Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sunday Brunch at Food Exchange @ Novotel Manila

With only a vague impression from the sparsely available reviews on the internet, I and my classmates tried out the relatively new Food Exchange Sunday Brunch of Novotel Manila last May 1, 2016.

From first impressions, the lobby and receiving areas of the hotel were bright, modern and contemporary.  

The dining area of the Food Exchange was decorated with colorful and vibrant local themed murals.  You will appreciate that the tables are spaced well apart providing some semblance of privacy.  The ambiance definitely suggests a good venue for get-togethers.

I usually make a beeline for the Chinese and Japanese stations, my all time favorite cuisines.  Their Japanese station did not offer tempura but the quality of the other items made up for it.  The tuna sashimi and Tobiko (roe) sushi were the clear standouts for me. I also liked that the sashimi were sliced to order.

I also enjoyed the cold and salad station which was surprisingly well stocked. I enjoyed the smoked salmon and shrimp cocktail.  Unlike the boiled shrimp in other buffets, Food Exchange’s shrimp cocktail were umami, juicy and plump.  It was a healthier substitute for deep fried tempura.

I tried a couple of the thin crust pizza, a pepperoni and a mushroom.  Both were okay.  Not fantastic but not bad either.  The Italian station was also a bit average.  Black pasta cooked in sage butter sauce was suggested but it tasted quite pedestrian.  The steak was too well done and tough.  When the steak got refilled, it turned out to be too rare for my taste.  Only the baked Sea Bream made me go back for seconds.  The baked fish was juicy and paired beautifully with the white sauce.  The paella and meat loaf were also tasty but the red lighting was a turn off.  It was reminiscent of red lighting used by wet market vendors to mask the real quality of meat.  Good food when made fresh and prepared with care can stand on its own. 

The grill station offered prawns, oysters, clams, a fish fillet (forgot the variant) and pork chops to be grilled, boiled, baked with cheese and fried in butter.  I was hoping for stir fried with tausi or white wine reduction as both are good for clams but only the four abovementioned cooking options were offered.  We tried the grilled prawns and oyster baked with cheese.  Both were okay.  A classmate tried the grilled pork chop but the thin slices made the meat shrink significantly, looking quite anemic.  Another classmate tried the grilled fish and swore that it was really good.

The other reviews left good memories of the Indian station. I am impartial to Indian cuisine.  I like my curries spicy and enjoy the fragrant spices used.  However, Indian cuisine is not my favorite and my exposure to it is limited.  Nevertheless, I munch on with my fork and an open mind.  The grilled prawn was quite good, along with the fish biryani.  The biryani was fluffy and aromatic, clearly a standout.  Previous reviews quipped that the resident Indian chef was a plus factor.  I begged to differ.  I am not sure if it’s because of the language barrier but the Indian chef could have made a greater impact.  When your station is virtually deserted and you see two confused looking dudes looking at your spread, the chef could have done more than just give out a sauce dish because we were looking at the mango chutney.  I’m sure the Indian station had a lot more exciting offerings but there is only so much you can do by blindly experimenting on your own.

The Chinese station was disappointing.  Roast duck was chewy.  The spicy fish fillet was swimming in oil and tasted bland.  I asked if dimsum was available but apparently only siopao was available.  By that time, I’ve already lost interest in that station.  The Chinese station could have disappeared and no one would have noticed.  I would say the same for the ketchup and sauces section.  Sure, it’s a novel idea but there isn’t much food to be dipped in ketchup to begin with.  I tried the ketchup, the roasted pepper and thai chili sauce for the sake of trying.  All three were mediocre, not deserving of an entire station.            

There are other prepared dishes such as Osso bucco, pepper beef, stir fried seafood, rosemary chicken and etc.  It was a mixture of good and average.  No clear standouts.  There was a also a cheese and cured meat chiller but some of the meat was already starting to have freezer burn.

Dessert is where the buffet shined.  They didn’t have a magnificently arranged dessert spread (chocolate fondue machine was displayed but not working) but it was finely curated.  The list is quite extensive and very varied. They had a halo halo station, crepe station, local kakanins, fresh fruit, prepared cakes and pies and ice cream.  I immensely enjoyed their Capuccino ice cream and Calamansi sorbet.  There was even Guyabano sorbet, but alas I was too full to try.  The dessert station was wonderful in the sense that there is always something new to try and didn’t disappoint each time.  I’m not even a dessert person but Food Exchange’s dessert selection was delightful.

Food Exchange did not have an extensive beverage spread but I liked that it was part of the buffet and the selection of iced teas and juices was appropriate.  I also appreciate that they had a selection of coffee (cappuccino and latte) and teas (Bavarian mint, green, chamomile and earl grey. 

Service was another area where Food Exchange stood out.  Service was friendly, cheerful and attentive.  When I stood up to get more food, my used plates magically disappeared.  Not only that, service was smart enough to leave the sauce dish and chopsticks behind.  Don’t you hate it when you stand up to get more sushi, only to find out that they already taken away your sauce dish. 

Overall, Sunday brunch at the Food Exchange was good.  The buffet had its strong and weak points.  It has all the essential ingredients to be great but lacks the execution to lift it to the next level.  I hope that the spread can live up to its classy ambiance and superior service.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Backpacking Transportation to Boracay

Every time I travel to Boracay, I always seem to ask the same questions I'm faced with on each trip.  So I ended up researching the same few issues again and again.  So I figured I might as well write my own post on it to save time on the future.

Travelling to Boracay has become so familiar that I usually opt for the backpacking route.  So here are the what you need to know when you want to get to Boracay, the kuripot way.


Option 1 - NAIA Airport Shuttle

For local trips, I usually end up taking Cebu Pacific because it's cheaper.  To go to Terminal 3, there is an airport shuttle in Pasay Rotonda.  It is usually parked inside the terminal on the side of the south bound MRT Station.  The bus is painted white and has no visible markings.  Just ask the conductor/driver if its the airport shuttle.  Fare is fixed at 20 pesos (as of July 24, 2014).  It leaves every hour from 6:00 am - 11:00 pm.  From Pasay Rotonda, it heads to the arrival section (ground floor) of Terminal 3.  You will need to leave at least 3 hrs from departure time as it takes the bus some time to be full before it leaves.  There also might be heavy traffic.

Option 2 -  Nichols Jeepney or Tricycle

If you do have a very early morning flight, the shuttle bus won't be a viable option.  Alternately you can take either Public Utility Jeeps plying the "Nichols" route or Tricycles.  Both will drop you off at the curb right at the mouth of the arrival section of the airport. You will have to walk around 3 -5 minutes to the airport gate. For the tricycle, if you are alone, they charge 50 pesos for the special trip or 8 pesos if you wait for the vehicle to become full


Getting to Caticlan Jetty Port

You have either flown to Kalibo or Caticlan to get to Boracay. So here are the directions for both Airports.

Kalibo Airport -  Flights are generally cheaper to Kalibo but it is around 2 hours away from the Jetty Port.  Upon arriving at the airport, you have the option of either taking a van or a bus.  The van generally cost 150 pesos per person. The vehicles parked just outside the terminal seems to be cheaper.  The van option will be a little tight but will be faster to leave.  The tourist bus is run by Southwest Tours and cost 200 pesos.  It is spacious but takes some time to get filled. The bus also has one stop.

Caticlan Airport - Upon arriving, if there are 3 - 4 of you, it is better to take the Tricycle right across the arrival exit of airport. It cost 50 pesos fixed, for a capacity of 4 persons. But if you are alone or want to save money, you can actually walk to the jetty port. It is around 10 minutes away by walking.  Upon exiting the arrival door, walk to your left and exit the airport compound.  From the airport gate, walk to the right until you reach a busy intersection, I forgot the name of the hardware store but you won't be able to miss the intersection. There are also signs pointing to the left for the Jetty Port.  Upon reaching the intersection, cross the street and walk towards the jetty port.


This is very straightforward.  Boats depart for Boracay from 6 am - 7 pm.  Here are the breakdown of fees

Terminal Fee -         100
Environmental Fee -   75
Outrigger Boat Fee-   25
Total                        200 pesos

The boat ride is only roughly 10 - 15 minutes.

Cagban Port / Boracay Island

Upon arriving at Cagban Port, you can either take the tricycle parked inside the port or outside the gate near the gas station.  Do not take the mini cab as it costs 300 pesos.  If you take the tricycle inside the port, most likely they will take you for a tourist and charge you a fixed 100 pesos per trip.  If you are alone, it is better to go outside and flag a passing or waiting tricycle for a minimum of 10 - 20 pesos depending on distance.  A special trip or a trip wherein you are reserving the whole vehicle for the duration of trip is 100 pesos.

A special trip to Puka Beach will cost you 150 pesos fixed per trip.  Some of the tricycle drivers have a tendency to rip off tourist so beware of the going costs and ask the resort or front desk for current rates.


On the return trip, the tricycle cost is the same as arrival.  Either take a special trip for 100 pesos or 20 pesos to the port if you are the sharing the vehicle.  The cost of the return jetty port trip is 125 pesos (100 pesos terminal fee and 25 pesos boat ride)

Upon arriving at the Caticlan Jetty Port, if you are heading to Kalibo Airport, vans are waiting and cost around 100 - 150 pesos, Southwest bus cost 200 pesos.  If you are heading to Caticlan Airport, tricyle cost 50 pesos fixed, or you can walk to the airport.

Kalibo Airport and Caticlan Airport both charge 200 pesos for the Terminal Fee.  Upon Arriving in NAIA Terminal 3, you can take the same Airport shuttle waiting at the farthest right side of the driveway of the arrival hall.

Bon Voyage.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Surot in One Tagaytay Place

I’m recounting my encounters with “Surots” at Room 511 of One Tagaytay Place to let the management realize the gravity of this event.  There is no compensation for a ruined weekend and going through a sleepless night feeling paranoid that “Surots” will come crawling again.

I have previously stayed at One Tagaytay Place before around 3 years ago and had a satisfactory experience.  So when a friend graciously invited me to spend the night using his vouchers, I accepted his invitation.  Along with 5 friends and a 2 year old baby, we drove to One Tagaytay Place on the afternoon of August 24, 2013.  Check-in was uneventful.  We had two vouchers for two rooms on double occupancy, hence requested for two additional beds.  Everything seemed to be going well.  We retired at around 1 AM.  

Not actual picture, but so readers can
compare with the insect in the
At around 2:30 AM, I woke up with an itchy sensation on my finger.  I tried to go back to sleep and ignore my itchy finger but I started to itch all over.  I went to the bathroom for a closer look at my finger which now had a swollen bump similar to an insect bite.  I also had bumps on my nape.  I decided to check my bed for an insect and was shocked to see what appeared to be a “Surot”.  Using the hotel WIFI, we confirmed that these insects were indeed “Surot”, commonly found in crowded and unclean beds but should NEVER be seen in hotels such as One Tagaytay Place (video attached  Crawling Surot One Tagaytay Place ).

I killed the insect with my fingernail which excreted blood.  So I woke my two other friends and was horrified to see multiple blood engorged “Surot” crawling on the other bed (attached video Surot and Bloodstains in One Tagaytay Place).

I called up the front desk to report the problem.  After around 10 minutes, a housekeeping crew knocked and transferred us to the room across.  By that time it was already around 3 am, I tried to go to sleep but sleep didn’t come until around 5 am as I still felt very itchy all over.  I also worried that the bed also had more “Surots” in it.

After breakfast, we talked to the GM who expressed disbelief at the occurrence and mentioned that this was the first time that “Surot” was being reported.  He was nice enough and promised to look into the matter.  He also mentioned about waiving our incidental charges and “titingnan nya kung paano sya makakabawi for the inconvenience.”  The GM also mentioned that “Surots” may hitch a ride in bags.  We talked to the GM again inside the room and showed him the dead insects of which the GM replied that it was too big to be “Surot” and that “Surot” are invisible to the naked eye (are you kidding me?!). Around 30 minutes later, my friend, who owned the vouchers, talked to the GM who mentioned that he will waive the room charges.

So it was to my classmate’s surprise that during the checkout, the receptionist asked him how we would like to settle the room charges, cash or credit card?!  My classmate retorted that their GM had already mentioned waiving the room charges.  The receptionist, without further instruction from anyone, immediately replied by saying we had two options either to waive the 2 extra pax charge of 2.4K Pesos or the return of the vouchers.  If management was really sincere about assuaging our discomforts, then why would the receptionist go through with the farce of asking how we would like to settle the room charges?  We chose the first option as we had no intentions of returning to One Tagaytay Place.  To make it worse, when we were leaving, the receptionist asked my friend if we came from out of the country.  This last comment made us feel as if they are insinuating that we may have carried the “Surots” into the hotel.

The six of us are a group of businessmen and professionals and know that unexpected incidents do happen during the course of any enterprise.  Having guests being bitten in two Surot infested hotel beds should have sent the management of One Tagaytay Place scampering into full alert instead of this underwhelming response and insulting farce at the checkout desk.

We would have chosen the offered options without any further comments and would have let this matter pass.  BUT the receptionist’s dishonest ruse of asking us the manner of payment right on the onset convinced us that management is half hearted with dealing with the incident.  We are a group of reasonable travelers and the management of One Tagaytay Place had their chance last Sunday to quietly close this matter but the final deceptive act during the checkout left us with an itching responsibility to let the travelling public know about this experience.  To the owners and management of One Tagaytay Place, please clean up your act and please please CLEAN YOUR SUROT INFESTED BEDS!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Preservation of the Hookien Culture

In the Philippines, when people typically meet new Chinese friends, they tend to ask the same few questions.  One of which is "Why do the Chinese only marry their own race?"  I've been asked this same question several times and would usually give a decrepit response without giving much thought.

Traditional Glutinous Rice also known as Tikoy   
Due to circumstances, I’ve stayed home to help out my mom and consequently spend a lot more time with her.  Like the general Chinese culture, the Hookien or Fujian Chinese culture is ingrained with a lot of traditions, an amalgamation of ancestor worship, peasant practices, Taoist and Buddhist festivals.  Most of the customs aim to protect and prolong the family line.  Similar to the Hookien dialect, the practice of such traditions are done through word of mouth and are never taught in school.  Most of the traditions I know, I learned by observing how my mom did it. 

This brings us back to the question, “Why do Chinese parents prefer Chinese partners for their children?” I don’t think it’s a racial thing but rather a collective effort to preserve a cultural heritage.  Traditionally, sons are expected to learn how to earn a livelihood while daughters are expected to practice and preserve family traditions.  In a way, marrying a non-Chinese bride threatens a way of life and a cultural heritage preserved through the centuries. 

Both of my sisters in law are non-Chinese and are clueless about most Hookien practices and will probably remain to be so.  Since I’m the one usually home, it falls unto me to help my mom prepare for festivals.  A cultural heritage ultimately defines a person’s identity.  It would be such a pity if centuries of traditions just die out.  I do hope that regardless of gender, more Hookien Chinese would learn and preserve their culture.

Friday, January 25, 2013

New Year, new reasons to write

I have since taken a hiatus from updating my blog.  But a friend encouraged me to take it up again, so here I am.  My primary reason for starting a blog then was to air my distaste at the underhanded way that Dusit Hotel Manila managed its promotional vouchers sold through Cashcashpinoy.com.  It highlighted the fact that even though honesty is the best policy, even the largest names in the business community have chosen not to do so.  Merchants approach voucher websites primarily because they want to promote their products and services.  As a business graduate and an entrepreneur, I know that honesty and good value is the only way to build a loyal customer base.  Unfortunately, by shortchanging and sugarcoating lame deals, merchants and voucher websites achieve the exact opposite.

I do believe that good value without the hefty price tag can still be found in the Metro.  So for the New Year, I would try to write more about finding good eats in the City.  I still purchase voucher deals now and then, but not from Cashcashpinoy.com.  One of the common problems I encounter is the lack of solid and reliable reviews about certain merchants.  I would try my best to write about every deal that I try as a way of paying it forward to other blog writers who took the time to write an honest review.

So thank you and stay tune.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Guarantees from Cashcashpinoy

This is a follow-up to my Dusit Basix/Cashcashpinoy experience. In the process of trying to figure out what my legal rights with regards to these vouchers, it starts to dawn on me that buying from Cashcashpinoy is the same as playing Russian roulette. It may seem a good deal in paper but you are actually gambling. I asked Cashcashpinoy what steps are they doing to protect their consumers and here is what they wrote back:

"CashCashPinoy.com cannot process and grant requests for refunds and/or exchange of goods and/or services. Once the User finalizes the purchase process by checking out, the sale is considered perfected. . . . . . . Any controversy, dispute/s and/or claim/s for refund/s and/or exchange of purchased items which may either be good/s and/or service/s shall be addressed and resolved by the specific Merchant from whom the User purchased the good/s and/or service/s. "

So right from the start, consumers are not protected by the party that brokered the deal, Cashcashpinoy. The most that Cashcashpinoy will do is forward complaints. If you have issues, then you are on own. Imagine if its an isolated case and you are dealing with a large company, good luck getting a feedback, let alone a refund.

Be forewarned as well that Cashcashpinoy has no listed telephone number, a simple prerequisite for most trustworthy businesses. Metrodeal is another website that doesn't have a number.

At this stage when competition is fierce, it is prudent for group buying websites to protect their consumers. Groupon has gone as far as promising a full refund if you are unhappy with a purchase. So be forewarned when buying from Cashcashpinoy. ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Letter to Cashcashpinoy

I'm writing on behalf of my friends, whom I dined with at Dusit Basix Dinner Buffet last August 5, 2011. I was able to convince both of them to purchase the vouchers because of the inclusion of free-flowing wine/beer in the beverage choices.

However on the day itself, when I asked for wine/beer from a lady attendant, she said that wine/beer is no longer included in the beverage choices for voucher holders while it was obviously being served to other guests. When my friends arrived, they asked from another lady attendant why wine/beer was no longer included. That was when she agreed to give us a single round of wine. They never offered to refill the glasses even though we were sitting right beside a table where they were religiously refilling the glasses. If it was self-service, they didn't mention it nor was wine/beer visible in the beverage station. If we weren't being inquisitive, we wouldn't even have received the single round of wine.

The buffet spread was also very limited. There was no oysters, no dimsum or peking duck , or sashimi as advertised. I understand buffet spreads varies, but for them to replace popular choices with a Lumpiang Ubod station simply baffles me. Dusit Basix Buffet is the only hotel buffet in Metro Manila that doesn't have a Chinese station, a Japanese station without sashimi and a Lumpiang Ubod station which no one ate from. If Dusit Thani Hotel hoped to advertise Basix Buffet, they certainly succeeded. It is as the name implies, it is VERY BASIC. Please check your expectations at the door because you will just be disappointed. Sorry on being harsh, but this experience has totally ruined my impression of this grand dame of a hotel.

As for Cashcashpinoy, when we purchase from/recommend your website, we are also purchasing a promise from you to deliver on the terms advertised. You simply cannot ask us to renegotiate the terms of the voucher each time we face the merchants themselves. I'm a businessman as well and i understand the growing pains in business. The moment we recommend your website, we put our reputations on the line as well. I have assured friends and family that as long you read the terms and conditions, they will be fine. But based on this experience, apparently it is no longer true.

Whether it is a shortcoming of Dusit or Cashcashpinoy, I am simply disappointed with this experience. The voucher business is based on trust. Without it, I'm not sure I will purchase from nor recommend your website in the future.