by Anne Marie Ozaeta, DinePH Contributor |
Can a restaurant from the Philippines make it to the much-hyped Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna? Apparently not if one goes by the previous awards, which saw the Philippines shut out in 2013 and 2014. The good news, though, is that this year, the Philippines’ own fine dining restaurant Antonio’s finally cracked the top 50 to land in the number 48 spot!
Along with a small contingent of Filipino journalists, I got the chance to fly to Singapore to witness the unveiling of the “50 Best” list. During the ceremony, I was thrilled to see Antonio’s chef-owner Antonio “Tonyboy” Escalante stand up grinning from ear to ear, waving to the crowd as his restaurant’s name was called. Along with his number 48 ranking, Antonio’s was also crowned the S.Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the Philippines. Right after the ceremony, I couldn’t contain my excitement as I warmly congratulated Chef Tonyboy for the recognition. And all he could say was, “I want to go back [to Antonio’s]! I have to make things even better!”
It’s hard to believe that Antonio’s can become even better. Since it opened in 2002, Antonio’s has been wowing diners with its beautiful Tagaytay setting, impeccable service and exemplary fare, all orchestrated in meticulous detail by Chef Tonyboy. Diners walk into an antique-filled series of rooms and verandas that look out onto a lush garden, a setting that harks back to Chef Tonyboy’s Negros hacienda upbringing. The waitstaff are gracious and discreetly attentive, as close to fine dining service as you’ll get in the country. On the menu, Chef Tonyboy sticks to the classics but with creative touches, whether it’s his iconic organic house salad or any of his steak dishes—arguably the best in the country. However many times I’ve dined at Antonio’s, the 1 1/2-hour drive to Tagaytay from Manila is always worth it.
Antonio’s has had its share of international accolades. From 2008 to 2012, it was listed as the only Philippine restaurant among Asia’s top 20 restaurants in The Miele Guide. In 2014, Chef Tonyboy won the Manitowoc Restaurateur of the Year Award during the World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence in Singapore. For us who cover the local food scene, we felt it was just a matter of time before Antonio’s made it to the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, a spinoff from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants created by the UK-based Restaurant Magazine.
Whether you personally consider Antonio’s the “best” or not, I believe that Antonio’s is deserving of this honor, more so because it automatically puts the Philippines in the culinary spotlight. During the award ceremony, I heard journalists and chefs from other Asian countries expressing their interest in visiting the Philippines to try out Antonio’s, as well as other restaurants. It seems that we’re now playing a bigger part in the ongoing conversation about Asia’s restaurant scene. That can only be a good thing for Antonio’s, of course, as well as other exceptional local restaurants that may one day join Antonio’s on that hallowed list. Next year perhaps?
MAKING THE LIST
Here’s how the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants works: a group of 300 journalists, critics, chefs, restaurateurs and noted “foodies” vote for their top seven restaurants but without any specific criteria in mind. What this does is present a “snapshot” of the state of the dining scene in any given year. What goes on the list (or not) depends on where the judges ate during a prescribed 18-month period. So it’s no surprise that Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and China get the lion’s share of the votes. However, unlike the two previous years, for this year’s awards, the organizers decided to include more judges from Asia. Arguably, this small change may have made all the difference in finally getting the Philippines on the list.
For the complete Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, visit them HERE.
The Antonio’s Group of Restaurants includes Antonio’s, Breakfast at Antonio’s, Lanai Lounge and soon to open, Balay Dako serving Filipino food, all based in Tagaytay. For more information, visit antoniosrestaurant.ph