The Grace Hotel in Sydney plays host to a calendar event for every Filipino foodie in town - and this year they've brought in the country's finest to showcase what Philippine cuisine is all about.
The 1920s art-deco facade of the Grace Hotel, the same building used as a location in the 2006 blockbustre movie, Superman Returns, is not an unfamiliar sight to city workers. Situated in the corner of King and York street, the hotel's ground floor is home to popular takeaway spots, frequented by lunch regulars who can choose from the Vietnamese, Malaysian, Italian, Irish, and even gluten-free meals all within metres of each other.
But for those who would rather not eat-and-run, there is another choice this month. Go through the wood-and-glass doors of the luxury hotel, press the lift button to the second floor and you will be transported to a restaurant, the Grace Brasserie, that looks more like somewhere in Makati than a few minutes walk from Wynyard station.
It is called the 'Flavours of the Philippines' Food Festival. This year, the dishes were prepared by three of the Philippines' top chefs - Rodito Dimatera, Head Chef, Benjamin Zabala, Native Delicacies Chef and Leandro Templonuevo, Sous Chef.
As the name suggests, the chefs have prepared dishes you would normally enjoy at a Filipino fiesta. Near the entrance is the salad section where you should try the lumpia crepe. Or you can jump straight in to the selection of meat and fish dishes, which includes inasal na manok, Bicol Express, bistek (beef steak marinated Philippine style) and bangus (milkfish) with stuffing.
While I was glad to see the variety to choose from, they had me at lechon kawali. The carving station featuring crispy roast pork leg and knuckles was like the north star to my food adventure. For Filipinos, pork crackling is a fine art. Yes, dieters should avoid the carving station at all cost. But everything is good in moderation. In my case, moderation was a 'small' plate of lechon (two plates are okay for Christmas and New Year only).
The welcome surprise was the soup of the day. A bowl of sinigang na isda (sour soup with fish and vegetables) paired with fresh pan de sal was the perfect tonic to the cold weather outside. The flavour of the sinigang was just like how I remembered it back in the Philippines.
You would think that at this point I'd be full. But there's something about this food festival happening only once a year that gave me the strength to soldier on - all the way to the desserts.
Now this was where the real fun began. The Braso de Mercedes was running out by the time I got there though I managed to get the second last slice. With that on the side, I reached out for the leche flan, palitaw and, out of guilt, several slices of fruit.
I never did eat the slices of rockmelon because, unfortunately, there was no space left after the halo-halo.
At $38 for lunch, it was way over my usual lunch budget. But fear not, you can always invite your mom, dad or your favourite auntie to meet you there and foot the bill. After all, you are doing it for them. It may have been a while since your last family bonding session. As for me, it was a birthday treat from one of my close friends who is not a Filipino and made me so proud when she said, "where is the adobo?" and "I think they need to serve more rice."
As the 'Flavours of the Philippines' theme suggests, the food fest is a medley of sweet, sour and salty flavours. Some dishes you would like, others too rich but at least a couple will make it to your shortlist of all-time Filipino food faves.
Only until August 26.
Grace Brasserie - Level 2, The Grace Hotel, 77 York St, Sydney
PRICE $38* lunch buffet, Tuesday to Friday (12:00pm – 2:00pm) $48* dinner buffet, Thursday, Friday and Saturday only (6:00pm – 9:00pm) $48* Sunday lunch buffet (12:30pm-2:30pm) (Bookings essential) 02 9272 6670
Video source: Australian Filipina, Photo credit: Violi Calvert