When in Manila, it’s always exciting to explore this crazy city and finding great deals or absolutely unique contraptions. Best of all, it’s great if you get yummy food finds such as I did when I discovered Isabelo Garden Restaurant. And yes, I loved Isabelo so much that I’m claiming it as my own with a flag of WhenInManila.com flying high through it’s restaurant doors (well it was there in my mind but even then, the restaurant manager had me take it down… but at least I had my own Magellan moment, if only in my dreams).
Speaking of dreams, Isabelo Garden Restaurant started out as a dream of owner and foodie-at-heart, Portia Baluyut. After her long stint in the world of advertising, she left her regular job and decided pursue her true passion – owning her own restaurant.
Armed with a second hand oven, some hand-me-down furniture, and her appetite for rustic, comfort cooking, Portia opened Isabelo Garden Restaurant right at the heart of her family’s ancestral home in Marikina. With the help of her mother and a few relatives (who were also her first customers), Portia created a secret restaurant that people can escape to when they want to get out of the noisy and polluted streets of the city.
Since it’s a secret restaurant it’s pretty challenging to find. If you pass by the place, you wouldn’t imagine that behind the rusty gate and old, shabby, home lies Isabelo. There are no lighted signposts, no fancy furnitures, and definitely none of those commercial restaurant banners showing this month’s specials. To dine here you have to make a reservation via its website and give your orders in advance.
Once we’ve entered the garden, we were be greeted by bright colorful lights. The place is very close to nature and gives you a very calm and serene feeling, like you’re coming home to your favorite relative’s house. And as the waiter leads us to our seat, our eyes wandered at the spectacle that the garden gives. Perfume bottles, colored tiles, spectacular flower paintings (made by Portia’s mom), old photographs, antique chairs, bronze pots and pans – all adding up to the character of the place.
Bronzeware and old perfume bottles
Cute lamps made from old colored bottles
Photographs and paintings
Portia then approached us to say hello and leads us to one of the tables inside. “There are a few reservations today,” she teold me, “Just sit for a while and the food will be here in a few.” I decided to not sit, instead I roamed around the compound to take closer look at the whole place.
You can choose where you want to sit
A long table for big groups of people
For a more intimate dinner you can sit by the gazebo.
This is also the first table Isabelo had when it opened.
You can also opt to dine in an open space
Or you can dine inside and be surrounded by wonderful works of art
From the romantic gazebo for couples celebrating their anniversary, to the long wooden table perfect for a mini-reunion, the place can cater to whatever special event you’re celebrating. But of course, you don’t come to Isabelo just to take a look at its interiors, you come to Isabelo for the food!
Isabelo’s menu consists of mainly comfort food inspired by Tuscan-cooking. Portia has concocted all of her dishes by herself using her emotions as her gauge: “I cook with my emotions” Using the freshest ingrdients (the Marikina Market is only a few blocks away) and her love for rustic Italian cuisine, Portia has created a wide variety of dishes from her famous Roasted Pork Crackling to her Grilled Pizzas. As for that evening, Portia served us some of her bestsellers and some new additions to her menu.
First up was the dish that started it all – Spinach Artichoke Dip.
Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Bread – One of Isabelo’s Bestsellers
Being one of the first dishes that was included in the menu when the restaurant started, Portia has perfected this recipe. The creamy dip is a great appetizer that makes you look forward to the other dishes that will be served.
Baked Oysters – basking in butter, how can you go wrong? I have to admit, I’m not a fan of oysters but this is an exception. The oysters literally melt in your mouth and for a moment, you forget who and where you are.
Slow Cooked Beef Ribs served with Bleu Cheese and Parsley Rice
Slow Cooked Beef Ribs with Bleu Cheese – The ribs were very tender, almost falling off its bones. The tangy, spicy kick compliments well with the Bleu Cheese. It’s like buffalo wings, caldereta-style. Served with vegetables and parsley rice.
Honey Bacon Grilled Pizza – Crunchy and Yummy!
Portia serving us Isabelo’s Grilled Pizza
This is something different, I’ve had over-baked pizza and pugon-baked pizza but Isabelo gives something totally different with her grilled pizza. Using fresh mozzarella and homemade dough, the thin-crust is very tasty and crispy. Overall, this dish was really, really good.
For dessert we were served with Watermelon Sorbet, Key Lime Mini Pie, and Choco Lava Cake. The sorbet is perfect for those hot summer nights. Portia made us try it as is then recommended that we squeeze and little lemon juice for that refreshing difference. The Key Lime Mini Pie is also an interesting dessert, it has a sweet and grainy crust on the outside but inside it has a creamy and tangy ice-cream like filling. And for the chocolate lovers, the Choco Lava Cake is also a must try.
Key Lime Mini Pie
Choco Lava Cake
Isabelo Garden Restaurant was a secret restaurant, it was because since it’s popularity has greatly increased; it has now been considered one of the must-go places when you’re in Marikina. It’s captivating charm comes from the experience you get starting from reserving a table, choosing what to eat, finding the place, Portia personally going to your table to ask how you are, and of course, get a taste Isabelo’s one-of-a-kind dishes.
We enjoyed our meal at Isabelo’s! Surely, this won’t be our last one!
But it doesn’t stop there. In a few months, Isabelo will also begin to have a brunch menu, and by the end of the year, Portia reveals that, Isabelo will not only be a restaurant but also as a themed wedding venue. A new chapter in Isabelo’s and Portia’s that will surely be another success.
When In Manila, come try some Tuscan Comfort Food that’ll surely have you filled with deliciousness! Visit the Isabelo Garden Restaurant in Marikina!
Isabelo Garden Restaurant
For reservations: http://www.isabelogarden.com
Isabelo Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Isabelo-Garden-Restaurant/74451065391?sk=wall
Isabelo Garden Restaurant: Tuscan Comfort Food in Marikina