Foodie Life,  Great Eats

Celebrating Papa’s birthday at Cafe Ilang-Ilang

They say there’s a technique to getting the best out of all-you-can-eat buffets, but I’ve never learned it. I’m not really a fan of buffets because first of all my tummy has a low storage capacity, plus I’m always worried about gaining weight. Yes I know I’m not actually obliged to stuff myself when I go to a buffet, but I think about the amount of money shelled out and I can’t stand not eating more than what I usually do. It would be such a waste.

Often I end up being full nearly to the brim, which isn’t an entirely pleasant feeling, but this was where my Dad wanted to celebrate his birthday in advance so this was where we went.

The last time I ate at Manila Hotel’s Cafe Ilang-Ilang was a year ago, and my impression of it has remain unchanged during this year’s visit. I still think it’s one of the buffets that gives you the best bang for your buck due to the sheer number of choices and the quality of the food. The dishes are not bad as well, and are divided into several cuisines to please as many diners as possible.

The restaurant is quite big and is well-prepared to accommodate a crowd. I love these long tables they have, like the one below. My Dad celebrated his birthday with two of his friends who are also November celebrators. We were all seated in one whole row of rectangular tables, creating a warm and homey family atmosphere.

As I mentioned there are a lot of choices in this buffet so be warned that this is going to be an image-heavy post. 😉

To jumpstart your meal you can go for the bread section first.

Or you can pay a visit to the salads and appetizer area where there are plenty of other fresh choices. I’m a bit of a salad girl as long as the salad doesn’t have mayonnaise or creamy dressing on it, so I like to scope out this area for colourful salads with vinaigrettes to get a taste of.

I loved the Filipino-style appetizer they made using pickled bitter gourd. The bitterness is replaced with a sweet-sour tang and the bitter gourd was deliciously crunchy. I loved it enough to go back for a second helping. Another one of my favourites from this side of the buffet was the tofu which had the same flavour profile as the bitter gourd– sweet and tangy that explodes in your mouth!

Right beside the salads area is the seafood station that boasts only the freshest catch of the day.

Near the entrance to the buffet you will come across the Italian section, very prominently located at the brightest spot of the restaurant.

This is the section that has all the cheese and delis lined up on a counter surrounding a pizza fireplace. You will see the chefs making the pizza crust right before your very eyes. You place your order and a few minutes later you’ve got a beautiful piece of pizza on your plate. It was so mouth-watering I completely forgot about taking a photo.

The Asian station is always abuzz with people so the chefs are constantly bustling about as well.

The dimsum was one of the most frequented in this area, and for good reason. I love how they had a complete selection of dimsum dipping sauces from the chilli sauce to the soy sauce and the calamansi sauce. I love to mix all three together with the chilli sauce being the dominant flavour. It makes for the best dipping sauce for one of my favourite things to eat on this planet.

Right beside the Chinese food selection is the Filipino food, highlighted of course by everyone’s favourite lechon. I eat lechon but the fish is always my favourite, and Filipino cuisine has a great way with fish dishes.

Nearby is the steak station, and I almost missed it the first time because it is essentially this small window on what you can mistake for a simple wall. If it weren’t for the throng of people constantly pining for a slice of meat I probably would not have noticed it at all. I had a taste of the roast beef from my brother’s plate and I thought it was very nicely marinated and very tasty. They grill it to the doneness of your liking. There are also other barbecue-friendly meats here such as ribs. You can also request for a side of grilled veggies to go with the meat.

The buffest has an area made especially for breakfast nuts like myself. Mostly the dishes there are Filipino breakfast favourites like longganisa, tocino, pritong bangus and the like. But this is also the place where one can grab a plate of Eggs Benedict with a slice of smoked salmon between the eggs and the toast.

At a separate area deeper inside the restaurant is the one housing the Japanese food.

The rolls aren’t all that ground-breaking in terms of flavour combination but I am a salmon nut whether it’s raw or smoked. If I see a salmon inside the roll I tend to get one. There are cuts of sashimi tuna and salmon as well.

At the same area there are hotdogs and burgers, and I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be Hawaiian as is my impression thanks to the Aloha watermelon carving, but the food here are those you tend to eat outdoors or on a picnic. The mini burgers are cute as buttons!

And now we come to my favourite part of the buffet not necessarily to eat, but to ogle and draw inspiration from– the Desserts area! So much prettiness in one place!

There were cheesecakes and several types of layer cakes, but that day they were big on pistachio-flavoured cakes. The green cakes above are pistachio financiers, and the center-piece for the day was this gorgeous deco art-like Pistachio Opera Cake.

They’ve also got a low-sugar corner for dessert-lovers watching their sweets intake. The cakes are as pretty and just as tasty.

A couple of favourite Filipino dessert choices are also laid out in one area. I love the added touch of elegance for the leche flan in the form of sliced strawberries.

Now if you’re not much of a cake person, you can always get some gelato or have some crepes customized to your liking. Or you know, have a few spoons of the fruit-speckled bread pudding. When food is as colourful and beautiful as that I’m almost too afraid to eat it.

And because I’m crazy over pretty cakes and desserts, I just had to include these shots from Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s glass display case of take-away cakes.

Cafe Ilang-Ilang gives a slice of their cake of the day to birthday celebrants, so my Dad and his two other friends got a Pistachio Opera Cake and a very loud and festive birthday song from the wait staff. 🙂

It’s days like these that make me realize exactly just how lucky I am to have such an awesome family, especially when it comes to my Dad. He has a great heart, and I seem to remember being such a Daddy’s girl when I was little. Of course growing up changes some things, but in my heart of hearts I know I am still a Daddy’s girl who always worries about her Papa. I really loved this day. Amidst all the terrible things that have been happening to the country lately, I find myself more and more thankful for every good memory I can carve into my mind. Whenever I see my Dad laughing heartily with his friends in the company of good food, I know that he is having one of those precious moments of contentment.

Happy birthday, Papa! I love you!

Cafe Ilang-Ilang

Manila Hotel, One Rizal Park
Manila, Philippines
(+632) 527-0011
Mon – Sun: 11:30 am – 2:00 pm

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