Tucked in between the Malacañang Palace and cramped residential houses in San Miguel is a two-story ancestral house refurbished into a Filipino-Spanish casual-dining restaurant. Casa Roces, on the corner of JP Laurel and Aguado Streets, is a welcome find.
The Roces house, where National Artist for Literature Alejandro Roces lived, had been uninhabited for 15 years, save for caretakers who make sure the house is well maintained, said Tono Versoza, a seventh-generation Roces.
“It’s the last old house standing in the area,” he said. “The house is around 600 square meters on a 1,000-square-meter lot. We transformed it into a restaurant because it was an opportunity to showcase a great place, and to provide a hangout for those working in the area.”
Romantic and laid-back
Since the house has been carefully preserved, Roces made sure the original setup is kept—from the wood flooring on the second floor to the heavy hardwood furniture pieces. The challenge was putting up a kitchen and installing proper plumbing and electricity (they rewired everything). It took seven months to have it fixed into a bright, inviting place. The walls are done in champagne, ash gray, with golden yellow accents.
Vintage crystal chandeliers with romantic warm lights hang from the ceiling. Round halogen lights are spaced in between “because we cannot live on chandeliers alone,” Versoza said, laughing.
Architects were Bettina Bonoan, Rey Ilagan and Al Carongan. Interior designer Tina Bonoan gave Casa Roces a modern feel with paintings done by contemporary artists. The ground floor still has its beige tile floors; an old aparador serves as a divider and display counter for take-home goodies such as jams and spreads. White wood-and-glass French doors open up into a garden where you can dine al fresco (also doubles as smoking area).
A concrete wall on the ground floor was knocked down to give place to glass panels to let more light in.
The ground-floor dining area called Kape Chino comfortably sits a hundred. There are wooden tables in different sizes—with six and four chairs for big groups; two for couples who want a cozy meal. Chairs are mismatched for a quirky touch. Some are reupholstered wood painted silver-gray, others are in traditional brown varnished wood with “sawali” seats.
“We want people to come in here like they would in their lola’s home. It is open for lunch and dinner, and there’s a bar for drinks, coffee and desserts, plus Filipino merienda,” said Bianca Prieto Santos, Versoza’s cousin. Also an accessory designer, her creations are on display for sale.
From ‘callos’ to ‘champorado’
The Roces cousins approached Cravings Group, which manages mall-based Cravings and C2 Classic Cuisine restaurants, to create the menu. Chef Menoy Gimenez was inspired with the traditional Filipino feast idea.
“When I saw the floors, I was reminded of Bacolod homes that are made into wonderful restaurants,” the chef said. “The Roces has a family cookbook of heirloom recipes, and I picked out dishes that would fit the Spanish-Filipino theme, and tweaked them a bit.”
He described the selection as “simple but not boring dishes with a clean taste. Familiar and not intimidating, but still satisfying.”
Start off with Bacalao Caviar Pate, creamy salt cod and potato pate with black caviar served with toasted baguette; Truffle Mushroom Puree soup; and Crispy Lengua Caesar Salad, classic salad with deep-fried ox tongue croutons.
Good for sharing are these entrees: Callos à la Abolita, tripe stew with chorizo and chick peas; Ox Tail Kare-Kare; Bouillabaise de la Casa Roces, seafood in rich tomato broth; Oven-Baked Salmon Wellington, baked cheese and salmon in pastry crust.
For pasta, you can have Fettucine with Bleu Cheese and Roasted Mushrooms; Fideos with Spanish Chorizo à la Diablo; and Spaghettini Gambas à la Jillo, angel hair pasta in sautéed shrimps and garlic.
Pinoy Merienda choices include Vigan Longganisa Empanada; Pancit Palabok; Guinataang Halo-Halo; Tokwa’t Baboy; Arroz Caldo; Pan de Sal with Kesong Puti, Hamon and Spanish Sardines; Turon à la mode; and Fried Suman with Mango Sauce and Spanish Chocolate.
Casa Roces is open 8 a.m.-11 p.m. For breakfast, you can have comfort food like Beef Tapa, Longganisa Tuguegarao, Tinapang Bangus, Chicken-Pork Adobo, Bacon and Eggs with garlic rice or pan de sal; or a rich serving of Champorado at Danggit.
A unique dessert is the Malacañang Frozen Souffle, frozen lemon custard soufflé with chocolate flakes, pistachio nuts and lemon lavender sauce. Or, you can have Leche Flan Brulee, Basque Apple Tart or Crepe Suzette à la Mode.
Cabinet members and ambassadors have checked out Casa Roces, but the President is still to visit. “He is always invited, of course,” said Versoza.
For private functions, there are five banquet halls on the second floor designed after the Commonwealth Era and named after the family’s publications—La Vanguardia, Tribune, Liwayway and Manila Times. Two rooms, which used to be the master bedroom and a bedroom, can be connected for bigger parties. A table was set up in the enclosed azotea or terrace.
The gallery, formerly the receiving area, will be a venue for art exhibits, poetry readings, live sketching sessions.
Casa Roces is near the churches of San Miguel, St. Jude Thaddeus, San Sebastian and San Beda, and there are already inquiries for wedding and baptismal receptions. Their version of tapsilog is P125, and kare-kare for three is priced at P240. There are packages for private parties that can be personalized for one’s taste and budget.
“This isn’t a fine-dining place, it’s a casa, a home,” Gimenez reminded. “Guests have a great time and unintentionally overstay; that’s okay, we even reheat the food for them.”
Casa Roces is at 1153 JP Laurel cor. Aguado Sts., San Miguel, Manila. Call 7355896 or 7084020; e-mail [email protected]