As one of the oldest restaurants in the swanky Tomas Morato strip, Annabel’s is a name that resonates with various AB circles – the young and hip, the old and classy. High-profile media events, along with over-morning-coffee talks among Manila’s most affluent, have made their way in its al-fresco-like dining hall for nearly two decades. It boasts stellar online reviews and a steep price tag.
It is a name that from a first timer’s perspective, glitters like gold. And what do you do when you want to strike gold? You dig in.
And dig, I did. It made a lasting P1,795 gash in my pocket for an “International Lunch Buffet” (quotation marks TOTALLY intended) – one discounted voucher from Deal Grocer (P795) and another at the regular price. Usually I stay away from anything above P200 in the menu, but hey, this could be gold!
Ambient and soft Bossannova played in the background as we entered its tranquil halls rimmed with sandstone bricks and fresh indoor plants. There are only two groups that Sunday afternoon, our party of two-and-a-half included — quite perturbing for a Sunday aside from that dim and bleak corner near the buffet table where we sat.
The buffet itself wasn’t too extensive as say, Dad’s or Yakimix or Viking’s. Not even half. There’s a short lane of five mains, one for each kind of meat: barbecued chicken wings, honeycured porkloin and vegetable fritata. All, sadly, easy to forget except for the Baked Rosemary Chicken and the creamy Seafood Newburg. Save for these two, the mains aren’t really something I’d expect in an upscale joint. Even I can make them at home.
|Baked Rosemary Chicken|
Comprising the longest line in the bunch are the appetizers, a mish-mash of Mexican fare (garlic tortillas and cheese jalepeno rolls); Intercontinental meat rolls; and Japanese sushi (tamago, kani, salmon, tuna and maki) and tuna sashimi. The appetizers were just okay, the only standout being the fresh and jubilant oysters.
|Fresh and refreshing: Annabel’s oysters.|
Taking centerstage is the carving station, which showcases their famous home-made chicharon with lechon kawali, and roasted US Angus beef. Both look extremely inviting, but I swear, we have much, much better chicharon in Sta. Maria and for only P13! Props to the lechon kawali‘s fall-off-the-bone softness and crispy skin, but not the blah meat. The Angus beef was a nice medium rare but lackluster nonetheless, even when paired with the sauce.
Plated on another table was shrimp tempura, horribly cold and tough-skinned. That’s probably one of my major issues with Annabel’s. Most of the meats are not even lukewarm. They’re cold and boring like they were left out to die ages ago. Note that this is a fine dining facility where a small buffet costs as much an air conditioned lodge room in Coron!
We didn’t get to try the breads and the pasta (pomodoro and carbonara, paired with fettucine noodles and a few DIY add-ons) even if they looked promising. We enjoyed the soup though – a rich and delicious cream of asparagus.
There’s still a LOT of space for dessert, ’cause this is the first time in a buffet where I don’t obtain a second helping of any entree. I prayed those salads and confections be good or else, I might just cry. That’s a three-day salary I just spent. And thank goodness, that last bit just had me singing Hallelujah!
There were three salads including a raisin-sprinkled macaroni salad, Waldorf (which I reaaally love), and a do-it-yourself Caesar salad. The desserts though (except for the not-so-crunchy churros and marshmallow-tipped bread sticks) are the real stars here. It’s not a lot, but it’s a station that’s a testimony to the fact that quality is often better than quantity.
Apart from seasonal fruits, the spread also consists of caramelized bananas and fruit jello, plus mango panna cotta, creme brulee and square slices of carrot cake. Those last three are dishes bursting with heart. Great balance of flavors, not utterly sweet, pulls your heart in all right places. I especially love the cream cheese frosting on the carrot cake; I make a second trip back to the table just for the frosting.
I close my eyes with each mouthful and (unintentionally) make so-good noises. If I would go back to Annabel’s, they’re probably the only items I’d bait off their take-out confectionaire counter. Nothing else.
|She totally digs that breadstick. Especially the choco dip that comes with it.|
We appreciate the top-notch service by the waiters. They are exceptionally well-mannered and fastidious. Not once did we have to ask for our glasses to be filled (drinks aren’t included in the buffet, but they do serve house water). They anticipate such details in advance and are thus quick to act.
Notwithstanding the servers and desserts, Annabel’s teaches an invaluable lesson in dining out: not all that glitters is gold. Too bad I have to had my wallet ripped to learn that.