Taking a tour of Malacañan Palace and sightseeing around Malacañang Complex can leave you tired, hungry, and really, really thirsty. “Give me your hungry, your tired, and your weak,” is what Casa Roces across the street would probably say if it could talk. This Commonwealth-era home has been restored and refurbished into a restaurant and café by the Roces descendants, Peachy Prieto and daughter Bianca Prieto-Santos, keeping alive the rich Filipino-Spanish heritage in the form of old recipes passed down from one generation to the next.
“Welcome to the Roces table: fine food and genial company, effervescent conversation, elegant presentation, table etiquette and simple service is our style. Add to that gentle humour, wit and lively chatter which are all good for the digestion. The dishes have been prepared with our love, and that’s what makes them taste divine.” – Alfredo R. Roces, from the book Celebrations – A Culinary Feast from the Roces-Reyes Table
Drawing inspiration from the Roces family’s long line of freedom-fighters, pioneer journalists and artists, the quaint ancestral home has been reborn into a stylish restaurant best described as classic-meets-contemporary. When contemplating the Roces legacy, a few names come to mind like Joaquin “Chino” Roces, a fearless freedom fighter and newspaper publisher; Alejandro Roces, a National Artist for Literature; and Alfredo “Ding” Roces, an artist and critic.
Named after the late great Joaquin “Chino” Roces, Kape Chino pays homage to the distinguished gentleman whose exemplary record in public service merited a Philippine Legion of Honor Award, the highest honor the country can bestow to a civilian. A statue of the founder and owner of Associated Broadcasting Company and the Manila Times can be seen sitting by the driveway when you pull up to the restaurant, and a picture of him is up on the wall of the restaurant, smiling over everyone who shares his home with him, even for just a little while. Outside the restaurant, you can also find a statue of him at Mediola by the “Freedom Bridge” or “Chino Roces Bridge.”
Kape Chino, the ground floor of the restaurant, features a coffeehouse 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. I hear that the outdoor wooden deck is a favorite spot for incumbent President Noynoy Aquino to enjoy breakfast and a cigarette before starting his day running the country as its Chief Executive.
The statue of the newspaper boy outside represents the history of the family in the publishing industry, from Alejandro Roces’ newspaper chain, TVT (Tribune – La Vanguardia – Taliba) before World War II, to the Roces family media empire composed of newspapers *The Manila Times, Daily Mirror, Sunday Times, Taliba, and Women’s Magazine Variety), Radio stations (DZMT / DZWJ), and a TV Station (ABC Channel 5).
El Bulto de Casa
In the kitchen, the good folks from the Cravings Group take over, serving Filipino-Spanish dishes based on old family recipes but with their own modern take. Not to be missed are affordable plates of Callos Ala Abolita, Pork Belly Humba, Visayan Chicken Inasal, Pork Stew Binagoongan, and Chicken Adobo Confit.
With Christmas a hop, skip, and a jump away, Casa Roces also offers their pot roast or El Bulto de Casa packages that are just the thing one needs when attending pot luck Christmas parties, or simply hosting your own and not wanting to bother with sweating it out in the kitchen. Call your order in two days in advanced before picking it up at the restaurant.
If you do plan on getting party-sized orders to go, one mustn’t take the Roast Beef with Mushroom Sauce (Php 1,450/ kilo) for granted. The slow-roasted rib eye of beef remains tender on the inside while well done on the outside, and finished off with a light mushroom sauce.
The Chicken Galantina (Php 1,590) uses a whole boneless chicken that is promptly stuffed with ground pork and ham, served with roasted garlic gravy. The taste and texture of this hodge-podge of meat actually comes together quite nicely and makes for a healthier version of the meatier embutido – a Filipino-style meatloaf.
A dish that is very reminiscent of our Filipino roots is Casa Roces’ Lengua in Mushroom-Cognac Sauce (Php 2,365) with tender slices of braised ox tongue cooked in a tomato base with mushroom slivers and julienned bell peppers.
And lastly, with every Filipino meal is the required rice component, and in Casa Roces’ case, their Paella Rice comes highly recommended. Be sure to have a tray of that tucked underneath your arm before you head out for whatever holiday festivity you’ll be going to.
The Gallery Floor
On the second floor of Casa Roces is the art and family heritage gallery as well as private rooms decorated with a mix of Commonwealth elegance and modern flair. One cannot help but admire the beautiful paintings on the wall, all from the private collection of the Roces family. I find the portraits of the women, like the Chinese-Filipino mestiza, especially appealing.
There are also several function rooms on the second floor that can be rented out for private events. My favorite is The Tribune (Php 3,000 – 4-hour room) that has also fondly been dubbed as the ‘Engagement Room’. A small, private nook with a table set for two, this sets the mood for an extra special evening..
Casa Roces is located along 1153 J.P. Laurel cor. Aguado Streets, San Miguel, Manila and is open daily between the hours of 10am – 10pm. For inquiries or to reserve a table, please call +63 2 735 5896.