MANILA, APRIL 25, 2006 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes - Manila’s latest themed restaurant is a yearlong, all-weather affair. While there are just two sea-sons in the Philippines – wet and dry – here you can choose to dine in either summer or winter depending on your mood. And yes, the food is no seasonal thing. Whatever day of the year it is, be it a hot, summer day, a rainy day in cool September, or even a gray November, there is something to please the most demanding palates.

The new Seasons at the Manila Pavilion Hotel is a radical departure from the old Café Coquilla. What used to be a casual coffee shop decked with touches of Filipiniana is now a modern bistro complete with open kitchens where chefs may be seen busily preparing freshly cooked meals for guests.

Chef Nick Anderson, Waterfront Hotels and Casinos F&B group production head, says the change completes the series of F&B upgrades at the Waterfront properties in Cebu, Davao, and Manila. All coffee shops at the properties, Uno in Lahug and Mactan in Cebu City and in Davao City, and Seasons in Manila, now follow a similar vision and design theme.

"What we wanted to do was modernize our coffee shops, and we wanted to make the dining experience a more interactive one," Anderson explains. "That’s why we have brought out our chefs, so that the guests can see them actually preparing their orders."

The open kitchen setup is now the popular restaurant setup for many hotels in Metro Manila. Rather than keep the kitchen crew inside to cook orders, they are now brought out into the restaurant where they can prepare meals in front of guests. This allows chefs and diners to interact; chefs can advise diners on possible ways of cooking a certain order, while guests can give their own personal preferences.

"People are tired of chafing dishes where everything is served at the same time," he explains. "What we offer here is value-for-money service. If they see a chef cooking something, they will most certainly be encouraged to try something."

The Seasons lunch and dinner buffet is a steal at P850+++. Daily features of the spread include: two carvings, with rotisserie chicken a daily feature; a pasta and noodle station where guests have the option of traditional Italian dishes and Asian noodle soups; a selection of grilling meats; paella; handmade thin-crust pizza; a sushi and sashimi section; fresh oysters and seafood; a salad bar; three soup choices daily (one international, one Asian, and one Filipino); a selection of dim sum; a crepe station; a halo-halo counter; and the Waterfront’s popular doughnuts with a choice of dessert sauces and toppings. What changes daily are the hot items, and some of the cold appetizers. And since chef Nick has devised a six-day cycle for the Seasons buffet, guests who drop by the coffee shop just once a week will never see the same choices until after six weeks.

The oysters are sourced locally, but are purified before being served at the buffet. Complementary seafood is served with them; on our visit, it was steamed prawns.

At many stations, food cooked by the chefs during the meal service is available for those who cannot wait. There is always a selection of pasta and grilled meats that guests can choose from if they are in a hurry. Of course, those who want a little something extra can always ask the chefs to cook them something fresh from the pan.

For breakfast, the buffet setup is retained; however, the different stations offer different selections from the lunch and dinner menu. For one, the grill station serves a selection of sausages for grilling.

"The dessert section was intentionally placed near the door, so that diners will be enticed to come in when they see the colorful selection of fruits at the counter," says Anderson. "When they see something fresh and colorful near the door, that will surely make them come in."

At the rear of the dessert station is a display case of mini cakes – carrot, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, crème brulée, and more. One can only admire the painstaking effort put in the hotel’s pastry team in creating these mini dessert wonders. There are three large creative cakes on display; everything else has been miniaturized into these solo portions.

The reason? "People want to show that they are eating healthy, so they just have these little cakes," he explains. "But they have many little cakes."

Anderson says the new Seasons follows a standard that is consistent with all the other coffee shops in the Waterfront chain.

"Guests to any of our properties are assured of consistency in our offerings," he says. "We understand that during a guest’s stay at the hotel, he will pass by the coffee shop. Many business travelers do not really put a priority on where they stay because their companies make the booking for them. That’s why we must present them with our best here."

Seasons seats 170 guests. It has a function room available for large groups and special occasions, such as birthday parties and informal meetings, as well as a separate smoking room, which is called Winter. Should the coffee shop be packed to capacity, guests may be accommodated at Boulvar, the hotel lobby lounge, which is just next door to Seasons.

Manila Pavilion regulars will easily spot the changes at Seasons. The entrance has an impressive wooden treatment that is repeated on a wall of the restaurant. A row of bubble chandeliers add a touch of whimsy over a group of tables. An elevated dining area, which is called Summer, has a view of a water treatment. On another wall, frames of colors amplify the seasonal theme in the restaurant. The smoking section, Winter, that is closed in by glass doors is brightly lit. Fancy chandeliers that look like giant snowflakes hang over the tables here.

While Seasons offers a full menu of meals and buffet spreads for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, its menu doesn’t conflict with those served in the hotel’s different F&B outlets. The Patisserie offers quick meals of sandwiches and pasta, while Boulvar has a menu of pica-pica and some meals. Those looking for Chinese will enjoy the dim sum at the Seasons buffet; but for the complete treatment, they should head on to Peony Garden at the third floor. The Rotisserie, which will soon be renovated, offers steaks and other grills.

Seasons completes the new look of the Manila Pavilion Hotel following the property’s acquisition by the Waterfront Hotels and Casinos group. With a spanking new lobby, as well as renovations of the Patisserie and the Boulvar lobby lounge, the hotel can now put its best foot forward for its select clientele. * * * Seasons is located at the ground floor of Manila Pavilion Hotel, at the corner of United Nations Ave. and Maria Orosa St., Ermita, Manila. It is open from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight. For inquiries, call 526-1212.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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