It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Too late for lunch, too early for dinner. We weren’t hungry, but the five-hour bus ride left us seriously craving for a mouthful of comfort. Lucky for us as we are checked in at Casa Vallejo and this small boutique hotel cradles a particular restaurant that’s been consistently on the prestigious Miele Guide for Asia’s Finest Restaurants since 2011.
As we descended down the grand staircase from Casa Vallejo’s lobby, we were greeted by plush beige seats, soft bossanova, a large stack of fine wines and huge wooden windows that afforded a panoramic glimpse of pines and adjacent Burnham Park. Hill Station lives up to its name; rustic and snobbish as it outwardly seems, it is a place that breathes class and relaxation like the many lavish hill stations that cater to the aflluent during the colonial days.
|Hill Station also has it’s own lounge/ cafe, where they serve desserts, coffee and booze. The restaurant can be accessed through a door in the bar, or via the staircase from the Casa Vallejo lobby.
It being a casual fine dining joint, we were petrified of the price, and were pleasantly surprised to see no SCs and reasonable rates on the menu. Immediately, we ordered Tex Mex Fries (P120), a melon smoothie and espresso.
We were expecting servings to be on the scrimpy side ‘ cause, well, that’s the case with some fine dining places. You know, like they mistake you for a bird or something. But the fries, fried deep and crispy and smothered with loads of taco-tasting ground beef, onions and melted cheese, was sufficient for us three.
Curious and having paid only a little over P300, we decided to dine there for the night as well.
Dinner commenced with a free basket of bread and a combo dip of olive oil and Egyptian Dukka, a fancy name for a gritty mix of local seeds, peanuts and spices. The Dukka alone makes for a great meal, and if you feel short, the waiters are always happy to bring another basket for free. We were also served a bowl each of thick asparagus soup – complimentary, too. The warm, smooth and viscous texture and clean taste of greens is something to appreciate in Baguio’s balmy weather.
We also ordered sisig (P145, with egg) and slow-roasted US beef (P490, with mashed potato or rice plus veggies). Food came pretty fast, in about 10 to 15 minutes.
Servings were plentiful and a plate can be shared by two. We even have left-overs by the end of the meal. The sisig is nothing spectacular, but I loved that it wasn’t just all ears and pig skin. There were more soft, tasty meat in there than I could ever want and little grease to feel guilty about.
The roast beef though is another story. I am not a spice expert, but the cumin-laced thick brown sauce meshes nicely with the meat. The loin is so soft it separates right off when you stick in a fork. There are two large slabs of it, plus grilled eggplant and salsa on the side, cumin-flecked as well. The purple-stained, dome-shaped rice is filling and tastes peculiar, but in a good way.
To cap off a great meal, we had their best-selling Ice Cream Palette (P180) which features their famous homemade ice cream. You could request five different flavors (Benguet Coffee with Choco Chips, Mango Rum, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate with Cayenne, Vanilla Cinnamon) in the palette, or two of one and three of another, or five scoops of only one – your pick. I was told their most ordered flavors are the Dark Chocolate with Cayenne and the Salted Caramel, but I asked anyways for all five in my palette.
It is fun and nice and I enjoyed the Mango Rum (Lia favored the Salted Caramel), but it is not something I would crave for every now and then. Scoops melted rather quickly even with the chilly weather and were more “adult” in taste than sweet and child-friendly. The Dark Chocolate was superbly bitter and I guess the spicy kick of cayenne kind of tones down the darkness, but it clearly is not for me.
On our last day, Lia and I took a final shot of one of Hill Station’s top sweet sellers, Death by Chocolate: a scoop of smooth vanilla ice cream that sits on a thick, warm bed of Davao-sourced slightly melted, chewy tablea (P115). I cannot sing enough praises for this baby. If you like your chocolate not too sweet yet awe-inspiring and chocolatey through and through, it should be on your list. It’s a great dessert to send you off home and it will keep you reveling like you’d seen unicorns.
It is easy to see why people – many of whom are expatriates – travel to taste the tastes of Hill Station. Food is premium-grade but reasonably priced. Service is tops. The waiters are awesome. They speak conversational English fluently – call center twang and all – and know better subject-verb agreement than my P.E. and Math teachers. I remember one waiter that exhibited that perfectly (upon handing me my Death by Chocolate, he asked me, “So, how is it, ma’am?“, followed by a “Yes, it does, ‘no?” when I told him that it lives by its name. Seriously, they should promote that guy to manager).
Best of all, no one gives a damn if you are wearing flip-flops. There was even an old American who ate there in boxer-like shorts and nobody gave him the stink eye. In fact, diners here seem reserved – painfully shy, even. It seems people go here simply to celebrate the joy and art of dining well and that takes away the negative connotations to fine dining.
Read the rest of the Baguio trip series:
Baguio’s Charm and A First Teaching Engagement
Review: Casa Vallejo Hotel, Baguio City
Mt. Cloud Bookshop, North Haven Spa and Cinematheque at Casa Vallejo, Baguio City
Baguio’s Famous Haunts: The Diplomat Hotel, Laperal House and Casa Vallejo Hotel
Baguio’s Tam-Awan Village: Nature and Art Haven
La Trinidad, Benguet Side Trip: Bell Church and Strawberry Fields
Baguio City Tour: Lourdes Grotto, Good Shepherd, The Mansion, Wright Park and Mines View Park
SM Baguio’s Pretty Skyline, Baguio Cathedral, and A Little Known Bulalohan