SM Aura Premier is the mall almost everyone wants to check out. Many of its restaurants are the first of their kind, so gourmands can cherry-pick their favorites.
Shine Bakery & Café
One can’t be faulted for thinking that Shine Bakery & Café, run by cooking couple Rob and Sunshine Pengson, serves only dessert. The pretty interiors and the dessert showcase are visible through the plate-glass windows.
But it’s more than that, because it also serves comfort food such as sardines and perfectly cooked egg served on top of fried rice—although this one consists of the fiber-rich red, brown and black variety. There’s also chicken adobo and salpicao (beef strips) topped with a lobe of decadent foie gras.
Shine borrows elements from the couple’s upscale dining place The Goose Station but Rob describes Shine as a “playful, more casual” take.
For dessert, or for any part of the day, have a bite of the chunky bread pudding served with a scoop of ice cream, which is made for sharing.
Since opening in December last year, Paul has been winning raves from fans familiar with the boulangerie from their travels abroad, as well as first-time visitors. This chain of bakeries and cafés was established in northern France in 1889 and specializes in breads, crepes, sandwiches, macarons, cakes and sundry pastries.
We sampled its excellent strawberry tart topped with halved berries, and a velvety custard cream filling that’s not too sweet.
We also tried a savory meat sandwich, a quarter of a roast chicken, and a mushroom-and-chicken dip that was served with sliced baguette. The dip was the most popular that afternoon; it was shared by others at our table.
The first thing one notices at Bono Gelato is the lack of display showcases. Customers can still ask for samples of flavors like Taho, Cereal Milk or Browned Butter Pecan, but the staff will reach into opaque containers hidden behind the counter.
“We don’t expose our gelato because it hastens spoilage,” says Rhea Gomez, one of several owners of the artisanal gelato brand that now has four branches in various SM Malls.
She says the brand’s team took three months to learn “the science of gelato” in Italy. Upon returning, the team began dreaming up new flavors, including a limited-edition Valentine gelato dubbed Strawberries and Prosecco.
Since Bono Gelato is wholly owned, its incorporators can decide for themselves, like dropping flavors that don’t sell much, or introduce new flavors on a regular basis.
“We originally considered just bringing in a franchise but we wanted to come up with our own flavors following the gelato techniques we learned in Italy,” says Gomez.
Before the end of the year, she and her partners plan to open three more Bono Gelato branches.
Like the early Saisaki, Ogetsu Hime is an a la carte only restaurant specializing in sushi rolls, sukiyaki and teppanyaki.
VJ Villavicencio is in charge of the menu. With the company’s longtime Japanese chef Isao Takada, Villavicencio has come up with half a dozen sushi rolls that are different from the traditional rolls his father Vicvic included on the menu.
VJ is particularly proud of the quality of the meat. It carries the world-famous Matsusaka beef of Japan as well as US Wagyu, Ogetsu Prime Rib Eye, US Rib Eye and US Tenderloin.
He recommends beef teppanyaki cooked medium rare with little or no sauce at all, just salt and pepper.
“Sukiyaki is a celebratory dish,” he says. “Unlike other restaurants that serve everything—beef, vegetables, mushrooms and raw egg—at once, we serve the beef first after it has been poached in a broth.”
Andale by Agave
The al fresco setting, designer lighting, warm hues, comfortable seating and a good-sized bar for mingling create an appealing ambience for diners and drinkers.
Classic Mexican Nachos, Beef Taquitos, Shrimp Chile Rellenos and Calamari Fritos will tickle your palate, especially when paired with a glass of Margarita (in strawberry, melon, mango, coco lychee flavors) or Mojitos.
The famed burritos are served in three styles: classic, toasted or naked (prepared in a bowl without the tortilla). Whatever you choose, the soft tortilla stuffed with beans, Mexican red rice, sour cream, cheese, fresh lettuce, pico de gallo and grilled chicken will fill you up just fine.
Manager Paul William Palo also suggests other bestsellers: Quesadillas, Chimichingas and Tacos.
This Vietnamese restaurant has a warm, cozy atmosphere with a spacious dining area, comfy seats, built-in couches and Asian-inspired decor.
Le Family serves authentic Vietnamese dishes. The kitchen is manned by Vietnamese chef Lai Thi Thao, assisted by other Vietnamese cooks.
Start off with Fresh Spring Rolls with pork, shrimp and vermicelli rolled in rice paper and served with peanut sauce. A good alternative is Deep-Fried Bean Curd with Lemongrass and Pomelo Salad with Minced Pork and Shrimp.
The main course will have to be Fried Baby Squids in Chili Oil (the spiciness adds depth and kick to the richness of the squids).
No Vietnamese meal is complete without a bowl of piping hot pho. Yes, the star of the menu is pho (noodles), which are generally made from rice. They are tasty and truly filling, like the Beef Soup packed with beef tenderloin, brisket, flank and meatballs.
The interiors are stark with huge glass and mirror accents. The room elegantly blends traditional Taiwanese and contemporary design, with vast chandeliers, modern chairs and stylish lighting.
Lugang Café serves fine Taiwanese cuisine using high-quality ingredients. Begin your adventure with Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao (eight pieces per serving), with its delicate thin wrapper and steaming hot broth inside.
Then go for the Roasted Duck or the Three-Cup Chicken with three kinds of sauces (vinegar, white wine and soy sauce). All servings are good to share.
Menu mainstays include Fish Head Steamed with Pickled Red Peppers, Fried Prawns with Oats, Stir-Fried Dragon Beans with Gingko Seeds, and Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles with Peanut Sauce.
For dessert, the tall and good-for-sharing Bellagio Breeze is the Taiwanese version of our halo-halo. It has red and green beans, tapioca, candied pineapple, taro and condensed milk on shaved ice.
After a filling dessert, Lugang’s traditional Arabian coffee will help relax your tummy.
OVN Bread Co.
At first glance, this seems like another foreign bread store tucked on the ground floor of a mall. The inviting aroma of freshly baked goodies from the
open kitchen and the eye-catching display of breads and pastries on glass-encased shelves lend an air of elegance and sophistication.
But a closer look at the names of each pastry reveals that this is a 100-percent Pinoy innovation, with items such as Baguio Raisin Bun, Batangas Chocolate Loaf, Manila Pan De Sal, Barako Coffee Three-Bite Bun, Benguet Strawberry and Cream Cheese and Bibingka Pudding.
The pastry shop also offers Crunchy Bacon Ensaymada, Chocolate Yema Muffin, Angus Beef Potpie, Sweet Barbecue Bun and Choco Apple Streusel.
“Even if it’s locally produced, we use only the finest ingredients—eggs, condensed milk, butter and flavors—to ensure the high standard and quality of the products,” says owner Richard Sanz of FoodAsia Corp. “We are proud to be Pinoy.”
PHOTOS BY ARNOLD ALMACEN, KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ AND JILSON SECKLER TIU