out the fine china, lighted their intricate chandeliers and prepared their heirloom dishes. So different nowadays of fastfood and quick meals. Then before I began to wander further in my thoughts, my husband snapped me out of my reverie, he suggested we take the lunch buffet meal already so we can visit more places in the area.

The buffet table consisted of pasta, salad, flavored chicken breast slices and fish steaks. I especially enjoyed the Filipino-Spanish inspired food like the pastel de lengua and the sopa de ajo. I just noticed that the breadth of the lunch buffet meal that day was not as wide as the other lunch buffets I've tried in other places but it doesn't matter the ambiance of the place more than makes up for it.

One of the dishes I liked was the Pastel de Lengua. It was a warm stew of potatoes, sausages, carrots and lengua under a thin crust. It was hearty but not too heavy. I liked that the sauce was not too thick, one that steeped the delicately-flavored potatoes and tender chunks of sausages and lengua. It was a sumptuous and comforting treat on that rainy day.

Meanwhile, the sopa de ajo was a revelation. Its looked unassuming like any plain bowl of orange soup but its flavor momentarily surprised me. It was a little complex than expected. I can taste the hint of garlic and also a hint of annatto or paprika and perhaps a light flavor of meat that is combined with an egg mixture dissolved in feathery filaments. I’m sure there were other ingredients in there too but if it’s as simple as garlic and egg only then I’m amazed how they made these simple ingredients produce a soup with such depth in flavor.

My son liked it a lot and kept asking for more even adding rice into his soup bowl. My husband also said that the waiters were nice and kept handing them more soup even without him asking for it. That time I was taking pictures around, happy with the visual feast of old grandeur surrounding me.

Then for dessert, I rushed to have a mini pavlova on my plate. You see, I've always heard of it, watched Nigella and Jamie Oliver make batches of it and so when I saw mini-versions of it on the dessert table, I got excited and couldn't wait to try it. And after the first bite, I thought ..Hmm.. tastes similar to a meringue but only topped with fruits. It wasn't too sweet which I liked and a relatively good addition to their dessert selection. 

A treat my son also enjoyed was the light green jelly embedded with strips of lychee. It was refreshing and its color made it look like green gems on top of a crystal plate.

Meanwhile, the banana encrusted with sesame seeds was a good take on our banana cue. This one was in bite-sized portion and have no stick to contend with.

What is special about Barbara’s is it is near museums like Casa Manila and San Agustin. Casa Manila takes you to the house of the rich ilustrados in the 17th and 18the century, showcasing their ornate furniture, their eye-catching frescoes in the ceiling  and their way of life back then.

I saw the strong European influence on Filipinos way of living that time but I guess that’s not a surprise since the Spaniards were in colonial rule for over a century. Oh, I also love the fountain in the courtyard outside Casa Manila, it has this romantic, old world vibe into it.

San Agustin museum on the other hand, manages to leave you in awe as it brings you back in the early Catholic times in the country. Old church statues still preserved from the 17th and 18th century are proudly displayed in glass cases while paintings from the mentioned centuries are lined up in these wide hallways that feels surreal because you can’t imagine having this kind of place at the heart of Manila. It’s like something you've seen in places in Europe while watching the travel channel.

Even San Agustin church which can be accessed through the museum is something to gush about, the elaborately decorated pulpit, its high ceilings, the wide choir loft and the overall effect of its grandiosity is a wonder, the likes not seen in many churches today.

Overall, my visit to Barbara's has been a fulfilling cultural experience, stoking my pride on my Filipino heritage again. Yes, modernity has indeed crept into the world even in restaurants with its stark designs and minimalist menus but there will always be a place where history is preserved and happily celebrated and one such place is Barbara’s. Next time I’ll bring my parents here maybe they too can feel how the peninsulares and insulares really dined and partied J

If you want to see more pictures of my trip to Intramuros, you can check out my other blog at Thanks J

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