How would you describe a good or even perfect meal? For sure, we have varying definitions of what it is. As for me, a perfect meal is simply a combination of good food, good company, and good conversation. A good meal is never rushed. The food is given ample time to cook, to really showcase the flavors of each dish. Naturally, the ones enjoying it should be able to eat at their leisure. One more thing: a great bonus is having a meal when you have something to celebrate.
The French, I believe, have mastered the art of cooking and dining well. As I say this, I could not help but think of the late great Julia Child. She observes, “In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.”
Well, I had a very hectic October and needed a breather — a perfect dinner. Thankfully, my good friends from Resorts World Manila have heeded my plea to the universe, and invited me to dinner at Impressions one fine evening. Impressions is the French fine dining restaurant of Maxims Hotel, said to be the country’s 6-Star hotel. It opened in 2011.
There was reason, after all, for the dinner: Impressions has been awarded by Philippine Tatler as one of the Best Restaurants in Manila for 2012. So of course, I was very happy to join the celebration.
We had a 10-course degustation dinner called the Perfect 10, prepared by their wonderful Executive Chef, Cyrille Soenen. Chef Cyrille actually prepared a few extra bonuses, which made the meal more satisfying and more memorable.
To tease our palate, we started the meal with an amuse-bouche: asparagus with caviar. The asparagus was very fresh, and was simply wonderful with the caviar. The amuse-bouche is meant to be eaten in one bite or pop and its purpose is to tease your appetite, make you hungry and beg for more. It surely served its purpose very well.
Officially beginning the starters, Chef Cyrille prepared a trio of bite-sized appetizers.
We had the Crab with Romaine Salad, Celery, and Green Apples tossed in Truffle Mayonnaise Dressing. The crab and vegetables were very fresh,and had a very rich flavor, thanks to the truffle dressing. I absolutely love truffle, and the surely put a generous serving of truffle and did not scrimp on it.
Next, we had the Duo of Salmon “Demi Deuil”: Marinated Salmon with Truffle Sauce and Smoked Salmon with Herring Caviar and Green Pea Hummus. Impressions prides itself for smoking its own salmon, which makes it even more delicious. The truth is, I’ve never eaten salmon topped with caviar– it was superb. I also particularly loved the green pea hummus, which was very refreshing.
The last appetizer is the Beef Carpaccio, Arugula Salad with Parmesan Cheese and Dijonnaise Sauce. Another superb dish. The beef melts in your mouth and has a good contrast with the nutty flavors of the arugula and parmesan cheese.
Now, those are just the appetizers. The salad course was another trio of luxury– all duck!
First is the Seared and Lacquered Duck Liver, Mango Rougail Roll in A Crepe with Plum Sauce. Interestingly, Chef Cyrille explains that Peking Duck is the inspiration for the crepe. The duck liver was creamy and as smooth as butter (buttah!). The plum sauce provided the balance for the duck liver. Hence, eating is dish, despite the rich liver, leaves you feeling light. We were all in duck heaven and had a moment of silent nirvana as we ate this particular dish. Hahaha!
Peking Duck was the inspiration for the Seared and Lacquered Duck Liver, Mango Rougail Roll in Crepe with Plum Sauce.
And then, we had Duck Liver Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard, Grilled Eel. The eel combined with the duck provides quite a delicious surprise. You’ve all got to try this. It’s the epitome of a French dish. It achieves a perfect balance of prime ingredients, with no ingredient trying to steal the show– which Chef Cyrille says, describes how good French cooking should be.
Finally — and this is just for the salad — we had the Terrine of Duck Liver Medoc with Mesclun Salad and Beetroot Foam. It’s another smooth, creamy, and delicious dish. As the picture shows, Chef Cyrille gets a little playful by pairing the terrine with the beetroot foam, which, I think, is a good application of molecular gastronomy.
And now, for the main course– a duo of two well-prepared entrees…
Veal sweetbread with Truffle Risotto and Porcini in Parsley Cream Sauce. The veal was so soft and tender and was perfect with the risotto and the sauce. How I wish I could make something like this at home.
Then, we had the Steamed Cod Fish, crumble of Chorizo with Ginger and Lemongrass Emulsion. Chef Cyrille was pleased to tell us that the cod came all the way from France. The fish was very fresh (who knew that the fish travelled thousands of miles?), and I loved, loved, loved the chorizo crumble, which was crunchy and gave the fish great flavor.
A bonus entree from Chef Cyrille for the special evening was lamb. We had Lamb Shoulder with Bread Crumbs and Parsley– a good combination, I must say. With it was Roasted Lamb Loin topped with Mushroom and Nuts, which was very reminiscent of French countryside cooking.
Just before dessert, we had mignardises — bite-sized desserts served at the end of the meal. This set of treats was actually just a prelude to the real dessert. The set consisted of hazelnut praline, passion fruit pastilles, and an orange macaron. The pastilles, mind you, look very simple, but they provided the tastiest, most pleasant surprise.
And finally for dessert, we had the Strawberry/Mixed Berry Tiramisu. Very creamy. Lovely.
The dessert that stood out for me was the Dark Chocolate Soufflé with Coconut Créme Anglaise. The chocolate was well-chosen and I must say, it was therapeutic. It was delicate. It had the softness that comes both with a soufflé. Now, add the warm, rich, chocolate-y filling we usually find in a molten chocolate cake.
After preparing a wonderful, perfect meal, Chef Cyrille joined us for a good chat. Naturally, the journalist in me took advantage of the opportunity to interview him.
Chef Cyrille Soenen started his career in 1984 at the Ritz Hotel where he gained apprenticeship, after which, he earned his stripes in different restaurants in France. He even worked for the French Defense and Finance Ministries (lucky ministers, eh!) After many years in Paris, he has settled in the Philippines.
Chef Cyrille is a very pleasant character, and he defies the (unfortunate) stereotype of the French as snobs. He is very warm, and was game with all our questions. He has settled in the Philippines and is happily married to a Filipina. While he misses France from time to time, he says he’s loved the Philippines very well. A manifestation perhaps is how he even incorporates some of our local ingredients into his culinary creations.
I have always found it strange that there are not too many French restaurants in the Philippines or in Manila for that matter (compared to Italian or a Mediterranean places), and I asked him why. I agree with his opinion that his country’s cuisine can be quite intimidating because of its reputation as very high end and pricey. Plus add to these the stereotype again of the French as being haughty.
For these reasons, Impressions, while a fine dining establishment, has been designed to provide a relaxed atmosphere. The wines are simply but elegantly displayed in beautiful glass walls, and the layout allows you to freely interact with the chefs and staff (who, by the way, have all been very pleasant and well trained in customer service). Chef Cyrille is all praises for food servers in the Philippines because of their warmth and hospitality.
Chef Cyrille explains, the best way to enjoy French cuisine is to take your time having it. He has always leveled expectations of customers who come to the restaurant but are in a hurry to get the meal and finish it. Impression’s Executive Chef says a real French meal cannot be rushed, and is meant to be enjoyed.
Oh, I asked Chef Cyrille additional questions just for fun.
If there’s one ingredient he could not live without? Salt. (I thought he would say butter just like Julia Child, or maybe truffles. He gave a good logical answer)
If there’s a quintessential French dish one has to eat before dying, what would it be? Foie gras! I asked for his take about the several complaints by activists regarding foie gras. His reply: well, we don’t hear the ducks complaining.
The Perfect 10 is available at Impressions until November 15. I hope they consider making it a permanent part of their menu. But don’t fret if you miss this wonderful degustation meal. All the dishes served are available as individual entrees.
Friends from Resorts World Manila are also proud of Impression’s Sunday buffet brunch, which is around P1,800++ per head. Not bad, for the truth is, when they said the buffet includes foie gras, I was already convinced. They had me at foie gras, so to speak. They also have wine tasting, as well as wine and cheese dinners once a month.
Well, they say that first impressions last. This place — Impressions — has left me with a wonderful, lasting one. I’m looking forward to my next culinary pilgrimage there. I’m sure you and your loved ones will have a wonderful time too.
Impressions is at Maxims Hotel, Resorts World Manila.
Monday to Saturday: 6pm to 12 MN
Sunday: 11am to 3pm (brunch); 6pm to 12MN
Phone: (+63-2) 836-6333
– The restaurant accepts both cash and credit card.
– If you plan to bring kids with you, yes, they have a special menu for the kiddies.