Ayá by Hapag Mnl at The Balmori Suites is a striking prelude armed with the same passion for Filipino food and culture.
If you've come a long way to find this post or plan to visit Hapag for a while, I'll keep it short and sweet: secure your seat at their exclusive pop-up in Rockwell before it's too late.
Enter Ayá by Hapag and see yourself in an inviting abode straight out of one of Nick Joaquin's novels. Once you're inside, it's like being in a room that only a few people can see and, in my opinion, might be quite difficult to get out of -- and I meant it in a good way.
Ayá by Hapag is a modern term derived from the Tagalog word "anyaya", meaning invitation/to invite. The pop-up is a bar concept with an a la carte menu filled with familiar yet reimagined Filipino classic dishes. For the time being, they've set their stage at the lobby of The Balmori Suites in Rockwell before they move to their new home on the 7th floor of the same building in a few months (Hapag in Katipunan, QC, will remain open just before they become fully operational at The Balmori Suites in Rockwell).
Take a glimpse of the exhilarating vibe from the talented culinary team behind Ayá as they push boundaries for the love of Filipino cooking with chefs Thirdy Dolatre and Kevin Navoa at the helm.
But before anything, it's not worth braving the Friday traffic in Manila without trying some inviting locally-inspired cocktails at Ayá, such as the Mezcal-based Kamias Margarita with dried and burnt kamias fruit that they innovatively used as the "salt" of the drink, the poise yet fierce Dalandan Gimlet, which I thought was more fruity until I started talking louder and faster an hour later; their Old Fashioned that is made with local bananas and pandan; and a floral Guava Spritz to officially get the party started.
Their Panimula or small plates/appetizers went perfectly with the cocktails, with Okoy and pearls being my favorite - vegetable fritters with shrimp and crablets served with a redefined pinakurat that’s made with chives, cream and ikura.
Tantalize the tastebuds with some addicting Gamet kropek with fermented red pepper aioli; and Warek-warek, grilled maskara (pig face) on a bed of crispy lumpia wrapper and dinakdakan aioli.
Pares toast is like your favorite hangover food but underwent an ultra-posh makeover, served on a pan de Kalinga toast with pickled onions, aioli and chimichurri.
The bold, savory flavors of Adobo liver mousse worked well with the red onion marmalade's sweetness. Smear it generously on toasted kamote brioche and follow it with a sip of Dalandan Gimlet for good measure.
More favorites include Sugpo at buro - tiger prawns with smoked buro-bagoong butter; a stunning Kilawing baka which is an intricate and local take on Beef Tartare with mustard aioli and itlog na maalat gel that you enjoy with root vegetable chips.
Onto the Pangalawa, or main courses, the Beef short rib Kare Kare uses cashews as a base instead of peanuts and is served with homemade bagoong rice with mango slices.
Experience a play of textures when you order the Mushroom dinakdakan silog paired with a 65° egg. Try the Binondo steak fried rice that has Kiampong and crispy fried egg; and the Bicol Express version that is uniquely Hapag is the Katipunan express, that's made with spicy coconut-kamote puree and spicy tocino glaze.
Don't leave without trying their dessert selection or Panapos, especially the Banana Bread Pudding that highlights local fish sauce on a whole new level. Sweet and salty is the game's name, with patis-spiked caramel fudge and cashew ice cream with miso on a bed of warm, decadent banana bread. If only I wasn't as full, I can finish this dessert in a heartbeat.
The food, the vibe, and the drinks at Ayá are playful and meticulous and highly speak to the local heritage that Hapag continues to beckon even while pursuing new heights. This goes to show how serious they are with their craft. Can't wait for their next chapter soon!
Ayá by Hapag Mnl encourages booking a table before arrival for a better dining experience. Contact them at +639194306144 or visit hapagmnl.com
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