FOODIE ROAD TRIP: BAGUIO
A week before the Metro Manila lockdown, my wife Gel, her friend Elaine, and I headed up north for a wedding. It was the first week of March and with the summer heat knocking at our doors, a weekend of pine trees and cold nights was something we were all looking forward to. From a group of three, we ended up traveling with my in-laws, the whole Salonga family, who also saw the weekend as a good opportunity to get a head start on summer.
Baguio has changed a lot from what I remember it to be in the ‘80s. I guess progress does have its drawbacks. While the city has always been crowded, it has now reached the point where people deliberately avoid going to the downtown area to elude the notorious jams and pollution. Luckily, there are still pockets of calm and fresh breezes in Baguio, especially the areas near and around John Hay, Baguio Country Club and the Mansion. In the past few years, Outlook Drive, a quiet road tucked behind Baguio Country Club’s back 9, has seen a few homes being converted into restaurants. This typically quiet back road now has some of the city’s more popular dining spots, and that’s where we headed as soon as we got to the city of pines.
Half & Half – Kitchen and Pub
There are a bunch of really good eats in Baguio, so whenever I go up, I have to fight the urge to go to the tried and tested. Luckily, Gel likes trying new places and since we were booked right off Outlook Drive, we decided to eat our late lunch around the area.
I’ve heard about Half & Half a few years back but never got to read up on them. All I knew was that there’s a Nepalese place along Outlook Drive. Half & Half shares a building with a couple of other tenants. There’s a bakery/café called Le Vain and another place above them called House of Chops. Anyway, Half & Half’s signage isn’t as prominent as the other two, so if you aren’t paying attention, and especially if there are cars parked, you may miss it.
Entering the restaurant, you are greeted by lots of figurines, wooden sculptures and all sorts of décor that sets the Nepalese theme. Being high up in the mountains also helps set the mood, as if you really are in Nepal. We came at around 2pm on a Friday, probably just after the lunch rush so we had the place all to ourselves. After being seated and scanning through the menu, we realized that Nepalese cuisine is very similar to Indian (which we love), with a few Chinese influences here and there. We proceeded to order what we thought would be nice with suggestions from our attentive server. Luckily, we got to also meet the owner, Julian Shakya, Mr. Half & Half himself.
Julian Shakya is half Nepalese and half Filipino. As someone who has been involved in their family business of importing Nepalese, Tibetan and South Asian art, jewelry and crafts, he was often asked by clients and friends to cook Nepalese food or put up a restaurant serving traditional Nepalese fare. So in August 2017, after trying their hand at joining expos in Spain and Europe where they served Nepalese basic food items like Momo (dumplings), they decided to give the restaurant industry a try. Although Julian cooks, he leaves the task to his Nepalese chef. Initially, they adjusted the flavors to suit local tastes, but now, with requests from guests to serve authentic food, they’re slowly increasing the spice and heat levels. Their ingredients are mostly locally sourced, since spices are available at Indian and other specialty grocers, but according to Julian, some spices, especially for their Momo and pickles, still come from Nepal.
The food at Half & Half is quite good. The Momo is very similar to gyoza, which I am not very fond of. If you like gyoza, you’ll probably like their Momo. The curries and bread however, are excellent. The curries (we got the Mutton Curry and the Chicken Butter Masala) are milder than what you’d get at an Indian restaurant, and unless you love really spicy food, I think the Nepalese version at Half & Half is even better. The lamb was meltingly tender and the spices are not masked by heat so you get to taste them more. The Butter Chicken was tender, the gravy mild and creamy. Their Naan bread is also really good, freshly baked and chewy, like a cross between a Roti and normal Naan. Of course, we also had to try the Mutton Biryani. Like the curries, the biryani was good—tender mutton, and spices like cardamom and cinnamon were present. I thought the rice was a bit wet though and a tad overcooked, but generally, it was a nice dish.
I’d recommend anyone who likes Indian food, and even those who don’t, to try the Nepalese cuisine at Half & Half. They offer good food with great value and a welcome break from the usual.
Half & Half is located at #15 Outlook Drive, Baguio City. You can reach them at 074 2462952.
New restaurants open all the time and even in crowded Baguio, there’s always room for another one. The Barn is located in Ambuklao Road, about 15 minutes by car from the Wright Park/St. Joseph’s Church area. From pictures I saw online, it seemed like nice and rustic (in a trendy way) place with sweeping mountain views. The food looked good, a bit “Manila” for my liking, but hey, good food is good food.
The drive to The Barn is a pleasant one, gently winding up over the city. Once you pass most of the curves, mountain views abound as the road is higher than the city and is pretty open on both sides. After a few minutes, you’ll arrive at a temporary parking area (the restaurant is below the main road and the driveway is still under construction). Once you go down the stairs though, you’ll see The Barn and understand why people rave about it’s ambience and the views. The restaurant sits on the side of a slope facing a vast open space with nothing but mountains to see. We were told that the whole complex is still under construction, and more amenities will follow. Anyway, The Barn is a nicely done concrete and wood structure, a mix of industrial and country. The structure is one long hall with a terrace for those who’d like to marvel at the view. Since we were a group of five and had not bothered to make reservations, we were politely asked to wait a few minutes to be seated. Luckily, we came just before the lunch rush, so we were accommodated, but were told that our table would be needed in a little over an hour. Perfect!
The place is lovely, and I’m sure that once all the construction is finished, it’ll even be nicer. The food they serve can be summed up as comfort food as they serve everything from salads and steaks to bagnet (although in sandwich form). They even have live Maine lobsters to go with your steak if you feel like splurging a little.
Like any new-ish restaurant, the food at The Barn can be a little hit-and-miss. I’m sure with a little more time and feedback, they’ll evolve. The food is on the pricey side (around P1,000.00/person) and at that level, you sort of raise your expectations a bit. We got to try their Deconstructed Bagnet Bao, a Steak Platter, a Corned Beef soup/stew similar to pochero, a couple of drinks and two slices of cake. The damage? Close to P6,000. We might have to try their other dishes but from what we got to try, there’s room for improvement.
Come for the view and the service. Take lots of pictures and make sure to call before you come. There’s a lot going for The Barn, unfortunately, from what we got to try, the food isn’t one of them…yet. They’ve got nice items on the menu, the food was cooked properly, the presentation was nice, there’s just something lacking when it comes to the flavors. They’re not far off, but for the price, it’s a bit difficult to justify. I will definitely come back for another go at their food and hopefully, it’ll be a better experience.
The Barn is at Km 4 Ambuklao Road, Baguio. For inquiries and reservations, call 09214779999.
Leaving Baguio is always difficult. Just the thought of the stifling heat once we get to La Union is enough to make you want to stay for a day longer. With just enough time for a quick lunch before we head down for Manila, we decided to try another popular Baguio restaurant—Patch Café.
Located just off the Session Road rotunda, Patch Café is right beside the lobby of Bloomfield Hotel. What looks like a trendy, artsy coffee shop serves pretty good food at very reasonable prices. We weren’t expecting much, to be honest. Sure, the place was packed, but it was a Sunday—it’s pretty normal to be busy for lunch service. The crowd at Patch Café was pretty varied—a table of seniors having lunch, some college kids having cake and coffee—a good mix of what I presumed were locals. We ordered a few items: a pasta dish, a salad to share, a breakfast sampler and a burger. We ordered a drink each, too. Our bill? Under P1,000. Patch Café was off to a good start.
Even though we came at peak hours for lunch and the place was packed, we didn’t need to wait long for the food. The salad we got, their Garden Patch, was pretty basic but had Baguio written all over it—fresh lettuce, strawberries, peanut brittle and a strawberry vinaigrette. Can you get any more Baguio than that? My breakfast sampler had a good mix. It had a bit of tapa, a link of longganisa, some danggit, a few slices of fried eggplant, a fried egg, a bit of achara and garlic rice—my kind of brunch! Gel’s Spicy Tuyo Pasta was just as advertised, spicy and filled with loads of salty fish bits. They must have put a half a bottle of spicy tuyo in there because it had quite a lot. Elaine’s burger was the chink in Patch Café’s armor though. It looked quite drab and while the oatmeal bread looked good, the patty just looked tiny and cooked way too long. Overall though, Patch Café was such a pleasant surprise. Very good value and apart from the burger, they have solid food and hefty servings. We’ll be back at Patch Café for sure.
Patch Café is located at the ground floor of Bloomfield Hotel, 3 Leonard Wood Road, Baguio. Contact 0744469112 for inquiries.
Now that we’re all on lockdown and feeling the effects of cabin fever, it’s time to appreciate the things we may have taken for granted before, like traveling around the country. I’m sure that things will get back to normal eventually, and hopefully, we all learn to be thankful for every little thing we have and get to do. No one could’ve imagined the magnitude of this pandemic and the loss of life it would bring, but we need something to look forward to while we wait it out. For me, it’s seeing family and friends and hopefully, a quick trip to my favorite place—Baguio.