Finally, we are open to serve meals at our Marina Mall location in Mactan, Cebu! Last Wednesday, I flew to Cebu to find the restaurant 99% ready. Last minute tweaks here and there, a small army of crew and dozens of staff borrowed from other outlets moving around like busy bees unloading boxes, cleaning and stocking, tons of paperwork was finished for the inspectors, and rather pricey but iconic black glass panels were just about to be installed at our kinilaw bar.
Thursday morning we had a pre-scheduled blessing by a rather jolly priest, who gamely sprayed holy water on three rather serious government inspectors who just happened to be there and who put our operations manager through an hour or more of questioning and making rounds about the premises. I am pleased to say we passed with flying colors, and got our approval to soft open on the spot, and our certificate to operate within 24 hours. And yes, we have our access ramp, handicap compliant bathroom, hideous exit signs above doors, emergency lights, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, etc. in place. Frankly, it was a totally professional experience from the authorities, the best we have experienced in all our restaurant openings.
Every nook and cranny of the place was blessed including the toilet, bar, etc. I have found that employees are nervy about opening and operating a new space without a priest scaring off any lingering spirits. I simply go with the flow.
A view of the restaurant from inside the main doors from the parking lot. This was Friday morning, I had already hit the flower market and went a little overboard, hence the abundance of blooms. This is our snazziest looking outlet yet. Our architect Maya Franco, and her associates, designed this for us, and they have designed all of our other branches as well. Some features in this one that don’t exist in other branches are brick walls painted white, black glass panels, and lots of finger-jointed wood panels.
A view of the restaurant from the other end of the space.
Just in case you thought you walked into another restaurant.
One of two display tables for retail goods. Mostly chicharon, jams, etc. that we make in-house. But also broas, tableya, local rhum, liquors, woven bags, hats, etc. for many of the tourists (local and foreign) we expect to serve at this branch. It’s amazing how many folks come to eat, but end up browsing and taking home one or more items from the retail tables. Other interesting things on offer are the dried kamias we make ourselves (when there’s 4-5 days in a row of hot sun), dried fish skin, lamayo, banana chips and all of our frozen items as well.
Flowers at the wash area, a bit over the top, but we had just a few too many that day. Nice lemongrass scented handsoap from ritual… No photo of the bathroom, it has a wall of black glass still waiting to be installed, but I can tell you that many guests have shockingly outrageous bathroom habits, throwing tissues on the floor despite a perfectly good covered waste bin in the space. Keeping this bathroom clean will require a lot of attention and patience.
Part of the second retail table and more importantly, the new kinilaw bar in the background. Black graphicote glass with Zubudagat sticker in the background, white marble counters, white bar stools and a sushi chiller on the counter, to display whatever market fresh seafood we have on offer on that particular day.
A large talakitok, a katambak and a lapu-lapu on seaweed. I had purchased 3 kilos of wonderful fatty alimasag or blue crabs, steamed them and was cooling them before chilling them. I forgot with all the stuff going on and a few hours later realized they could not be displayed after sitting a bit too long. The crew and I had a great crab dinner after dinner service that first day. But probably lost money due to the crab mistake and the overzealous flower purchases earlier in the day. Not to worry, the place looked festive and photogenic. :)
In the days ahead we will be picking up orders for more wonderful locally made bags and handicrafts, and we will be stocking up on dried fish, etc. for Manila tourists who can’t be bothered to head to the taboan market to stock up (and inevitably leave smelling like dried fish). On our second night of operations Korean tourists purchased beautifully packaged Manille liquer (kalamansi infused) after a free taste of it, and we hope to offer a curated list of local products.
Here, in one corner of our table, some Don Papa rum from Negros. And take a look at the table, our in-house carpenter/handyman made this from scratch, using steel pipes and planks of mahogany wood! I LOVE this table. And will probably start selling them if enough people ask about them.
Our carpenter also made the communal, marble-topped table as well. Another favorite of mine, though the marble top can get pricey and will stain easily. On our first day of operations, not a single guest chose to sit at the beautiful set-up. Maybe the row of vases with anthuriums were intimidating… I sat there with a beer or coke light many times during the day to observe the goings on. :)
As you enter the main doors, there is a glassed in lechon chopping area to your right, and a view of the charcoal grill as well. The lechon in the photo has been decimated, another one is hiding in the shelves below.
The grill is working nicely, but retains so much darned heat throughout the day, making the kitchens rather uncomfortable. We are tweaking our exhaust systems to improve this situation. We were practicing with several grilled items, one of which here on the upper left, is boneless chicken inasal on a stick. Delicious when hot off the grill. I gave in on ONE item on the menu, and the pork barbecue that prevailed is a sweetish one, not my preferred bagoong and gata basted barbecue. Basically, we can and do offer a little upscale “SUTUKIL” or sugba (grilled), tinowa (tinola), and kilawin (kinilaw/ceviche) along with lechon and other menu items.
A view of the main entrance, at dusk. We are located about 1 minute from the time you get into your vehicle at the Mactan arrivals area at the airport… so drop by for a meal just after you land in Cebu… that’s what several vehicles of guests did on our first and second day of operations. And for now, we are open 24 HOURS a day! It might be quiet in the wee hours of the night/morning, but we can feed you if you are hungry. Frankly, it’s a nicer place to hang out late night when you are killing time before that budget 3am flight where the airport won’t let you in until 100am or so…
A view from across the street. I am so thrilled to have several large buri palms just in front of our premises, they are one of my favorite (and disappearing) iconic filipino trees. We put in some new landscaping and a dozen lights to highlight the trees and greenery.
And here just one example (a mild and amusing one) of how local contractors do things their way. To install three rather expensive, and delicate large panels of black glass, the crew of three carried them from the truck by hand (no trolleys or rubber gloves or safety gear), gingerly raised them up in a tight space and put them into place. Of course they did the left panel first, then the right panel (rather than side by side which I thought made more sense), only to find a huge gap when they put in the central panel. I walked away so as not to jinx the installation and they somehow managed to fix it all.
But when it came time to seal or grout the glass, with no ladder in their truck, they formed a human ladder that had me shaking my head and smiling at the same time. After all, if they had broken the pane(s) (they broke another pane a week before), they would have to replace them (albeit 3 weeks later). But then, they proved me wrong in a way…
…as the “automatic” ladder gracefully did a split (a la that Volvo commercial of recent youtube fame) and the man in the center with the sealant gun slowly and without stopping squeezed sealant halfway down the panel in one fluid motion. It was an applause worthy performance!
We hope to welcome you to our new store if you happen to be in Cebu in the months ahead. If you have friends coming for the Ironman triathlon next weekend, we have pushed this opening to be ready to serve as many participants of that sports event as we can manage!
ML Quezon Highway