My Manila - Cheryl Tiu

Cheryl Tiu is a journalist, editor and media personality based in Manila, where she is editor at large of Lifestyle Asia, the Philippines’ #1 luxury magazine. She maintains a regular weekly column for the Philippine Star called “In Between Deadlines,” and Forbes Life USA (Forbes.com) called “Miss Adventures.”Here she writes mostly about food and travel for both.

She is a writer for CNN Travel, the destination portal of CNN International, and is the author of the first ever Wallpaper City Guide for Manila. What is closest to Cheryl’s heart, though, is her personal blog, CherylTiu.com, where she chronicles her personal adventures and often funny escapades. We asked Cheryl for her insights into what to see and do in Manila.

What do you say to people making their first visit to Manila?
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” From what you’ve been seeing in the news all these years to that unsolicited advice of “Don’t bother going to Manila… go straight to the beaches,” to landing at the airport that has consistently made the “World’s Worst Airports” list (it’s improving, though!), you might think twice about coming here. Disregard ALL those things and come here with an open mind. Once you get to the heart of the city you will see all the new establishments and concepts that have sprung up over recent years. Most importantly, meet the people—you’re in for a surprise, and I promise you will soon be proclaiming, “Man, I love Manila!”

What is one experience a visitor to Manila must see or do?
Eat Filipino food. It is unfortunately one of the most under-represented cuisines in the world - unlike our other Asian counterparts. There is also a huge misconception about it, thanks to the “Fear Factor”-izing of local delicacies like balut, and some other dishes being not so photogenic. But you have to try it, it’s delicious. For good Filipino food, I would recommend Sarsa, Abe, Manam, Kafe Batwan, Fely J’s, and Pamana.

Your favourite Manila dining experience?
Some of my favorite restaurants are: Mecha Uma (Bruce Ricketts is one of the youngest, most talented chefs in the city who creates Japanese-inspired dishes almost free-style, depending on what’s available that day). Terry’s (classic Spanish cuisine; they also import their own wines so they have a large selection of Spanish labels that are decently priced). Gallery Vask (Chef Chele Gonzalez may be Spanish but he translates his travels around the Philippines into a narrative degustation using produce from around the country). Tapenade at Discovery Primea (great Mediterranean dishes and unlimited oyster/ salad bar a steal at only P600!). Your Local (in a hip neighbourhood – creative Southeast Asian dishes, such as salmon donburi and chili crab on mantou). Sala (classic, fine-dining European cuisine). People’s Palace (consistently good modern Thai). And if you have more time, drive to Antonio’s in Tagaytay, around 1.5 hours by car (excellent modern European cuisine in Chef Tony Boy Escalante’s colonial-style mansion and farm. They are the first Philippine restaurant to make it to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, landing at #48 this 2015).

Mecha Uma

The best cocktails in Manila are served at?
My current personal favorites are: Lit (Ebisu Sour: Suntory Kakubin, Whiskey, Disaronno Amaretto, lemon juice and egg white). Mecha Uma (Genji—Yuzu, Yoichi 12 and Angostura); Rambla (Oak-Aged Tequila Old Fashioned—Tequila, Creolo Bitters, Jagermeister and Absinthe). Crystal Lounge at Crown Towers City of Dreams (Crystal Daiquiri: secret blend of rums and lime, shaken tableside).

For overall good cocktails with great bartenders/ mixologists, The Curator and Blind Pig: just tell them what you fancy and it’s almost certain the drink will be good. For refreshing gin & tonic, Vask does it the Spanish way served in large balloon glasses, and ABV has a nice selection of boutique gins (Victoria from Canada and Citadelle from France are my favorites).

One of my classic favorite watering holes is The Bar at the Peninsula Manila, a Cuban-inspired room (it’s a cigar bar, too, for all you cigar aficionados) with a nod to the Art Déco era that’s quiet, private, masculine and cozy.

The best thing to see in Manila that is free?
The sunset. Sofitel Philippine Plaza and Manila Bay have the best views.

Where would you always take visitors?
Salcedo Market on Saturdays. It’s the most popular urban food market in the country, and it has everything—from Filipino to Indian to French to Indonesian to Chinese to Spanish, so there’s really something for everyone, and it appeals to locals, expats and visitors.

Where you recommend they stay in Manila?
Discovery Primea. It just opened this February 2015 so everything is brand-new. It’s Japanese master architect Kenzo Tange’s first project in the Philippines (he is best known for having rebuilt Hiroshima). Apart from being the tallest hotel and residential building in the country, rooms are large, spacious (ranging from 40sqm business flats to 125sqm two-bedroom lofts) and super cozy. It has the best infinity pool (on the 3rd
floor) overlooking the city and it also has a quiet chapel.

What Filipino food is a must try for visitors to Manila?
Sisig is my personal favorite. I also recommend lechon, lain and adobo because it’s the national dish, although I am more partial to when they deep-fry the left-overs and turn them into crispy adobo flakes! I am also a big fan of the local cheese called kesong puti.

Where do you go to kick your heels up in Manila?
Hmm, I’m kind of retired from clubbing, but the Pool Palace is pretty popular at the moment with the younger set. For a slightly older crowd, Salon de Ning at the Peninsula Manila is not only the most ornate bar in the country with stunning 1930s art deco Shanghai decors, but there’s live band that keeps a crowd on the dance floor.

Where is your favourite place to go shopping in Manila?
I like going to Greenbelt because, apart from being at the heart of Makati CBD, unlike most quintessential malls, there’s a garden in the middle, so there’s greenery, fresh air, sculptures, a pond and even a chapel within that mini park. It’s a good mix of luxury, high-end brands and, on the 2nd floor of Greenbelt 5, a row of Filipino designers (Tan Gan, Myth, Jun Escario, Arnel Papa, Religioso, etc) that sell beautiful
dresses and accessories.