I’M SUCH A SUCKER for clever, well-orchestrated dinners whose theme permeates every small detail. After all, this attention to the minuscule sets one apart, especially in the field of hospitality. I’ve been at the front row (as media guest), centerstage (as event host), and backstage (as event organizer) of countless Shangri-La events enough to lend credence to this observation: Shangri-La slays at the details.
Nowhere was this more in luxurious evidence than in two parties just a week apart thrown by the brand. A true Cebuano favorite, Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa quietly turned 25 at the helm of General Manager Rene Egle in an elegant silver and black themed dinner that revisited five signature items from a quarter of a century’s worth of dishes from the iconic kinilaw (vinegar-marinated mackerel in coconut and mango jelly and calamansi crumble) to an intricate dessert called Planet MAC (a sphere of lemon vanilla bavarois on a milky way mousse with Irish jelly and caramel chocolate crunch). Each course was accompanied by an orchestral arrangement played live by a special collaboration between the Cebu Philharmonic Orchestra and On The Cover Band of popular hits from the decades since the opening, kicked off quite nicely by the first song of the night played at the Ocean Pavilion’s opening fireworks: Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover, which was number one on the Billboard charts on the weekend of 1993 that the property opened for the first time.
The same faultless execution met a select coterie of longtime media partners and social media influencers at a Crazy Rich Asians-themed thanksgiving dinner at the Makati Shangri-La a week after. Here, the menu was rife with references to the main characters of the beloved series of novels by Kevin Kwan (who, incidentally, called Shangri-La Mactan his home in Cebu). Staged as a dinner with the fictitious Shangs—the protagonists of the novels—the courses were iconic dishes from the three dining outlets of the property. My sentimental favorite was the double boiled clear soup with abalone and morel mushroom, cleverly named Memoirs of Tysersall Park that instantly conjured images of grand dame Shang Su Yi and her maidservants, cavernous kitchen, and heirloom dishes. This time, it came from Shang Palace, the signature Chinese restaurant in Makati (there is one in every property).
In between, influencer and fellow Siloy Doyzkie Buenviaje and I were feted to two unique outlets at Shangri-La at the Fort, our home on the first night of this quick two-day escape. Handpicked by the property’s communications executive Tiffany Jillian Go, a fellow Cebuana who is the daughter of fellow Sacred Hearter Michael and Judith Go, their authentic Peruvian restaurant Samba was the perfect initiation into this unfamiliar culinary territory. “You’ll see that it’s actually quite familiar,” Tiffany assures us, guiding us deftly through the piques tres de ceviches, a trio of kinilaw that is so much a part of Peruvian culture that a holiday has been declared in its honor! The main difference from our version? The Peruvians use key lime to marinate the raw fish, and the Andean chili rocoto (Capsicum pubescens) for heat.
Easily a standout was the Prawns Quinotto, a special Peruvian risotto prepared with quinoa instead of rice. Creamy, and with just the right touch of protein from the delicate prawns, the quinoa surprised me because it was not something I would gravitate to on the menu if left to my own devices. Leaving Tiffany to order was the best decision, all the way through a parade of Antichuco de Pulpo (octopus version of a popular skewered Peruvian street food), beef tenderloin empanadas, a dessert of merengado de guanabana (guyabano ice cream inside a white chocolate balloon which is dramatically smashed before you dig in).
For a nightcap, I nursed two shots of the signature Bees Knees gin (the drink du jour, it seems), which the property’s surreptitiously concealed speakeasy (hidden behind a door that pretends to be a coatcheck) The Back Room, and which they make in-house with essences of dalandan, sampaguita, luy-a, and malunggay.
One shot to remember, and the other—as Dave Matthews put it—to forget.