The Mid-Autumn Festival is often a big deal with many Asian nations. As a Chinese, my family and I follow through with some mid-autumn traditions every year such as playing dice games and exchanging mooncakes. Mooncakes are pretty popular here in the Philippines thanks to its burgeoning Chinese community, so it’s no surprise that many establishments would, around this time, create some sort of special menu item just to match the occasion. That’s where SM Megamall’s Mid-Autumn #MegaFoodWok comes in.
The Mega Food Wok allows foodies to take a “walk” through six different establishments around SM Megamall’s newly-minted Mega Fashion Hall, where I must say there is a whopping number of interesting restaurants to try. It’s a walking food tour that is by all means a journey for the tummy, guaranteed to satisfy even the biggest of appetites. Previously there has been a similar food tour involving fifteen (FIFTEEN!!!) establishments and I can’t even imagine what that’s like since six already was too much for my stomach.
Meet Jin Perez of my favourite restaurant review blog JinLovesToEat.com.
She is the one who put this event together, picking out her favourite eats at the Mega Fashion Hall and leading us from one restaurant to another throughout the walking food tour. Her blog is one of those I instantly go to when I’m looking for somewhere new to eat. I’ve seen her countless times in her blog photos, which is why I recognized her immediately when I saw her. (I got a little starstruck too admittedly, so my usually shy self became just a tad more shy.) Anyway, I asked Gilbert to take a selfie with her because that’s how we roll, and Jin was more than happy to oblige.
And yes, once again I attended the event with my friend Gilbert. Here we are at our first location with a mirror and a camera and the next natural thing to do (at least for him): Take a selfie with troll-faces. (I also used some of his other selfies in this post, in case you come across photos that look to be a bit different in colouring.)
So let’s get down to the food tour, shall we?
Stop #1: Tim Ho Wan
Let’s start with a dose of honesty here. After having tried Tim Ho Wan at Hong Kong, I didn’t feel the need to go through all the trouble of eating at this restaurant when it opened its doors here in Manila just months ago. We had a great dimsum breakfast in Hong Kong of course, but something about lining up for more than half an hour just so I can eat something doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not a very patient girl when I’m hungry, especially when I have options. I tolerated it in Hong Kong because I was there already, so might as well. I didn’t have a similar motivation for the Manila branch though.
I already told myself that it would probably be a while before I can make a comparison blog entry between the Hong Kong restaurant and the local one. Maybe when the hype dies down a little, in about a million years? People love dimsum, period. I completely understand that because I love it too. Maybe someday soon they will open a restaurant big enough to accommodate the entire Manila population and I will get my chance. But by some stroke of luck I was given the opportunity to do it earlier than scheduled.
First I have to comment on the interior design of the restaurant, because I thought it clever how they used the bamboo steamers as decoratives, from the wall to the lights! The Hong Kong restaurant is certainly not as nice as this one.
Now let’s get down to the all-important question: Is the pork bun in Manila’s Tim Ho Wan the same as its Hong Kong counterpart? I’m happy to report that it is for the most part a big fat YES. If you are a fan of the Hong Kong pork bun then you will most likely love this duplicate made by Tim Ho Wan Manila. If you’ve never tried Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan (because of the line I presume) but have been wanting to then maybe you’ll consider braving the line locally to try it.
Truthfully speaking, people are raving about the pork bun for good reason. My Mother is a wee bit disappointed I didn’t take home any buns even when she texted me (an hour after we ate here, sorry Ma!) to buy a dozen. It’s the bun itself that carries the magic. Maybe the filling doesn’t taste exactly the same as Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong’s but the bread itself does. I’m not a huge fan of char siu-filled buns but even I have to admit that these buns are a different experience. I don’t know how they do it– thin, flaky, almost melt-in-your-mouth bread, enveloping perfectly seasoned char siu. It’s a pork bun like no other, and believe me when I say that I have eaten what claims to be “the better pork bun” from another restaurant and it is NOT AS GOOD.
If you listen to the franchiser Mr. Eric Dee (who by the way is also responsible for bringing Todd English Food Hall here) talk about the painstaking effort they take just to make sure these buns are the same as the Hong Kong version, you’d be impressed. To start, they don’t scrimp on the ingredients. They use only flour from Singapore, and even during the port congestion that happened just recently here in Manila, they had chefs hand-carry the flour just so their pork bun production would not stop. The char siu is made in-house. It takes 5 well-trained Hong Kong chefs to make 500 buns in an hour. In a day they sell 4000 buns at least. 4000!!
Unfortunately in our menu for today’s event one of my favourites from my Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong visit was not included, but that is not to say the other dishes fell short. (Well, apart from one dish anyway.) Dimsum is one of my favourite things in the world to eat, so in that sense it’s very easy to please me with anything from this food group. But I also know good dimsum when I eat them.
The Steamed Spinach and Shrimp Dumplings were so good! I love it when the shrimp pops in your mouth like the ones in these dumplings did, because that is a mark of how fat and juicy they are. It’s no surprise that Tim Ho Wan uses about 100 kilos of shrimp a day given that they really fill their dumplings up with the good stuff.
The Wasabi Salad Prawn Dumpling is a deep-fried pocket of shrimp in crunchy wrap, not surprisingly Gilbert’s favourite. We order something similar in our most-frequented discount dimsum place all the time, but of course this one is more special thanks to the wasabi sauce on top. The shrimp is similarly juicy and delicious. (I seriously can’t imagine dimsum sessions without shrimp.)
This Vermicelli Roll with Char Siu (others ate ones with pig’s liver inside) is probably the most filling of the food served to us thanks to the hoffan encasing the filling. It is drenched in a sweet and light soy-based sauce.
Meanwhile, the Beancurd Roll is your typical roll served with thick flavourful sauce.
I’ve eaten a ton of Pan-Fried Radish Cake in my life, enough to become super picky about it. Unfortunately this isn’t my favourite version at all even though it was pleasant enough with some chili sauce. They did it differently by using radish that has not been grated to fine bits leaving some bite-sized pieces in the cakes, but it was just okay for me.
Tim Ho Wan’s Steamed Egg Cake– better known to us Filipino-Chinese as the Malay-Ko– is probably the best version of the cake I have ever eaten. To be clear, I am not a fan of these types of Chinese steamed cakes, but this was really good. This one to me has some caramel notes but is not too sweet, making it such a delight.
Here’s the obligatory proof-of-eating photograph taken by the selfie-master. This was before we hopped across to our next destination on the food tour.
Check out that line behind us! At least there are chairs for the waiting.
Stop #2: Chez Karine
Squeezing in a little sweet treat in between main courses, we stopped by the bakery that is located right across Tim Ho Wan. I’ve wanted to try the macarons and puddings at Chez Karine since it first crossed my radar, but because I seldom go to Serendra I haven’t had the chance to. This branch is their second one, and it is as lovely though immensely bigger than their Serendra branch.
This is chef Karen Yang Chiang, mastermind behind Chez Karine, which happens to mean “At Karen’s Place” in French.
Chef Karen graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and interned for French macaron-master and Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé. Those credentials are insane. Studying pastry arts in Paris is a big deal in itself, but interning for Pierre Hermé!!! INSANE!!! (And before she became a pastry chef she graduated from Stanford University with a Computer Science degree. SAY WHAT.) It’s no wonder Chef Karen’s macarons are considered one of the- if not THE- best macarons in town.
It’s nice to be able to finally pay a visit to Chez Karine even though I didn’t get to try any of their now-iconic puddings, but I did get to try a bite-sized portion of their famous macarons. With ice cream in the middle. To be specific, Black Sesame macaron ice cream sandwiches.
Most black sesame desserts have this earthy inexplicable flavour I like (much like another favourite of mine which is matcha) and it was captured so nicely in this ice cream sandwich. It’s a flavour made especially for the Mid-Autumn season but they should make it a regular!
Being a huge fan of macaron ice cream sandwiches (anything macaron, really), my brother Jason would have loved these to death! Gilbert tried to prolong the experience of eating it as much as he could. (It was hard!)
Stop #3: Lugang Cafe
Ah Lugang. Whenever my family and I are in an SM mall and are too lazy to think about where to eat, we always end up in what is arguably the best Taiwanese contemporary restaurant in Manila. It’s no surprise that I have previously tasted all the dishes we were served this day apart from one. Well two, including the coffee.
Ms. Katrina Chua, Dining Operations Manager, came out to meet us when we arrived and she proceeded to explain to us what we were to expect from our food-sampling session for today.
Both the Kung Pao Tofu and 3-Cup Chicken have the same flavour profile thanks to the sticky sweet and slightly spicy sauce. These two dishes are staples for when my family and I dine here. They are definitely worth trying. I always enjoy eating the dried chillies a lot and that is not weird at all.
The Kimchi Xiao Long Bao is not new to me since I have tried them the last time I ate at Lugang. I still love traditional Xiao Long Bao the most, but this one is basically a fusion sort of dish that features the light hint of that preserved chilli flavour that is the identifying characteristic of kimchi. It’s light but unmistakable, made milder perhaps by the soup base inside the dumpling.
The Chopped Shrimp in Lettuce was nice and light. In general I like food wrapped in vegetables such as these and was pleased that the shrimp was flavourful enough not to merit any additional sauces. Also it was a refreshing palate-cleanser against the otherwise richer-flavoured foods in this offering.
I got to try Lugang’s Arabian coffee for the first time, made in this very cool contraption called a coffee syphon. First you add water in one of the chambers, then as the water heats up it fills up the glass chamber with the coffee beans. That’s where it brews for a bit and then the water gets sucked back into the other chamber with the tiny faucet. Ta-da! It creates a strong full-bodied two cups of coffee initially, but if you ask for more water to go another round the coffee is still good though not as tasty.
Finally we were ushered into the restaurant itself to eat. The Lugang Cafe here in Megamall is very posh and modern-looking, with crystals dangling from the ceiling reminiscent of something from the flapper era. It’s modern yet with an Asian vibe. This is the interior style of most Lugang branches around the metro.
We were taken to this long table in the inner part of the restaurant, where large glass windows formed walls overlooking the streets of Ortigas. Then, we were served with beautifully-plated generous sampler portions of each dish.
I practised so much restraint in the face of the abundance of food at Tim Ho Wan but I still ended up leaving full already. I was surprised I managed to polish off this whole plate any way.
Stop #4: Linguini Fini
This next restaurant is completely new to me, though I understand it’s originally from Hong Kong. (If I’m not mistaken, it’s been only open for three days when we visited.) First thing I need to get out in the open is just how freaking much I love the interior and ambiance of this place. At a glance it’s easy to tell this restaurant has the attitude of something that comes straight from New York. Similar to its Hong Kong counterpart, the owners had the walls designed by a local street artist. For Manila it was Dee Jae Paeste. The street art is what completes the look for me.
This table at the end of the restaurant is like a game night poker table straight from the movies. LOVE!
Every detail in the restaurant is well-thought out, down to the seats that are like recycled gasoline drums colourfully painted with the Linguini Fini logo.
There’s an open kitchen with overhead shelves stacked with ingredients of different colours. The effect is rather nice. I’m actually thinking of doing something similar for my future kitchen now.
Even their menu looks like a cookbook, with full colour and ginormous photographs that make the mouth water.
Italian-American Executive Chef Vinny Lauria came out to greet us and explain what Linguini Fini is all about.
What I find most interesting about this restaurant is their promise that all the food that comes out of their kitchen is 100% homemade. Everything from the sauces to the pickled vegetables to the pasta is made right in the kitchen. Their philosophy is also rooted in sustainability (they have their own farm) as well as going local. They adapt dishes using local ingredients but keep the Italian style of cooking alive and obvious with every dish they serve.
We ate only two things here, first the Pappardelle “Nose to Tail Bolo”. This dish applies Chef Vinny’s mantra to use up even the parts of the pork or ox that other restaurants throw away.
I only had a bite to sample it and the first thing I noted was how you can feel and taste the freshness of the pasta in your mouth. That and the party of rich meaty flavours in the bolognese sauce. It’s all right but I might’ve been too full to think about what I was eating by this time.
However the pizza was another matter entirely. A flavourful Longganisa Pizza with chili leaves and garlic oil.
Following their mantra of 100% homemade, Chef Vinny took the idea of longganisa, made his own version of the Filipino favourite, and used it as a pizza topping. (Yes the longganisa is the chef’s own creation too!) Eat it with their homemade pickled chilli (have I mentioned how much I love chilli?) and you’ve got yourself a real winner. I finished a small slice even despite the state of my full-tank tummy. The pickled chilli in my opinion makes it better by adding a tanginess to all that savoury goodness.
Stop #5: Mochicream Café
The moment I laid eyes on the food tour menu my heart immediately sang at the sight of the word ‘matcha’. Even after already getting a matcha latte (albeit not my best cup admittedly) that same morning I was still eager for another fix. There wasn’t just one matcha treat in store today but two! I was happily looking forward to it but ended up feeling rather 50-50.
Mochicream Café is a franchise from Japan, a small black-themed minimalist café with modern elements. Their primary product is mochi and they have an extensive selection of flavours, but they also have other desserts such as the mochido (mochi doughnut), tarts, coffee, and of course matcha drinks in hot or cold forms.
My attention immediately zoned in on the tins of DoMatcha they were selling. As far as I remember, when I started searching for authentic matcha powder that brand has been on my radar. I never knew they were selling it here. Pricey, but most definitely worth it as I will later tell you. Also I kind of feel better about the premium knowing this is the same matcha the Emperor of Japan cultivates in his royal farms. Mochicream Cafe uses this particular brand in all their matcha treats.
First up for the food wok is the Matcha Dacquoise, essentially their version of sansrival with matcha and meringue layers. It has matcha-flavoured thick cream in between that is the texture of yema or really thin mochi. It is also covered all over with almond flakes.
In theory I have every reason to love this dessert, but in the end it was a bit too sweet for me. It wasn’t even indulgent because it was a small sample portion and Gilbert and I even shared it, but apart from the fact that I was full to the brim it was so sweet I couldn’t finish it all. Me and my non-sweet-tooth woes really. But the others in our party gobbled it up.
Now the real story is in these Matcha Latte Espressos. I don’t think I’ve ever drank anything matcha that is as good as this! This was a revelation.
Just goes to show the huge huge difference a good authentic matcha powder can do to elevate even a drink as simple as this. It has one shot espresso in a matcha latte concoction. No wonder. Two of my favourite things rolled into one perfect cup! Can I drink this forever? Because I would!
Look at that happy face of mine. Don’t know if you can tell how much I wanted to down that in one big gulp and lick the glass.
Last stop: Kool Kids Craft Ice Cream Co.
We are down to our last stop, finally. My body would no longer accept what my mind was telling it, that it just had to hold on for one last treat and then we can go home. Regardless, we walked over to a kiosk located near the ice skating rink and there it was, an adorably geeky ice cream shop!
Mr. Miguel Aranaz, the brains behind this ice cream place, was kind enough to personally show us how their ice creams are made. The focus of Kool Kids is bringing forth the freshest ice cream only, thus the made-to-order nature of their ice cream. Of course since it isn’t really frozen it melts a lot sooner than regular ice cream.
As he made our ice cream, it was like watching a mad scientist-cum-witch with a cauldron, all that smoke and adding of ingredients and mixing. So awesome. Every time he poured in some liquid nitrogen everyone was gaping in awe. Maybe the only thing I found odd about liquid nitrogen “frozen” ice cream was its lack of that coldness, but it was amazingly creamy nonetheless.
Mr. Miguel made a bunch of ice creams for us that were not in the food itinerary for that day and we all appreciated it a great deal. Unfortunately not many of us ventured for more than a few bites. I just had a taste of the Red Bean ice cream with Salted Egg Foam. I loved how the salty flavour on top balanced out the sweet red bean paste-infused ice cream at the bottom. Mr. Miguel refers to it as a sorbet more than an ice cream really.
Even though I was darn close to a food coma, I still waited for the Liquid Nitrogen Mooncake-Inspired Ice Cream he promised, just out of curiosity. I took a bite and was rightly impressed. It tastes exactly like mooncake in ice cream form minus the teeth-grating sweetness that comes after eating real mooncake. I’m not a fan of mooncake at all, but I can be a fan of this ice cream. Really. This was a reverse engineering success!
To help us ease out of food coma status he also made us some Yuzu Ice Cream, which I forgot to photograph. Oops. Japanese flavours are really the bomb aren’t they? This was so refreshingly citrusy and indeed a palate cleanser after this whole four-hour plus food tour.
It was such a pleasure to get to join this event– my first ever walking food tour organized by one of the bloggers I admire and trust. Then there’s getting to meet fellow food bloggers, getting to eat good food. I’d be crazy not to say I hope there’s a next time. And a next time, and a next time…
Thanks to SM Megamall and Jin for having us! 🙂
Full disclosure: Although I was invited by SM Megamall to this event, all the opinions stated above are my own, as usual.