If this week is a portent of the Christmas season to come, then may the gods of equanimity have mercy on us all.
The holidays are hectic enough, and much of the new year is spent trying to get some rest from the exertions of too many gatherings and shedding pounds from too much good food and alcohol. But the traffic situation in Metro Manila shows no signs of getting better. It’s bad enough on a normal day, so I can only imagine how the shopping rush and the influx of overseas workers coming home will affect the already clogged streets of the capital.
The peso has also briefly hit the psychological barrier of 50 to the dollar. But we are ploughing on, teeth gritted, with the Christmas online shopping that we had planned to do.
The pinch will be felt most first by those who are converting directly (e.g., purchasing from Amazon or visiting the US); existing stocks of merchandise in stores will probably have been purchased earlier in the year. The real pain will be felt later, when the repercussions of the weakened peso are combined with inflation to make the cost of living tough for anyone who isn’t an oligarch.
This will probably be early next year, just after we’ve spent our Christmas bonuses and have maxed out our credit cards.
While I have no wish to rain on the Christmas parade, it’s difficult to shake off a feeling of a last hurrah of normality before austerity and belt-tightening become the norm.
The political restlessness is also troubling. As much as I would like to lay the forthcoming currency crisis at the door of the current administration, the economy remains robust—although how long it will stay that way with an uncertain domestic situation is anyone’s guess.
As people in the Christmas parties I’ve been attending have been saying, put your head in a forward position and brace as Trump takes power in January.
Also to take effect next year are job cuts as real estate developers halt new projects. Several foreign firms and diplomatic missions are rumored to be terminating contracts, reducing staff or pulling out altogether.
For the restaurant industry, this means higher prices in general and a greater mortality rate among new ventures. It’s true that those who are dependent on foreign ingredients will be most affected, but only by a little more. The knock-on effect means that prices of everything will go up.
The ones least likely to be affected are the extreme high end. If you’re selling Chateaux Margaux to mainland tourists, they will buy the bottle if they want it, and a degustation at P14,000 a head sounds about the same as P15,500 a head.
Restaurants in the middle to upper end of the market will be most affected, especially those with mostly local clientele. What would have been a celebration at Donosti or Toyo, for instance, could be downgraded to Chilis.
Aside from raising their prices, restaurants will cut costs by reducing staff, and, annoyingly, scrimping on ingredients and reducing portion size.
There have been a surprising number of openings in the last few weeks alone, but if you figure in the timeframe to conceptualize and build a restaurant, these were probably conceived in the early months of 2016.
I would love to be proved wrong in my prognosis of the restaurant scene, but my belief is that a downturn in the local market is inevitable.
In the spirit of enjoying good things while they last, a recent discovery of ours was Bornga, a Korean restaurant at Alphaland (the one opposite the Makati post office, not the building with a television built into it at Edsa). I pass Alphaland almost every day on the way to work and never thought it harbored anything terribly exciting and, indeed, apart from a table-tennis supply shop, the three retail levels of the building seemed to be unusually empty for a fairly prime location.
Tucked away in a cul-de-sac is Bornga, a secret hideaway that was full on a weekday night, mostly with Korean office workers and families.
Even if there’s no shortage of Korean barbecue places in town, it’s always nice to discover a new one in a fairly convenient location. This one is a cut above the rest.
The barbecue pit at every table is fired with real charcoal, not gas burner, and they are not stingy with the lettuce leaves with which to wrap the grilled meat. There’s a good selection of greenery, not just lettuce. I would actually say that the greenery is overwhelming; we found ourselves surrounded by a small hedge for just two persons.
There’s a minimum of two plates of grilled meat before they’ll fire up the grill for your table, but the plates are fairly small; the marinated pork and the beef ribs on the bone were excellent.
A good meal can be had for about P1,000 per head, and you’ll leave well-fed, burping garlic and, despite very vigorous exhaust vents dangling from the ceiling like silvery vines, with a vague aroma of charred meat about you.
This restaurant might not be worth a special detour, but for those in the area who want a well-priced and better-than-average Korean barbecue meal, this is the place to go.