An Epicurean's Guide to Intramuros City
Dating from 1590, Intramuros was the centre of commerce and education, the seat of power and religion, and the haven of Filipino and Spanish elites during the colonial period. Built to serve as the country’s capital, Intramuros was fortified with walls, bastions, bulwarks, and other medieval defense structures. The city stood the tests of time, survived earthquakes and wars, and preserved the cultures of the country’s colonisers.
Besides its cobble-stoned roads, colonial-styled houses and baroque churches, Intramuros’ rich history is evident in the restaurants inside it that remained true to Filipino heritage cuisine. Philippine Tatler Dining tours around Intramuros to name the restaurants that not only give the taste of Filipino heritage but also show the country’s renowned artistry and colourful tradition.
Plaza San Luis
A lot of alleys and corners in Intramuros show a glimpse of the country’s past but it is only the Plaza San Luis complex and the establishments within it that intensely lure one back in time. The streets of Real and General Luna and the magnificent Baroque-styled San Agustin Church add nostalgia to the Plaza San Luis Complex that is home to the Casa Manila museum (a re-creation of a 19th-century Filipino mansion), White Knight Hotel, and the popular Barbara’s heritage restaurant.
Owned by Barbara Gordon-Delos Reyes, this heritage restaurant has been entertaining local and foreign guests for more than 20 years now. Driven by her passion for Filipino cuisine and her family’s upbringing, Delos Reyes made a restaurant out of a restructured 19th-century bahay na bato. Barbara’s offers a conglomeration of cultures as it serves Filipino dishes with Spanish, Indian, and Chinese influences. The Seafood Amelie, Pastel de Lengua, Roast Beef, and Turon are just some of the dishes that made Barbara’s a culinary landmark in Intramuros. Together with its ambience and the cultural shows entitled Kultura Filipina every night, Barbara’s is distinct from other restaurants in Intramuros. “Several foreigners have said to me, ‘Barbara, I love you,’ and it affects me because I see it as a sincere gesture. What makes Barbara’s distinct is the food, the ambience, and the conversations that make us connected,” Delos Reyes said.
Not far from Barbara’s is the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines (CBCP) building, whose ground floor houses Ristorante Delle Mitre. Owned by Elvira Go, the famed restaurant was originally a café and only for the bishops and clergymen. But soon thereafter, the Ristorante Delle Mitre grew and opened to the public, serving the favourite dishes of bishops and cardinals like Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s silvanas and Bishop Joel Baylon’s tilapia strips with soy sauce. Besides the unique menu of Filipino cuisine, religious décor like saints, photos of bishops, and displays of their headdresses and cassocks, and the indulgent pastries and cakes, Mitre’s cause for the youth is what makes it a unique heritage restaurant. Some of its employees are disabled and some are enrolled in schools. “I want them to feel that they are being taken care of. I have to make them feel they are part of this growth,” Go said.
South of the same street as the Plaza San Luis Complex is the Ilustrado restaurant. Built in the former location of the original Lourdes church, Ilustrado has been serving tourists and locals, including foreign royalties and dignitaries, for 25 years now. Its main dining room is adorned with authentic Philippine hardwood furniture, colonial ceiling fans, and chandeliers. Founded by Boni and Rose Pimentel, Ilustrado provides quality service and dishes that make you feel like a part of an ilustrado family, a term used to refer to the elite of the Spanish regime, characterised by being able to study abroad. Ilustrado takes pride in its Paella Ilustrado, the annatto oil-flavoured version of the paella Valenciana, Adobong Bagnet with Prawns and Oyster, and Sampaguita Ice Cream, with the national flower as its primary ingredient. “We want our food to be one of the reasons for tourists to visit Intramuros — immerse themselves in our rich and diverse cultures and history and end it with a nice, relaxing, ambient meal in Ilustrado,” general manager Bea Pimentel-Aquino said. Ilustrado also houses the Silahis Arts and Artifacts, an antique shop that offers oriental antiques and furniture, Philippine handicrafts, and other Filipiniana collections.
Straight ahead from Ilustrado is Muralla Street, the circumferential border of Intramuros. The bullet holes in these walls along Muralla are reminders of a grim episode in the city’s history. Today, some parts of the walls are used as storage areas of calesas and carrosas that are used to parade images of saints every fiesta or holy week. Computer shops and eateries offering student budget meals occupy the side of the wall near the Anda Street gate, particularly the stretch of Muralla that houses the universities and schools.
The gate next to Anda’s opens up to Victoria Street, where the towering Bayleaf Hotel stands. The hotel, owned by the Laurel family, is the only modern boutique hotel in Intramuros. The nine-storey hotel has 57 well-appointed rooms, five function rooms, a 300-capacity scenic ballroom, and four food and beverage outlets — 9 Spoons, Sky Deck View Bar, Cioccolata Churros Café, and Raffaele Woodfired Pizza. Despite its modern interiors, 9 Spoons and Sky Deck View Bar never fail diners in showcasing Filipino heritage cuisine. Cioccolata Churros Café offers traditional Spanish pastries combined with local cacao and caramel creations. The recently opened Raffaele is a chic Italian restaurant and wine bar that is strategically located on the third floor of the hotel, giving guests a parallel view of the Baluarte de Dilao, Philippine Post Office, National Library, and the Manila City Hall. “When we talk of views in Intramuros, our restaurants are unbeatable. The panoramic windows on the 9th and 360-degree view at the alfresco roofdeck provide a majestic view of Metro Manila with the Intramuros Golf course serving as the foreground,” general manager Ed Vitug said.
Through the heirloom recipes, intricate interior designs, and lively Filipino traditional entertainment, these restaurants not only keep the Filipino heritage intact but also let the world get a taste of it.