2014 Eats – Top 20 Restaurant Endorsements

Just as we are about to bid goodbye to the first month of 2015, let me put out this list of the top 20 recommendations – in terms of flavourfulness and over-all dining experience – from among all the restaurants my wandering palate has come across in 2014.  The selection is a spread from a celebrity chef restaurant originally based in New York to a top-tier 5-Star hotel restaurant, a Michelin-starred dim sum place, a ramen house, to popular Asian stalls, and to a must-try hawker nook.  It also includes my top-rated choices and faves from the Philippines and here in Jeddah.

Follow on below for a ‘foodscovery’ into what I may call best of my 2014 dining journey.

1. Todd English Food Hall Manila, SM Aura Premiere, BGC, Philippines

This, for me tops the list.  Manila may be a few years behind in the food hall trend but it is never too late to share a great foodie’s delight at this high-toned restaurant. I first tried this famed celebrity chef’s alcove in New York a month after they opened in June 2010 with my college friend Reggie Renee Michelle at the iconic The Plaza Hotel.  My Todd English Food Hall Manila experience with another college friend, travel and food writer Jude, was just as fab. They have a whole lot of interesting choices on the menu – from the Raw Bar, the salads, the grills, the ocean grills, signature pastas, Asian, etc – a whole lot of reasons for me to come back and for you to try, if you haven’t yet.

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Spinach Salad with grilled peach slices, fried onions, cranberries in a combination of cranberry & walnut dressing and balsamic vinegar dressing.
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Home Made Cured Bacon lightly smoked with squash puree & tomato sauce.
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The ultra rich and uber cheesy Mac N’ Cheese with Lobster – perfect for sharing.
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A whole wide range of fabulous selection at T.E.F.H. Manila.

2. Leonardo Restaurant, Radisson Blu, Milan, Italy

It is not just another one of those hotel restaurants.  This restaurant serves a whole lot of fine dining selections and a local specialty that even Leonardo da Vinci can be proud of – Osso buco alla Milanese. Photo below just says it all for this restaurant.  Pricey but trust me, the euros spent were well worth it.

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Nothing spells a bespoke dinner more than a combination of original Milanese Ossobuco and risotto, a cocktail of freshly baked hard-to-pronounce breads, and red wine du jour: Rosso Di Montalcino.
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Leonardo Restaurant’s version of Ossobuco alla Milanese and Milanese risotto could easily be the culinary gold standard for this staple Milanese food in the whole of Northern Italy.

3. Tim Ho Wan, Westgate Mall, Jurong East, Singapore

You had me at Michelin star. A Michelin-starred restaurant – it has to be on this list. Thanks to my brother, Euge and our Singapore-based friends Lino, Tin, and Karen for taking me here.

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(Foreground)The famed baked buns with BBQ pork, one of Tim Ho Wan’s Big 4 dim sum specialties. (Background) Lotus leaf-wrapped glutinous rice dumpling with pork meat and sausage filling.
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Perfectly pleated pastry prawn dumplings.

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4. Nam-Nam Noodle Bar, Raffles City Mall, Singapore

Hanoi, the birthplace of Vietnamese pho has come to Singapore. ‘Pho’ sure one of the best if not THE best Vietnamese bistro in town. The lovely Mickee treated us here. That Bia Saigon had a rather strong kick on me.

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Hanoi pho beef steak slices in medium rare and shrimp paste lemon grass skewers.
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Nam Nam Milk Tea. The straw is a 100% biodegradable bamboo straw made by people with disabilities in the Can Tho province of Ho Chi Minh City – yes a straw with a conscience and sustainability.

5. Toby’s Estate, Robertson Quay, Singapore

For your weekend brunch, the best lattes, and other coffee mixes and all-day dining Toby’s is your go-to cafe.  Plus their ‘Mayora’ barista is an award-winning Filipino latte artist.

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My latte. Effortlessly yet meticulously prepared by Filipino award-winning latte artist Vanessa Caceres.
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Eggs Benedict Brooklyn Style – poached eggs with Toby’s in-house eggs Benedict sauce, and Brooklyn recipe home style stewed beef.
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Toby’s Estate’s Brekkie of Champions.
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Euge and his brunch du jour – Eggs Benedict Brooklyn Style and a cuppa latte..
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From breakfast to brunch, lunch to all-day dining favourites Toby’s Estate has them all. With your favorite cuppa Joe.

6. Briciole Ristorante Pizzeria, Viale Lombardia, Lombardy, Italy

A typical authentic Italian pizzeria that’s still oblivious to foreign flavours.  Their selling point just like most local favourites  – their food has stayed true to local taste buds untainted with intercontinental flavours that has made both locals and foreign visitors drawn to them. So if you’re looking to try authentic Italian dining this is one to have your ‘pasto‘ at.

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Fettuccine with ragu sauce sans all the frills is the Italian way to go! Authenticita! And unlimited olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

7. Paul Restaurant, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The list will not be complete without a French Restaurant in it.  Ever since I have tried Paul in Dubai (going back 2011) I have sworn they’re my favourite French place – elegant French cuisine fit for the modern palate. Fortunately for us Paul opened in Jeddah in 2012.  Since then I have visited this place a few more times. Tres delicieux!

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8. Shake Shack, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

If you are a hamburger fan like me, then you can probably relate to this entry.

Having tried this burger/hotdog stand from the Upper West (Side) (New York) to the Middle East (Dubai and Jeddah), I still couldn’t have enough of Shake Shack’s ShackStack burger and the Shack-cago hotdog. There’s that lingering feeling, that ‘decadence’ to every bite of their burger or hotdog – two food items that are otherwise common and ordinary. And I stand by their 100% all-natural Angus beef and 100% all-natural hotdogs claim. There’s a lot more choices to try on their menu too.

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Shake Shack’s flagship restaurant in Jeddah.
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The trademarked ShackStack Burger.

9. Wildflour Cafe + Bakery, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, Philippines

Famous for purportedly having the best-tasting (copy-cat) cronuts in the whole of Metro Manila, this restaurant also serves a wide variety of great food from breakfast to your all-day main courses to your favourite drinks and desserts.

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Wildflour Cafe + Bakery in Fort Bonifacio.
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Wildflour Reuben | homemade corned beef and coleslaw and Lasagna Bolognese (background).

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10. Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen at Century City Mall, Makati, Philippines (tie)

“Irasshaimase!” You really do feel very welcome at this great ramen house when you enter and feel bloated (with satisfaction) when you leave. Ramen experience here is truly one of the best in town, and probably, in the country.

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One of the house specialty ramens | Ajitama Tonkotsu.

10. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (tie)

Yes San Francisco’s top Chinese bistro has arrived in town circa 2013.  We have been wary of food chains in terms of deteriorating quality both of the food and the service. But I must say Paul Fleming and Phillip Chiang do not allow this to happen to their namesake casual dining restaurant – in my opinion. I have tried this bistro in three different branches – Dubai for the first time,  in San Diego in California, and here in Jeddah.  Since they opened a branch here, we have visited a few times and I have the same comment on the flavourfulness and the over-all dining experience regardless of who I was with in those dining occasions – it is above satsfactory.

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The must-try Scallop & Shrimp Dynamite (left) and the Mongolian Beef (bottom right).

11. Wooden Spoon by Chef Sandy Daza, Powerplant Mall, Rockwell, Makati City, Philippines

The concourse level of the Powerplant Mall at Rockwell always has something new for me to try every time I come home.  This was my first time at Wooden Spoon so my friend Oman and I decided we give it a try. Well, the culinary genes of the icon that was Nora Daza (matriarch of a famous family of celebrated chefs and mother of the owner Sandy Daza)  passed on to Chef Sandy did not disappoint. They serve Filipino food with effortless twist. With the variety of food they offer one wouldn’t get tired of coming back again and again. And the price is also ‘happy’ for the pocket.

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Wooden Spoon, Rockwell Branch
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Perfectly cooked (not too dry not too oily) Adobo Flakes with garlic-mayo dip to add a little more guilt to the experience. This is a must-try.

IMG_6343IMG_6372Wooden Spoon’s Crab Pancit – an innovative appetizer created by the late Nora Daza and Two-star Michelin Chef Jacques Marniere designed for their Paris restaurant Aux Iles Philippine. Creamy egg sauce with crab meat sprinkles and spring onions on a bed of light crispy white bihon. The sauce has to be folded onto the noodles immediately upon serving.

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(Far left): Wooden Spoon’s bestselling Beef Curry. If you’re into (or not) sweet-ish spicy, this is a must-order number on the menu.

(Left): Sigarilyas at Daing (Winged beans and dried fish), another interesting twist to an otherwise common veggie in ‘gata’ (coconut sauce) and crunchy dried fish shreds to up the saltiness to just the right level to complement the creamy sauce.

12. Elias, Bonifacio High Street, Taguig, Philippines

If you and your friends are in the gastronomical market for that traditional Filipino taste, you ought to try it here.  They pride themselves as a turn of the century dining where you get a feel of the Spanish colonial period in a modern posh Filipino restaurant setting.  This is evident foremost, in the restaurant’s name as well as in their innovative dishes with equally innovative and catchy names, the likes of ‘Pilosopong Pinakbet’ (Assorted Native Vegetables with Lechon Kawali Chips),  ‘Noli Me Talong’ (Tortang Talong Pie topped with Kesong Puti), and ‘Crazy Sisa Squid’ (Green Mango with Crispy Squid Salad) to name some of their must-try offerings. My college friend and roommate, Junn was the one who introduced me to this resto.

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An artsy ‘patis’ (fish sauce), suka (vinegar), toyo (soy sauce) set.
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‘Adobo Damaso’ (Twice Cooked Chicken & Pork Adobo topped with Adobo Flakes, Kesong Puti & Kamote)
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‘Mungo de Mariano’ (Sabaw ng Munggo with Chicharon & Tuyo Fillet) mungbean soup with pork cracklings and dried fish fillet. Also in photo is their signature pandan ice tea.

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13. The Cheesecake Factory, Le Mall, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

From the first day I went into this branch on their opening week in December 2013, I immediately felt at home here.  It became a comfort place. And the great food became comfort food.  They offer a winning set of highly recommended items. My fave: Chicken Madeira, the just right spiced Jambalaya Pasta, the Luau Salad, and of course The Kale Salad.  I have yet to try their Kale & Quinoa Salad, a new product that has just been elusive to me since its recent launch.

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The most-channeled but never imitated recipe – The Cheesecake Factory’s Chicken Madeira.
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Cajun Jambalaya Pasta.

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Dulce De Leche Cheesecake, one of TCF’s bestsellers. (From left): The Cheesecake Factory’s ever congenial staff greeting a birthday girl by singing her ‘Happy Birthday from The Cheesecake..’; my friend, the very lovely birthday girl Nisreen; the birthday cheesecake slice up for the taking after the customary candle blowing and wishing. 

14. Le Cafe Curieux, Polaris St., Makati City, Philippines

Another French restaurant in this roster of most flavourful and best overall dining experience recommendations. This cozy little spot that’s a feel of Paris is your go-to wining and dining rendezvous.  They serve authentic French cuisine from an exciting selection of apperitifs to Fondue Bourguinonne and a lot more.

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A platter of your fave apperitifs and a medley of cheeses.
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A typical cozy night at Le Cafe Curieux. Having a French date is a plus so they can guide you through the menu.
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Here with my good friend, Jude enjoying a very French kinda evening. Yes we are French at heart.

15. Lau Pa Sat Satay Strip, Raffles Place, Singapore (tie)

No rain nor humid weather stopped us from enjoying a dinner of grilled delights and more – chicken satay, beef satay, shrimp satay etc. – at Singapore’s famous Lau Pa Sat’s outdoor grill strip.

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Lau Pa Sat in Raffles Place
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Grill/satay medley: chicken satay | shrimp satay | spicy baby squid | spicy banana leaf grilled stingray
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Cereal Prawns (butter oat prawn), another Singapore favourite.

15. Nasi Padang Bawah Pokok, Johor Bahru, Malaysia (tie)

It was my first time in Malaysia, so I had to do an authentic Malay dining.  My Singaporean friend, Al Algadri, took us to this famous place that serves legitimate Malaysian ‘Nasi Padang‘ (rice and vegetable and meat dishes). So I channeled my inner Carmen Soo, (Malaysian Superstar) and enjoyed my first honest-to-goodness Malay lunch.

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Best enjoyed when plated Malay-style. A plate of rice with crispy beef lung, spicy deshelled mussells, veggies, and Malaysian beef rendang,
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Malaysian version of the Beef Rendang. This dish was the star of the meal. They say it takes a ritual to prepare this food from the marinating to the actual simmering.

16. Ading’s Pala-Pala Seafood Restaurant, Bacolod City, Philippines (tie)

First seafood entry in the list.  Ading’s buttered shrimps, sizzling scallops, and crispy crablets are must-orders. They also offer other varieties of these seafoods. The ambience is great – both in the air-conditioned section and in the al fresco area. The claim to have the best and freshest seafood offerings in town but they also offer delicious classic Filipino and Bacolod food.

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Crispy Crablets, an all-time Bacolod favourite appetizer.

16. Seafood by Emilion, Iloilo City, Philippines (tie)

Another seafood restaurant entry.  Yes they specialize in seafood but also serve traditional Filipino and classic Ilonggo (adjective for people and stuff relating to Iloilo) dishes.

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Poster at Emilion featuring the dish ‘Laswa’, a classic Ilonggo soup recipe of shrimp and select vegetables.
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Iloilo has always been known for the quality of seafood. Baked oysters in lemon-butter-garlic concoction.

17. Pizzeria Dai Due Fratelli, Via Varesina, Milan, Italy

The hotel recommended this pizzeria. I had to walk about 10 minutes in fur-level spring weather to find myself having a great tasting authentic Italiano pizza and pasta meal.

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House specialty “Pizza La Joseph’ (prosciutto, rockets, cherry tomato, and parmesan).
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Spaghetti Al Vongole (spaghetti with clams). What I liked about this is that the carefree, unpretentious plating proved that the great authentic flavour is what this plate is all about.

18. Ripples Restaurant @ L’Fisher Hotel, Bacolod City, Philippines

This is an all-time local favourite. It’s where you will find (arguably) the best-tasting ‘Pancit Molo’ in the whole of Bacolod City, and in my opinion, the entire Philippines.  They also offer a lot more local specialties and other intercontinental and modern bistro type food prepared by a well trained team of chefs using native ingredients to guarantee freshness and quality.

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L’Fisher Hotel’s Ripples Restaurant’s authentic ‘Pancit Molo’ soup – pork meat wrapped in ‘molo’ wrapper (similar to Wonton wrapper) cooked in meat broth with several native spices.

19. Wild Ginger, Rockwell Center, Makati City, Philippines

When you’re up for something Southeast Asian food that is pure, authentic, and well presented. The price is a boon too.

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Me and my nieces (from left) Athena, Lili, and Lari at my farewell lunch last year at Wild Ginger.

20. Red Hill Hawker Stalls, Red Hill Lane, Bukit Merah, Singapore

One of the few best and most frequented hawker places in the Garden City State.  There is a whole lot of choices from Asian, Malay, Chinese, chicken rice, curry rice, all sorts of wet and fried noodles, etc for your entertainment.

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Barbecue pork ribs on rice.

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“I get way too much happiness from good food.” – Elizabeth Olsen

“If you have good food, people will come to your restaurant.” – Mickey Gilley

“People will travel anywhere for good food – it’s crazy.” – Rene Redzepi

Note: This list was inspired by a posting – Most Flavorful Restaurants of 2014 – on this awesome blog – eugephemisms

Images: Author’s own.

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