Cebu constantly ups the ante on new glam spots but it also takes care to preserve its rich heritage and teeming wildlife. LORI BLACKBURN returns to this dynamic city and marvels at its newest hot spots, restored ancestral homes, and well-loved gentle giants, the whale sharks. Photos by FRANCISCO GUERRERO Clothes by linea italia. Models FROM A.D. Models Management.
DINNER WITH A FRENCH TWIST
La Maison Rose is the new restaurant of Cebu’s French cultural center, Alliance Française, which is known for offering French-language classes, wine-tasting events, and film festivals.
Walking through the front door of La Maison Rose feels like stepping into a vintage poster. The year is 1930 and the place is Shanghai’s “Paris of the East” or even Hanoi’s French Quarter. You can practically smell Chanel No. 5 mixed with incense and hear Mandarin love songs on the gramophone.
Here, pretty pin-up girls wink from walls and Burmese parasols hang on wooden beams. An old capiz window gets reincarnated as a tabletop where buttery lights illuminate capiz shells. Dinner is served underneath swaying red lanterns.
A menu featuring both French and Cebuano flavors lets guests dine for about Php500 each, proof that French cuisine need not be expensive. One recipe uses local fish dumplings in the classic French seafood dish, quenelles. Alliance Française general manager Louis Thevenin offers a popular favorite—the French lechon. “I cannot give all the secrets, but I can say that it’s cooked for 8 hours using San Miguel Beer!” he says. TIP – Slip behind the carved door for dinner in the “hidden room” with a mural of Brigitte Bardot.
Future events include a modern circus, piano concert, and garden movie screenings. French lessons are taught in La Maison Rose’s five classrooms with small group classes starting at Php100/hour per
person. Online French lessons can also be arranged with cyber-teachers via Skype. (371 Gorordo Avenue, Cebu City; email@example.com; +63 32 232-1311)
A LOUNGE WITH AN ECLECTIC VIBE
GILT recreates a funky home, so pick a room to fit your mood.
The living room is a boudoir-style gentleman’s club perfect for sipping cocktails among velvet sofas and vintage nudes. Play poker on the “Table of Beliefs,” but be warned: items gathered from witches and churches may not help your chances of winning. Need a seat? The saddle chair is free.
The bar is through the curtains where glossy red and black shelves (inspired by Christian Louboutin shoes) stock ingredients for crafted Cosmos. GILT’s whiskey selection is great for after-work drinks. You could even call it a business meeting.
DJs spin sets in the downstairs game room, but if losing at Beer Pong or Vodka-Shot Checkers makes you mad, cool down throwing Pacquiao-style punches on the Everlast bag.
According to French designers Lani Pasquet and Delphine, everything has a story. A giant Campbell’s soup can honors graffiti artist, Banksy, while an old barber chair belonged to owner Jay Chiongbian’s grandmother.
GILT is about interaction, so you won’t be yelling over music. Instead, chat over sub zero beers, signature cocktails like Lani’s Mixed Berry Mojito, and finger foods such as baked oysters. TIP – At Thursday nights’ “Detention, ” college students with ID get 50% off drinks. Beer Pong tournaments and DJs set the scene. (Crossroads Mall, Banilad, Cebu City; www.facebook.com/#!/GILT.Artisan.Lounge)
A TRUE BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Owners Detlef and May Ernst have traveled. A lot. They have called Damascus, Tripoli, Munich, and Singapore home. Now, this international duo has created House of Cebu. Staying here is like taking a global tour for a fraction of the cost.
Inside the lobby, stacked suitcases and vintage crates make even domestic travelers feel worldly. And who needs a concierge when the Red Man statue from China is greeting you?
While many boutique hotels can look the same —hip and stylish—House of Cebu stands out for its “character and soul that immerses guests in a unique experience,” shares Detlef.
Chill out by the garden pool or hang out in a colorful sitting area. Returning to your room may take awhile as you “oooh” and “ahhh” over the quirky décor. (Spot the teddy bear driving a race car or table fit for a Mad Hatter’s Tea party.) Guest rooms resemble a Berlin apartment or a New York loft. Flat screen TVs and brick walls go surprisingly well with zebra rugs.
Impressed by how abandoned industrial buildings were converted into art galleries, restaurants, and hotels in Berlin, May explains that the House of Cebu reflects an industrial touch as well. Bring your confidence as the modern bathroom features clear glass. Room rates start at Php4,600/night, but check promo rates starting at Php3,220/night.
Paseo Restaurant serves global flavors like Bavarian Sausages, Thai Beef Salad, and Middle Eastern “House of Cebu Skewer.” Toss back a few Caipmansi at the Scrapyard Bar where a Brazilian drink gets a local spin with calamansi. TIP — Chef Matthias serves a two- to three-course business lunch Monday to Friday starting at Php295. House of Cebu is located close to dining and nightlife hot spots Crossroads and Banilad Town Center. (No. 1 Paseo Saturnino, Cebu City; www.thehouseofcebu.com)
RESTORING THE PAST
Cebu isn’t all about the glam scene. Cebuanos also take care of their heritage. Cebu City’s Parian District began as a 16th-century Chinese ghetto, but grew into an upper-class neighborhood filled with grand ancestral homes. Thanks to patrons like businessman Jaimie Sy, the past lives on.
Three hundred years hide within a warehouse. Just wander past piles of steel and timber to find the Jesuit House of 1730. What appears to be one mansion is actually two houses connected by a bridge. A carved entrance leads inside. It is easy to imagine a busy kitchen preparing meals for 18th-century Jesuits or the wealthy Alvarez family. Wander past dining room antiques to lavish bedrooms and even a birthing chair. Such a beautiful home must be hard to leave and
indeed, ghostly sightings have been reported.
Sy admits that buying a historical home was an accident. His father simply needed a warehouse and bought the property for their hardware business. Initially, they didn’t realize the 282-year-old Jesuit House was an architectural treasure.
Parian heritage can also be seen at these ancestral homes: the 17th-century Yap San Diego Ancestral Home (155 Mabini Street, Cebu City) and the 19th-century Casa Gorordo Museum (35 Lopez Jaena Street). TIP – Visit the basement museum, Sugbu Gallery, to view artifacts and memorabilia. (Between Zulueta and Binakayan Sts., Cebu City)
WHALE SHARKS & MORE LECHON
Dive into the waters of Tan-awan, Oslob in Cebu’s southeastern coast to swim with 18- to 25-foot whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. Not to worry though, these gentle giants only feed on small shrimps. From Cebu City, it’s about a three-hour drive to Oslob.
Aside from shoes, Carcar City (35 kms from Cebu City, or about a 40-minute drive) is known for sweet and salty delicacies. The local market offers lechon (slow roasted pig) so succulent, you can forget the sauce.
Carcar’s chicharon—crispy pork skin—is meatier. Soothe your sweet tooth with bucarillo, coconut strips in crystallized sugar, and ampao (sweet puffed rice cakes).
Exploring Carcar’s history is fun. Next to Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church is Carcar Museum, whose delicate white frame looks like an iced gingerbread house.
Along Santa Catalina Street is 19th-century Balay na Tisa or “House of Tiles” whose original owner, Don Roman Sarmiento, helped build the Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church. Just down the street is another 19th-century home, Sa Dakong Balay, also known as Don Florencio Noel House. As with other ancestral homes, look out for the four poster bed known as the Ah-Tay bed, which was a status symbol during colonial times.
Sophisticated, laidback, and original— that’s Cebu for you. These new hotspots embrace new trends while sticking close to and honoring its roots. If there’s one place that has it all, no need to look far—Cebu is the real deal.