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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wooden 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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
Images: Author’s own.