Monday, October 7, 2013

Casa Roces: A Legacy of Heritage & Good Taste

Once rainy Saturday afternoon, I found myself standing outside the gates of Malacañang looking across the street at the equally regal yet homey heritage house cum restaurant called Casa Roces. Heritage houses tell timeless stories, recalling moments when the families that own them create fond memories through occasions that help shape and define it and also defines the character of its owners, infusing in them a sense of pride and belonging.

So descendants of the illustrious Roces clan, lead by Peachy Prieto and her daughter Bianca Prieto-Santos, decided that the Commonwealth-era heirloom house, located in Manila's genteel San Miguel district and a few walks away from the noble and elegant Malacañan Palace, should be shared not only with relatives, but with a larger audience interested in its history.

The ground floor of Casa Roces features the restaurant cum cafe, aptly named Kape Chino, with an outdoor wooden deck, a dessert bar, and a memorabilia and accessories shop. A bar also serves cocktails, wine, beer, and liquor for evening patrons. One the second floor are a bistro, an art and family heritage gallery as well as private rooms decorated with a mix of Commonwealth elegance and contemporary flair.

Meeting up with the rest of my friends, our early dinner started with a big bowl of Sopa Molo Castiliana (P195) to start with. We opted to have our rich garlicky soup with deep-fried pork wontons to give the appetizer some texture and crunch, with the poached egg and parsley giving the starter a bit more body.

I sopped up what was left of the Callos Ala Abolita (P260) with a piece of bread, making sure to get as much of the chickpeas and bits of chorizo as possible. I'm not a fan of soft tripe stew, but because of the infusion of all that lovely chorizo oil, I manage to scarf it all down with no complaints.

I have no idea what this dish is called, but it was pretty good! A fillet of fish is dredged in batter and fried 'til a light, golden brown, and sprinkled with a generous amount of fried garlic.

I didn't get to try the Pescado En Salsa Verde, but it looked really yummy.

What I initially thought was so me kind of pork chop with barbecue sauce turned out to be Pork Belly Humba (P245) - softened pork belly stew with soy, peanuts, and fermented black beans. This was served with fries, which I found a bit odd.

The Chicken Adobo Confit never reached my side of the table either, so it must've been good. It looked amazeballs!

What did reach my end o the table was the Pinakbet (P195). Lol. Thanks, guys! I picked through the stewed vegetables in the fermented fish-flavored broth. I don't really eat bitter gourds or ladyfingers - the taste and texture of both those vegetables give me the heebie jeebies.

The Visayan Chicken Inasal (P245) looked so good! It was so good, it never made it to my end of the table! Waaah! I'm definitely going back for this grilled lemongrass-flavored chicken quarter with annatto oil.

The pork Pork Stew Binagoongan (P265) was so good, we ordered seconds! The crunchy pork belly is doused with a good helping of sautéed shrimp paste, giving the dish a salty sweet flavor.

For dessert, we were served with lots of Turon Ala Mode (P125) - fried banana rolls filled with ube jam and served with a caramel langka sauce and ice cream.

Another fantastic dessert (or merienda!) option is the Grilled Ensaymada Con Hamon y Tsokolate (P199). The ensaymada wasn't as soft and fluffy as one expects ensaymada to be. It was more the texture of Gardenia bread served with smoked ham and thick native chocolate, topped with a generous helping of muscovado butter. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with this as the denser bread complimented the ham and chocolate more, giving yo something to chew on rather than ensaymada bread that almost melts in your mouth.

My favorite dessert that night was the Malacañang Frozen Souffle (P380) - a frozen lemon custard souffle with chocolate flakes, pistachios, and lemon lavender sauce. The serving is quite big, and this is best enjoyed when shared.

After dinner, I got a grand tour of the lovely home. I was curious to see what the rooms upstairs were like. The original structure was built in 1750 by Don Luis Rocha as a summer house along Pasig River. It was purchased by the state in 1925 as the summer residence of the Spanish Governor-General. After the June 3, 1963 earthquake that destroyed the Palacio del Gobernador in the walled city of Manila, it became the Governor-General's official residence.

Most of the upstairs rooms have been turned into function rooms for celebrations, meetings, and proposals. Each room is named after newspapers, as the Roces family owned most of the newspapers back in the day.

The La Vanguardia (P10,000 for 4-hour room use) is the biggest room that also comes with its own restroom. This should be able to fit up to 60 people easy.

The Manila Times (P10,000 - 4-hour room use) is a bit cozier, but still pretty big and perfect for big family dinners and celebrations. I love how the furniture is a mishmash of traditional design and modern upholstery.

The Daily Mirror (P3,000 - 4-hour room use) is also called the Terrace Room and is a favorite of PNoy for meetings and such, according to the staff.

The Tribune (P3,000 - 4-hour room) is also fondly called The Engagement Room. A small room with a table set for two, the setting is very private making the evening extra special.

Liwayway (P5,000 - 4-hour room use) used to be a day room, and I like the outdoor rattan furniture to bring the garden indoors. The views must be lush and green in the mornings and afternoon.

Before we all went our separate ways, Gerry, the good ol' Dude 4 Food, couldn't help but sneak a picture with one of the very pretty servers.

When mucking around Malacañang, head on next door and enjoy Filipino-Spanish dishes with a modern twist. Casa Roces truly is an experience with unique combination of history, culture, ambiance, and cuisine with a comforting sense of home.

Just mucking around Manila,
Follow @_muckingaround on Twitter and Instagram.
Like the Mucking Around Manila fan page.

Images taken by Jericho San Miguel of The Pixel Project Manila

Casa Roces
+63 2 735 5896 or +63 2 488 1929
1153 J.P. Laurel cor. Aguado Sts.,
1005 San Miguel, Manila
Open Daily: 9am - 10pm