By CJ JUNTEREAL
Last month, at lunch at the new Chateau 1771 in One Bonifacio High Street, I realized that years before I began to write about food professionally, I had written an informal review for Chateau 1771. That was back in 1994 when the Philippine Tatler launched the first edition of Metro Manila’s Best Restaurants and my dad was one of the secret reviewers sent out to rate each restaurant. Chateau 1771, in its original location in Malate, was the first restaurant assigned to my dad. He took me with him, and I remember that grown-up thrill of sitting down with him in a fancy, white-tablecloth restaurant, and my earnestness in trying to remember every single detail without taking down notes—because we were there in secret! What I didn’t realize was that my dad would make me write down my thoughts, which he would then use as the structure for his own review.
Chateau 1771 has gone through several incarnations since then, and more years later than I care to admit, here I was again in its newest location—tucked away in the quiet end of a breezy second-floor terrace that overlooked a park. In a business climate where restaurants can be successful one year and closing down the next year, Chateau 1771 has 30 years worth of longevity and has managed to stay relevant. It hasn’t changed owners, remaining in the capable hands of founder and CEO Ricky Gutierrez and Chef Vicky Pacheco. I think that is the reason it has continued to bring in both new and repeat customers.
I still remember how proud I was of the way I described the pasta dish that is still my favorite today: “….a Spanish inspired spaghetti bathed in chorizo and crumbled gruyere dressing.” It was the simplest of pasta and inspired all sorts of copycats in other restaurants, but no one could do it quite like Chef Vicky. The pasta is still on the menu, and I like to think of it as the perfect example of Chef Vicky’s signature “No Borders Cuisine.” Back in 1988 when fusion cuisine wasn’t even a thing yet, and even today when fusion is considered confusion, Chef Vicky’s style of cooking was to serve European dishes with small but innovative twists that sometimes combined Asian and Filipino flavors—familiar enough that diners recognized what they were eating but with enough of a surprise to tickle the fancies of jaded palates. It is a style that resonates with diners even today.
During lunch, Ricky Gutierrez shared his reasons for opening a restaurant like Chateau 1771. Back then, he explained, fine dining was only possible in the restaurants of five-star hotels—at rather prohibitive prices. He decided to open a fine dining restaurant with memorable food and great service, that didn’t charge extraordinarily high prices. And people came. It was a restaurant for special occasions; it wasn’t a cheap restaurant by any means, but its prices were still reachable.
Chateau 1771’s menu contains both old favorites and new dishes. Chef Vicky is still hands-on in the kitchen and remains as meticulous as ever. If you are an old customer, you will be thrilled that the Smoked Fish Pate is as delicate as ever, and the Scallops au Gratin still has that lovely white wine and garlic sauce for dunking your bread in, and a rich cheesy crust. If you are a new customer, you will wonder why such retro-sounding dishes still taste so good.
Mahi Mahi with Lime Butter Chorizo is fairly new, and sort of riffs on my favorite pasta. The firm, mild-tasting flesh of the fish is the perfect canvass for the rich flavors of butter and chorizo, and the tartness of the lime that cuts through fat like a hot knife on butter. Eat this dish with garlic rice—no substitutes.
When my dad and I did our review, I was awed by Potance de Chateau—the restaurant’s signature dish of steak flambéed with brandy tableside, the steak hanging on a contraption that resembled gallows as blue and orange flames engulfed it. It made quite a spectacle then and is still a crowd pleaser today. Chateau 1771 makes an art out of tableside service, and aside from the steak, Caesar Salad is also prepared tableside, with the server giving you a taste of the dressing to ask if it is to your liking. Chateau 1771 is also one of the few places that serve Irish Coffee—that tipsy concoction of black coffee, flambéed whiskey, and clouds of whipped cream served in a sugar-rimmed mug that was such a hit with my parents and their friends. Again, it is prepared tableside.
Vegetarians will be pleased with Ravioli Primavera, filled with a roasted squash and parmesan puree, topped with tomato sauce, and layered with grilled eggplant, zucchini, and broccoli; and Farfalle with grilled eggplant, basil, and chili flakes. Chef Vicky makes it a point to use local seafood. Aside from the Mahi Mahi, which is fished off the waters of Marinduque, she also serves Torcillo, a long, silvery fish found in offshore reefs in Cebu (it’s also known as baby barracuda). The Torcillo is served with a Portuguese sweet-and-sour vinegar and onion sauce—similar to our escabeche, Chef Vicky informs me.
For dessert, Chef Vicky’s silky coffee pie with chocolate cashew crust is still on the menu. I used to trek all the way to Ortigas Center just to have that pie for dessert! It has competition though, in a Lemon Meringue torte with layers that are simultaneously crisp and chewy, and a lemon curd that retains its flavor without being too sour.
Chateau 1771 is not one of those hip, current restaurants. And you won’t find dishes with complicated preparations and layers of flavor here. But honestly, how often can you eat food like that? This is a place where you can get a great French Onion Soup and Oysters Rockefeller done the proper way or a steak with peppercorn sauce. There are gambas on the menu, and baked stuffed prawns, and an honest Ragu Fettuccine. There are slow-cooked dishes like osso buco and lamb shanks, and a classic pan-fried duck breast with a sweet-sour blueberry agrodolce sauce. It’s food that you crave because you know what it is, and yet it still tastes fresh and contemporary.
I asked Ricky Gutierrez why there was only ever one Chateau 1771 at a time, despite the temptation to open several branches. He replied, “because there is only one Chef Vicky.”
Chateau 1771 is located at 2/F One Bonifacio High Street, 5th Avenue corner 28th St, BGC, Taguig. For reservations or more information, contact (+639) 17 862 6467 or visit the website www.chateau1771.com.ph.