THE DINING room was high-ceilinged, filled with natural light, and pretty and cozy even if in a somewhat generic manner. It was, all in all, an ideal spot for a weekday lunch with a woman I hadn’t caught up with in a long time.
It was only when I opened the menu and looked around carefully that I put my finger on what was unusual about the place: I was the only man in the room (apart from the waiters).
All the seated customers were women perfectly coifed, moisturized and accessorized. We had unwittingly entered one of the sanctums of the women who lunch.
That the highlight of the place was a salad bar should have been a giveaway.
The restaurant is Tapenade, and its location right opposite Shangri-La Hotel and 6750 pumps a bit of life into the old neighborhood, where we all flocked in the 1990s to try the first outlet of Starbucks Coffee when the chain opened in Manila.
I’m not overly fond of the aggressively tall, pointy architecture of the building; but as Guy de Maupassant said of the restaurant at the Eiffel Tower, dining there was the one place where he didn’t have to look at it.
Not that you can actually walk to the hotel from the shopping center opposite; the road is barricaded with a steel barrier. Ayala Avenue is supposed to be the spiritual heir to Avenida Rizal and Escolta in the old days, but for all its impressiveness you can see it only from the window of a car.
When most chefs, or even restaurateurs, conceptualize a restaurant, they have dinner service in mind, and lunch becomes something of an afterthought to maximize revenues from the space. But not a few restaurants are finally becoming aware of the potential profits from the lunch crowd, especially the “titas of Manila.”
The Wholesome Table has done a good job of it, probably helped immensely by the fact that its owners are ladies who lunch.
Wildflour has a good following, and the florid Passion by Gerard Dubois seems poised to steal some of its clientele.
Apart from the fact that men will feel as though they’ve inadvertently walked into a “Sex and the City” premiere, Tapenade is a great lunch spot.
In my opinion the salad bar is a bit of an oversell; I think that for sheer variety and freshness of produce, Green Pastures still holds the top spot.
But perhaps the virtue of the Tapenade salad bar is that it consists mostly of not salad: There’s plenty of bread, freshly sliced ham, a mound of fresh oysters, cheeses and different types of cold cuts. It affords one the virtuousness of thinking that you had a salad for lunch even if it came with a ham and cheese sandwich.
The a la carte menu is not bad at all. They have lunch specials, with your choice of steak, pork chop, sea bass, bookended by soup and dessert (for an extra P500 you can replace the soup with a ticket to the salad bar, though I don’t think it would be worth it). They also have, although we didn’t get to try, a variety of tagines, from the usual chicken and olives to octopus to lamb.
The cooking is competent but not extraordinary; the chef relies too much on spice rather than trusting the flavor, and the use of spice is monochromatic and glaring rather than integral.
The ladies who lunch have extensive budgets; one of my gripes about The Wholesome Table is that while I am always ready to pay a premium for good sourcing, the bill really does leave a dent in one’s wallet not commensurate to the fullness in one’s tummy.
Tapenade does a good job in staying below the psychological P1,000 price barrier: The set lunch and the salad bar come in just under it, though coffee (and especially tea) will add to the bill considerably.
I’m not the demographic, but those who want a nonfattening meal with their amigas to discuss their vacations in Morocco and the preservation of heritage structures downtown should consider this as a very viable alternative for a leisurely lunch on this side of Makati.
For men who are able to escape their meals at the desk that come in little balls of plastic tied with impenetrable knots, a bit of sunshine and a filling but not overly heavy meal does wonders for the productivity.
Tapenade is at Discovery Primea, 6749 Ayala Ave., Makati; tel. 9558888