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Tofu Scramble Burrito, chia pudding, oat pancake with Zambales mangoes—Peninsula Manila goes natural

Plant-based menu uses local fresh ingredients, natural sugar, whole grains

Oat Pancakes with Zambales mangoes and blueberry compote

Chia bowl with almond milk, berries, granola and nuts

The buffet table at a birthday bash at Peninsula Manila was laden with lechon, a carving station, cooked and cold meats, and rich desserts. One of the organizers thoughtfully got a menu so that I could have a vegan dish. Expecting the classic repertoire of Niçoise, Caesar, and Caprese salad—all of which contained ingredients that didn’t agree with my system—I was pleasantly surprised to see a menu titled Naturally Peninsula.

For starters, there was a choice of soba noodle salad with mandarin oranges and a protein-rich quinoa with edamame, dried fruits, and nuts. Then there were main courses of mushrooms ajillo with cauliflower purée and kimchi brown rice with moringa, and desserts of banana and passion fruit sorbet with pineapple compote, dairy-free orange polenta cake, and mango sorbet with lime granité and lemon curd cigar.    

My naturopath recommended to have beetroot in my diet because it’s rich in copper to boost energy production and in manganese to sharpen brain function. Hence, I settled for the beetroot carpaccio salad with grapefruit, with candied walnuts that contrasted with a mildly spicy radish.

Naturally Peninsula (NP) is the nutritional aspect of the luxury chain’s “Life Lived Best” program, which offers guests wellness experiences for the body and mind, such as meditation and spa and fitness activities. Driven by the changing dining habits of travelers, consumer consciousness, and the growing acceptance of plant-based dishes in the West, NP is defined by the use of fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, natural sugar (mostly from fruits), plant-based milks, and whole grains. It eschews saturated oils and processed foods that have been stripped of essential nutrients and that mimic the taste of meats and fish.

NP celebrates the wholesome flavors of nature.

Executive chef Xavier Castello’s recipes were sent to nutrition experts at Peninsula’s headquarters in Hong Kong to quantify dietary values

Peninsula Manila Executive Chef Xavier Castello: “We hope to break new ground in helping our guests to maximize their health and well-being while also helping to contribute to the local farming economy”

Executive chef Xavier Castello and the team spent several months developing the NP menus for breakfast, all-day dining, and for the restaurant Spices. The recipes were sent to nutrition experts at Peninsula’s headquarters in Hong Kong to quantify the dietary values. Familiar dishes such as the mashed avocado on sourdough, the mezze platter, sweet sour tofu, and stir-fried vegetables complemented such creations as the pan-seared tempeh and cauliflower masala.

Avocado Mash on sourdough bread with mixed greens

In the past, every time I ate at The Lobby, the strict vegan that I am, I had limited choices. All the anchovies, eggs, and tuna chunks were removed from the salads, leaving me with only greens and tomatoes, a fruit platter, and spicy papaya salad from Spices, the Asian restaurant. I couldn’t eat the pasta, risotto, or the dahl from Spices because they were laden with onions and garlic.

My friends would ask me, “Nabusog ka ba?” (Were you satiated?)

Brehznev Larlar enjoys the poached pear salad and Nimbu Soda from the breakfast menu.

I was finally satisfied with the NP breakfast menu, a dining enhanced by the company of friends, former dancers of Ballet Philippines (BP). Choreographer and certified dance teacher for PWDs Brezhnev Larlar studied at the Australian Ballet School and worked as a swing (a substitute for an absentee ensemble) on Miss Saigon in London’s West End.

Brezhnev came from a family who favored meat over vegetables. When he was treated for inborn polycystic kidney disease (PKD), with cysts growing in the kidney, his doctor told Brezhnev that he could have been dead were it not for his vegan diet. “I never liked meat. I get turned off by the smell,” he said.

In his home in Cavite, he has a corner where he keeps his utensils and cooks his plant-based meals.

Hazel Sabas appreciates the freshness and purity of ingredients.

After her career as BP principal dancer, Hazel Sabas got into New York University Tisch School of Arts, one of the best conservatories for performing arts and film. Living in the US for over three decades, she had a prolific career as coach and choreographer. Coming home, she hopes to find something meaningful to do.  Hazel has been pivoting to a plant-based diet. She observed that when she ate more tofu and less animal products, she felt better.

One day, her masseuse felt needle-like crystals in her joints and muscles and attributed them to uric acid. Hazel recalled that she would buy processed plant-based substitutes from health food stores. These processed foods probably contributed to the uric acid.

While talking about the dance world in the Philippines, healthy lifestyles, and the cost of living, we started the brunch with a poached pear salad. Ever since Hazel came home, she’s found Filipino food cooking cloyingly sweet and oily. She was delighted that the mandarin dressing was light and didn’t overpower the salad greens, cherry tomatoes, and pear. Brezhnev noted that the saltiness of the olive was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the pear.

The main course, scrambled tofu in warm and crispy rye tortilla wrap, tasted better when we ate it with bare hands. The tofu was spiked with turmeric for natural food color. (Chef Castello once told me that commercial food coloring with additives is taboo. The tofu was spiked with an Indonesian spice that evoked the mild, savory, and sulfuric taste of the egg.)

Green juice of granny apple, cucumber, celery and ginger

While we munched on the Tofu Scramble Burrito, Brezhnev shared a hack to remove the soy taste: defrost the bean curd several times. Since we ate on a Tuesday, our order came with a complimentary green smoothie of the day, Nimbu Soda, a vitamin C-packed juice of different citruses, refreshed with tarragon. I chose a berry smoothie, a medley of four kinds of berries, filled with antioxidants.

The meal was capped with a dainty stack of oat pancakes with fresh Zambales mangoes nestled between the layers

The meal was capped with a dainty stack of oat pancakes with fresh Zambales mangoes nestled between the layers. The mangoes’ exact ripeness and the freshness of the blueberry compote were a tarty counterbalance to the subtly sweet pancakes.

Accustomed to eating heavy, white flour pancakes, drenched with additive-filled syrup, Hazel loved the softness and sponginess of the oat pancakes and the purity of the ingredients. “The best that I’ve tasted in my whole life. The pancakes are moist and don’t even need a sweetener,” she said.

Brezhnev added that he needed this kind of dessert to boost his low sugar levels without causing harm to his kidneys, since most of the sweet NP dishes are prepared with low amounts of fruit sugars.

Two days later, I returned to try out the chia pudding. The chia seeds were gelled up with almond milk. The mild-tasting pudding served as bed for fresh mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, and crunchy, sticky granola. The breakfast came with  complimentary watermelon and rock melon juice with a fresh, lingering taste of thyme.

The public has yet to know that Peninsula has an extensive plant-based menu and how these dishes have gone forward.  Plans are afoot to introduce dairy-free, eggless ice cream, pastries and cakes, and kombucha. As more people become conscious of healthy eating and sustainable living, plant-based menus will be in demand.

To know more about The Peninsula Manila’s Naturally Peninsula offerings, please call +63 (2) 8887 2888, extensions 6691 or 6694 (Restaurant Reservations), or email [email protected]. You may also visit peninsula.com, like The Peninsula Manila on Facebook and follow @thepeninsulamanila on Instagram.

About author


She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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