The most anticipated restaurant openings of 2023 | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Chefs Quenee Vilar and Nicco Santos (seated) with partner Nilo Divina
Chefs Quenee Vilar and Nicco Santos (seated) with partner Nilo Divina
Chefs Quenee Vilar and Nicco Santos (seated) with partner Nilo Divina

These are the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2023.

Leading the way is the much awaited comeback of Hey Handsome chefs Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar, who will be launching two brands—Café Aurora and Celera—with business partner lawyer Nilo Divina. Both located at the Pacific Star Building in Makati, the café is expected to open its doors later this month, while their fine dining spot, to be housed in the basement parking, will be ready by midyear.

It has been four years since the tandem has cooked in a professional kitchen, and they admit to being scared, anxious and excited to be again doing what they’re great at. Plus, there’s the added pressure from Nicco’s biggest fan. “Coming out of the pandemic, my son told me that if ever I’m going to go back into cooking, that I make sure that I’m one of the best,” he said. “For me, that’s a sense of purpose.”

I am fortunate to have sampled some of the dishes they have lined up for Celera, and I can confidently say that Nicco’s 7-year-old son Tyler doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Celera’s “kueh pie tee” with beef tartare and “ikura”

The kueh pie tee with beef tartare and ikura was a very indulgent surf-and-turf bite. The smoked hamachi with laksa ponzu gel was inspired and inspiring. The roti with brown butter labneh ball and spiced curry delivered the utmost satisfaction. And their refined version of the Singaporean chicken rice, poached chicken with cauliflower mash and collagen-dashi broth with cilantro oil, showed that the chefs have got thrilling tricks up their sleeves.

Nicco’s 20-seater fine dining holds so much promise. But while that won’t open until around May, we have Café Aurora, named after Nilo’s mother, to fawn over. The stylish space is matched with snazzy numbers such as a salmon donburi with multigrain rice, yuzu tare, mentaiko and mushrooms, and a peanut butter mousse encased in a jelly gel.

Salmon “donburi” at Celera.

The return of Nicco and Quenee to the restaurant scene is definitely something to watch, along with the rest of this exciting lineup.

Food hall

A 4,181-square meter food hall will be championing anything and everything Filipino, from food and produce to talent, in Palenque by Claude Tayag. Located in Gateway Mall 2, the thematic arena will feature local specialties from some of the county’s most sought after chefs and restaurateurs. On the menu are Ilocos bagnet, Davao tuna, Pampanga buro and Zamboanga curacha.

At the Podium Mall in Ortigas, The Corner Market will welcome new brands for its still-growing family on the first quarter of the year. Among them are internet sensation Salmon HQ, which will open their first offline store; Gringonito, an offshoot of Gringo restaurant; Alab, a sizzling plate concept; and Fireplace Burgers.

Charles Paw’s Public Eatery in Robinsons Magnolia is slowly coming into full form. In the weeks to come, Tatung Sarthou will unveil an American Filipino joint called New York, Cubao, while Kris Tan of Masa Madre will present Fabrique, which will showcase his flair in baking.

Fresh concepts and expansions

Paw will also establish a seafood tapas place over at Rockwell. Plus, there’s the permanent location of the burger brand Bored and Hungry, following its successful pop-up at The Grid.

Before the year ended, the Wildflour Group announced that they will open in Alabang and Quezon City. They’re not stopping there as they will be crawling outside the metro, and possibly even outside the country. Also in the works is a restaurant with a totally new concept as well as a bar in the Makati area, which will be similar to their Hotel Bar in BGC, serving no-nonsense cocktails with delicious bar chow.

Celera’s version of a prosperity salad has coconut “nuoc cham” ice cream underneath.

Carlo Alvarez, by his lonesome, will open the doors of an American Italian restaurant in the second quarter, and together with the Clavano siblings, an izakaya just before that. Both will be at the Asian Century Center in BGC.

The PYC Food Corp., which went full blast last year, will expand One World Deli to more prime locations, including San Juan, Quezon City and SM Mall of Asia. They are also extending Café Fleur with a second branch in San Juan, along with a supper club featuring Chinese cuisine in the same vicinity.Jun Sy’s growing group will also introduce a destination restaurant in Tagaytay to be helmed by chef Ariel Manuel.

Francis Lim is close to launching his Random Kitchen, which will house concepts such as private informal tasting menus, family style service, R&D kitchen for new ideas and a commissary to supply and service possible clients.

Celera's chicken rice with a "dashi"-collagen broth
Celera’s chicken rice with a “dashi”-collagen broth

Lim is also ironing out loose ends before opening Chairman Fu Hotpot Bar at the Newport Mall. It is a modern Mainland Chinese-forward hotpot concept.The boys of Hapag are moving location. They’re transferring their lauded restaurant to the 7th floor of The Balmori Suites in Rockwell. It will offer an extensive wine program.

Poblacion will add another hip and happening Japanese joint to its lineup with the introduction of Kosumosu by the Square One group, the same team behind Bad Habits and Lunes Dining.

Miko Calo of Metronome, with cousin RJ Galang, has partnered up with Beyond the Menu to develop a French taqueria in Salcedo Village.

The Moment Group has a busy year ahead as they introduce a new low-brow meets high-brow Thai eatery, a by-reservation-only Manam, and a Mo’ Cafe.

The Fridley Group of Companies by Avin Ong will expand its brands, which include Macao Imperial Tea, NYFD, Liang Crispy Rolls, Nabe Japanese Izakaya + Hotpot and Cafe Kitsune. He’s also working an a new concept, the details of which he still can’t reveal.

Josh Boutwood will launch another concept on the third floor of the Ayala Triangle Gardens Mall, and another one that’s very different from any of his present brands, sometime in the third quarter.

Tonyboy Escalante, whose Antonio’s PGA Cars opened late last year, continues to expand in Manila with the opening of two Breakfast by Antonio’s—in Robinsons Magnolia and in Opus Mall, Robinsons Bridgetown in Quezon City. His Balay Dako in Antipolo is expected to operate in 2024.

The Bar Pintxos Group will also open a high-end restaurant in a new Makati building this June.

The mother-and-son tandem of Margarita and Amado Fores will also contribute to our food options. Lusso has found its second spot in Rockwell, as well as Ramen Ron over at Central Square BGC. Amado will also be setting up a new concept, championing the classic combo of steak and fries/rice, cheekily called, well, Steak & Frice.

Lamb "buah keluak"
Lamb “buah keluak”

The BBK Group of couple Maxine and Rich Sanz will multiply their Butternut Bakery, Hey BBK All Day Cafe and BBK Coffee. They will also launch a Sukiyaki Bowl Inari shop in Robinsons Magnolia and BGC.

I also heard through the grapevine that a crop of wine bars is set to open, including one by Bomb Vinos offering an all-natural wine menu, another by Hola Bonbon. Pierre Addison will be introducing one too.

Out-of-town openings

The Raintree Hospitality Group joins the list with My Country House in Tagaytay, Jones the Baker in Boracay, and in Serendra, a revamped Chotto Matte.

Chele Gonzalez is cooking up something unique in Tagaytay. “It has never been done in the Philippines yet,” he says. “It’s Spanish but specializes in ancestral cooking and needs a special oven.”

Alegria, spearheaded by chef Charles Montañez, is also fast expanding. After opening four branches in 2022, they are opening three more this year.

“Bonito” beignet with a mushroom filling and Parmesan topping.

Hacienda Alegria, situated beside Breakfast at Antonio’s in Tagaytay, will house multiple concepts including a bar, an events space with an open BBQ pit, a casual sit-down dining and a room for a chef’s table. Alegria Siargao will be a pool and beach club in front of Cloud 9, and it’ll be similar to the Alegria in Bali, Indonesia.

The Potencianos, who have a handful of shops in Boracay, will be add two more to their roster with two dessert concepts. INQ

Follow the author at @fooddudeph on Instagram.