By CJ Juntereal
Looking back on that Sunday, I have no idea how I managed to eat so much. I only remember regretting that I couldn’t eat more. It sounds like gluttony, and I won’t deny it because that is what the Makati Shangri-La Hotel’s over-the-top Sunday brunch buffet, “The Picnic,” manages to drag out from deep inside me—that person who just wants to try everything on the buffet.
As far as all-encompassing, crossover Sunday brunch buffets go, The Picnic is not the first of its kind in the city—another hotel used to do this a few years ago—but the Makati Shangri-La has certainly upped the ante a bit. The Picnic features a buffet of signature dishes from the hotel’s top restaurants—Sage, Inagiku, and Shang Palace—set up around the mezzanine floor in front of each restaurant. Diners can make reservations at any of the three restaurants that will be considered their “home base” and wander around the mezzanine picking food that strikes their fancy, before returning to home base to eat. If you’re like me and don’t like to pile up your plate, and like to group food according to style or course, then you’re in for a lot of walking. I don’t mind because I figure that the more I walk, the more I can eat.
We had been invited to brunch for The Picnic’s second edition in June, so let me give you a rundown of what it’s all about, because The Picnic is happening again on Aug. 20, just in time for the long weekend.
Shang Palace had a buffet with its bestselling dim sums, Peking duck, roast suckling pig, egg tarts, and crowd favorites like sweet and sour pork. I enjoyed watching the chef’s technique as he rolled out the thin dumpling wrappers for stuffing. At a lot of the food stations, chefs cook things on the spot, so it’s nice to watch. Just around the corner from Shang Palace was a large cold seafood buffet piled high with lobsters, crab, prawns, mussels, and curacha. It was the buffet that always had the most people surrounding it. I ate my prawns cold with cocktail sauce, but I asked for my lobster to be grilled with butter. Other diners had their mussels baked or their lobster sautéed and heaped with crunchy garlic. If you’re willing to wait, the kitchen cooks your seafood the way you want it.
Around the corner to the left was my favorite section—an elegant display of cheeses, charcuterie, a whole leg jamon iberico delicately marbled with ribbons of fat, smoked salmon and tangigue, and two rows of different styles of foie gras terrines. The people behind the Makati Shangri-La’s food and beverage have an appreciation for the finer things in life, and the section was very well curated. The cheese selection went beyond the usual brie and manchego, and had some wonderfully stinky selections like livarot, blue-veined fourme d’ambert, and saint nectaire. Some of the foie gras terrines were flavored with chocolate, or fruit, or herbs, which were interesting to sample, but in the end, the silky smooth classic variant heaped with abandon on a piece of melba toast was still my favorite. The young chefs stationed behind the cheese and foie gras stations were more than happy to discuss what was on offer, and make suggestions, especially if diners looked unsure. I think that’s a nice way of getting people to move out of their dining comfort zones.
At Sage, the meat was out in full force, and the spread was more than enough to be worth the price of the buffet. I wished I had eaten less dim sum when I saw Tomahawk Steak and roasted bone marrow, a rib-eye roast, slow-roasted brisket, chicken shawarma, sausages, ham, a leg of lamb, and mini foie gras burgers. There was more foie grasbeing seared to order, and the aromas of browning butter mingled with the smell of seared meat were enough to make anyone’s mouth water. Ironically, an extensive salad buffet is laid out next to the meats, sort of like your conscience. It’s a beautiful, fresh looking selection though and, if you think about it, even people who don’t eat meat would be happy at The Picnic. Except for Sage, the food stations all have vegetable and seafood options.
Beside Sage, pastas were being cooked to order. As I write this, I’m dreaming of fettuccine lightly tossed in butter and a bit of cream in that giant wheel of parmigiano that dominates one corner of the station—and topped with cubes of pan-seared foie gras with a sprinkle of sea salt and pink peppercorns. I wish I had thought about that while I was at The Picnic, because I bet the chefs would have been happy to oblige.
At Inagiku, the Japanese master chefs deftly broke down a whole tuna for sashimi and laid out glistening, red slices. Inagiku’s section was probably the largest. Sukiyaki was being made on the spot, as was a giant pot of ramen, and tempura. Sushi and aburi were laid out row upon row in an array of colors. Near Inagiku, the Filipino section had a whole lechon, because a Filipino feast is nothing without lechon.
The dessert section was a Willy Wonka fantasy of macarons, a chocolate fountain, ice cream, halo-halo, Filipino sweets, cakes, and pastries. I was full though, way past my eyebrows, so I couldn’t do justice to dessert. I think next time it might be a good idea to eat a bit of dessert in between each course, sort of like a palate cleanser.
Let me give you one last tip if you’ve made a reservation for Aug. 20: Wear stretchy pants, or a tent. Because even if you say you’re not a glutton, The Picnic may change your mind.
The Picnic at Makati Shangri-La Hotel, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Aug. 20. Prices start at P2,800++ per person for a buffet with one free cocktail, P4,800++ with free flowing Moet et Chandon, and P14,888++ with free flowing Dom Perignon champagne. For reservations, call 02-8138888 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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