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Holidays at Amanpulo

By: - Columnist
/ 07:00 AM December 31, 2016
Amanpulo

Amanpulo Beach Club. PHOTOS BY MEDAL ELEPANO

Resting on Palawan’s powder-white sands is one of the oldest luxury properties in the Philippines.

Amanpulo, opened in 1993, was the brainchild of Adrian Zecha, maverick founder of Aman Resorts.

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A testament to its grandeur, the resort, in more than two decades of operation, has been graced by the likes of the late John F. Kennedy Jr., Bill and Melinda Gates, Robert de Niro, Jude Law and Heston Blumenthal.

Pamalican, the island on which Amanpulo sits, means “to return” in the local dialect. This turns out quite prophetic as many, including myself, continue to be drawn to this pristine paradise.

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While this resort with a timeless appeal has undergone a number of changes in recent months, it’s wonderful to note that the fundamentals remain constant.

The sand and sea remain unspoiled, devoid of the garbage and pollution so commonplace in the city. The warmth and seamless service of the staff are as consistent as ever. With a staff-guest ratio of 6:1, how can one not feel pampered?

Thus, with its foundation firmly in place, Amanpulo is set to explore new frontiers in 2017.

This new genesis is in line with the Aman Group’s core values of amazing locations, beautiful design and outstanding service.

Amanpulo

Lobster at The Beach Club

Erwin Joven, first Filipino executive chef for Aman Resorts

Erwin Joven, first Filipino executive chef for Aman Resorts

Amanpulo

Premium sashimi platter of “chutoro,” “kampachi,” salmon, “ebi,” “uni” and scallops

Amanpulo

Sea Bream Carpaccio

Amanpulo’s new and first Filipino executive chef Erwin Joven created a Filipino Christmas spirit with special holiday menus inspired by heirloom family recipes. From breakfast, lunch, dinner and on to New Year’s Eve, the tables are laden with traditional Pinoy tapsilog, lechon (spit roast pig), and dishes that trace their roots to Spanish colonial times.

Sense of place

Resort guests can enjoy the puto bumbong and bibingka kiosk while listening to Christmas carols sung by the Amanpulo choir.

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According to Chef Erwin, his goal was simple: for guests to have a clear sense of place and leave Amanpulo with a positive impression of Filipino food and culture.

We (that’s SSOA—Sonia Santiago Olivares & Associates) took on the task of designing Amanpulo’s festive décor this holiday season. In alignment with Amanpulo’s traditional Filipino food offerings, we developed Christmas balls fashioned from mango tree leaves and painted them in oceanic blue-green, adorned with seashells, mixed with sipa balls of rattan and rope reminiscent of the island’s natural aesthetic. Handwoven gift boxes produced by the Manamoc community surround the 13-foot tree.

A new Japanese restaurant (the former Lagoon Club) opened last October. Chef Yohhei Yamada uses the finest ingredients sourced from local waters.

Imported seafood such as amber jack, Kinme snapper, house mackerel and yellow-fin tuna are flown in thrice a week.

For meat lovers, there is the A5-grade female “Omi” Wagyu beef grilled on the table over live charcoal—truly a carnivore’s dream.

Also offered is the Butakakuni, likened to rich pata tim, rich and truly melts in your mouth. My favorite is the Tokusen Sashimi Moriawase, a premium selection of sashimi. The meal ends with the chef’s own homemade sorbet of mango, calamansi and coconut.

Amanpulo

Festive spread of Filipino favorites

Amanpulo

Melt-in-the-mouth A5-grade female Omi Wagyu beef cooked at your table

Amanpulo

“Pancit palabok” with glass noodles (vermicelli) topped with crunchy “chicharon”

Amanpulo

Grilled “bangus” with all the condiments

A selection of Japanese whisky is available, as well as Japanese and local beers. The restaurant also features a comprehensive sake collection.

The Beach Club continues to offer an array of Mediterranean specialties like tapas, Iberian charcuterie, and fideo. Truly memorable is the killer “live lobster” paella with the perfectly cooked rice and aioli sauce. Other live fare includes the freshest produce for lunch and dinner.

The pizza selections are deliciously fresh and served off a wood brick oven, the wagyu burger is mouthwatering, and the red snapper with a tropical fruit salsa refreshing.

The arugula salad with jicama (singkamas) and feta cheese is my salad of choice. Don’t miss out on the ice cream sandwich for dessert!

Amanpulo

Festive “puto bumbong” and “bibingka” station

Amanpulo

A good garlicky “adobo”

Amanpulo

Hits-the-spot Pinoy “tapsilog” breakfast

The Aman spa Journeys boasts an array of international therapies and Filipino bath traditions like the paligo (herbal bath) and hilot massage. The selection of oils is part of the ritual.

‘Dagay-dagay’

The herbal steam from locally harvested plants prepares the body for a massage, and a dagay-dagay foot treatment which includes a foot scrub and wrap to enhance blood circulation and stimulate lymphatic drainage. A deep foot massage using bamboo sticks rolled across the soles is done to release all tensions.

The Andres Soriano Foundation (ASF)—established in 1968 to institutionalize the corporate philanthropy of Col. Andres Soriano and Andres Soriano Jr.—has been a strong partner of Amanpulo since 1993.

The programs range from cancer care and livelihood assistance, to medical missions and environmental programs. I particularly like the Small Island Sustainable Development (Sisdep), which evolved from a community project on the island of Manamoc in the ’80s to what is now a high-impact program on 30 islands.

Manamoc is home to majority of the Amanpulo staff. The Manamoc High School curriculum provides courses that prepare high school students for future employment at Amanpulo. In their senior year, 30 kids are given an opportunity to intern at Amanpulo for 30 days.

The staff canteen feeds 900 people per day. The food served is from produce and livestock supplied by Manamoc residents.

Amanpulo

Amanpulo’s festive tree

Amanpulo

Rattan “sipa” Christmas ball

Amanpulo

Festive garland on “casita” door

Amanpulo

Rope ball

Amanpulo

Mango tree leaves with shells

Amanpulo

Festive tabletop decor

The husband-and-wife tandem of Christophe Olivro and Audeline Witjaksono has years of hotel experience, including several years at Aman’s Utah resort, Amangiri. “We are extremely fortunate to be given stewardship of such a special place as Amanpulo,” says Christophe.

To serve, one must feel good as well. The staff housing at Amanpulo is comfortable, and it has its own picnic grove, where a barbecue grill is held every Sunday for off-duty staff. A regular weekly spa day for grooming is also integrated in the schedule.

Manamoc High School senior students in the Hospitality Program of Amanpulo

Manamoc High School senior students in the Hospitality Program

The most difficult thing for any organization to maintain is the delicate balance of tradition and progress. We are forced to choose between remaining true to our fundamentals and embracing modernity.

Amanpulo, now on its 23rd year, seems to have evaded this pitfall. The resort stays true to its founding principles, while demonstrating openness to new ideas. It is timeless yet dynamic. The harmony that has emerged  rivals even the island’s natural ecosystem.

No wonder it has stood the test of time.

E-mail the author at majaolivaresco@gmail.com

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TAGS: Aman Resorts, Aman spa Journeys, Amanpulo, Andres Soriano Foundation, Audeline Witjaksono, chef Erwin Joven, Christophe Olivro, Palawan travel, The Beach Club
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