Hidden away in an upscale farming subdivision at the foot of Mt. Malarayat in Batangas is a fine dining restaurant that offers Filipino fare — Terrazas de Barako.
Terrazas is situated inside the 22-hectare Hacienda San Benito that offers modern “haciendero” (landlord) lifestyle.
The subdivision is designed such that there is a common farm in the middle where organic foods are grown.
While the strawberry fields, Koi hotel, apiery and animal husbandry are closed to the general public, there is one area where visitors are welcome: Terrazas de Barako.
Terrazas de Barako is a restaurant located in a modern thatched-roof terrace overlooking the farm’s Barako coffee plantation.
The 230-square meter restaurant, designed by Buensalido Architects, has a strategically skewed structure, giving the space a unique and contemporary feel despite the traditional materials.
Terrazas de Barako’s design is all about balance. Echoing Hacienda San Benito’s farm architecture theme, the fine dining restaurant has a distinctly Filipino ambiance.
The stone pathway leads guests over a small pool up to the stone-clad facade, which bears the restaurant’s name in elegant lettering.
The dining area is small but spacious, with only a few tables set with bright blue cloth place mats that complement the furniture’s earth tones.
The fresh air keeps the place naturally cool thanks to the wooden slat windows and large screen panels that draw a subtle line between indoors and outdoors. Even the washroom is a sight to behold, with its ambient lighting, large scented candle, crochet-draped table and soft lounging chair.
Food is main attraction
However, Terrazas de Barako co-owner Ricky Ocampo insists the main attraction is not the architecture but the food itself.
Like any restaurant worth its salt, the first thing guests should recall about Terrazas de Barako is the excellent menu, which changes with the season.
Hacienda San Benito being the Philippine’s first organic sanctuary, guests can look forward to a fresh and healthy meal at Terrazas de Barako.
Most of the ingredients come straight from the farm which does not use pesticides.
The dishes are created by Chef Teresa Lobb, an advocate of healthy living.
When guests come in for a full course meal, they can find comfort in the fact that despite eating a lot, they are eating well.
At a press preview on Friday, the menu featured roasted pumpkin and carrot soup with homemade bread rolls, dill weed and garlic butter, followed by mixed garden salad with grilled juicy vegetables and dressing.
In observance of Lent, the main course was pan-seared Maliputo fish, which can be found only in Taal Lake.
The rare fish was served on mashed ube and pakchay, with a mildly spicy green pepper sauce.
What really stole the show, was the dessert, which we were able to watch Chef Lobb prepare earlier.
The malunggay-crusted deep kamias tart with homemade coconut ice cream was a lovely blend of sweet and sour – flavors that Filipinos typically crave.
The homemade bread was absolutely delicious, and only the thought of the food that had yet to come kept us from stuffing ourselves with the soft rolls, which were perfect for getting every last drop of the pumpkin soup from the bowl.
The chef’s in house dressing, which she has brought all over the world gave the salad a special kick.
Chef Lobb, who says she taught herself how to cook, has been to many places including Australia and Brunei, where she stayed for 11 years as a chef for fine-dining restaurants, as well as for Brunei royalty.
During her years in Brunei, Chef Lobb visited her hometown in England four times, and the Philippines eleven times.
“I just fell in love with the place,” she says.
Chef Lobb is a lot owner at Hacienda San Benito, where she intends to live with her little Dalmatian dog. Despite having “no luggage,” Chef Lobb likes to describe her food in terms of marriage.
Asked if her experiments are always successful, she shakes her head and says, “if it’s a good marriage, yes. If it’s a divorce – I don’t talk about it.”
Chef Lobb brings her favorite hometown recipes with her, like an English chocolate pie which she renames according to where she is.
She says the cake is usually served with raspberry or strawberry syrup, to contrast with the rich chocolate flavor.
“The syrup is the bride, the bride must be the finesse,” she says. At one of her previous restaurants in a Polo club, the oft-called molten lava cake was named Sudden Death.
Perhaps in Terrazas de Barako, the gooey pie will be named after the nearby Taal Volcano, From the surrounding Taal Lake comes the famed Maliputo fish, which was our tasty and colorful main course.
The soft pinkish fish was served on a bed of bright purple ube, with deep green pakchay leaves.
Chef Lobb explains that she cooks mainly Western dishes, though she works with local ingredients. Instead of cooking what is already offered, she finds new ways of cooking local ingredients.
“I don’t like to copy,” she says, sharing that just the other day she found some blue flowers to color one of her desserts.
“My favorite time of the day is playtime with dessert,” she smiles. Sure enough, her dessert of malunggay-crusted deep kamias tart was a playful and surprisingly delightful treat.
A full course meal takes at least a couple of hours, and the relaxing scenery is perfect for enjoying the many flavors.
Since most of the ingredients are homegrown, guests can rest assured that their bodies won’t suffer for their appetites. “We’re doing ourselves a favor, to use nature’s vegetables and fruits and cook them as gently as possible,” says Chef Lobb.
A full course meal costs about P1,700 per head, and reservations are a must.
“I want to keep it small so I can come to the table and make sure everything is okay,” says Chef Lobb. With the wonderful architecture, clean air, and healthy food, things will probably be more than okay. – VVP, GMA News