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Getting to know Sofitel’s new and improved Spiral

Hello Spiral, we meet again, said my mind as I made my way through Manila traffic to get to Sofitel. It has been so many years since I last came here so my memories of the old Spiral are hazy at best. I haven’t been on the loop with the reconstruction of Spiral but I do seem to recall it being less cozy than it is now.

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We arrived during lunch hour to a place that was packed, proving that some things never change after all. As we were led to our own little nook, from every other table drifted boisterous chatter and laughter. And of course there were the plates, colourful and filled in abundance.

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I dragged Gilbert along to this invitation once again since he is literally the only person I knew who had an appetite mountainous enough for the occasion. We were late and I was irritable but we were both immediately excited by the glimpse we got of the buffet. (If you haven’t noticed already, I borrowed some photos from Sofitel to be able to share the experience more extensively!)

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Seated at one of their super comfy sofa tables, I was finally able to get a good look around. It made me realize just how different indeed this new Spiral looked from that of my memory. For one thing it is much much bigger than I remember. Aside from the main shared dining hall, they have these private function rooms with names such as ‘Decadence’ and ‘Voyeur’. The door to the one they aptly call ‘The Hidden Room’ is cleverly hidden in the walls. These rooms can house anywhere between 10 to 36 people. The rooms with the sofas are my faves because they are spacious and very homey. You can bring your wacky family and friends and just be yourselves in complete privacy. And style.

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There is also the addition of the La Veranda, a bright glass lounge that opens to Sofitel’s famed lagoon-shaped pool. This can also be quite the romantic dinner spot since you can view the evening sky from the glass roof. This space, I was told, can also be reserved for a private function. It is a very classy addition to an already atmospheric restaurant.

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Back in 2011, Spiral was destroyed by one of the most disastrous floods that ever hit Manila. But as Ms. Jane (our gracious host) shared, it turned out to be ‘a blessing in disguise.’ The calamity allowed them to reevaluate just what Spiral was about. It allowed them to reinvent their iconic restaurant into everything it potentially could be– only bigger, bolder, and better in all aspects imaginable. It took 13 months to rebuild, but I do feel like this brand new Spiral is very much at arms length of that goal.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: When I get invited to hotel restaurants like this, I like to say yes as much as possible. It’s not really because I like to be in a place of such grandeur– and frankly I don’t even have enough stomach space for a buffet or an all-you-can-eat affair– I simply believe the selection of cuisines in hotel buffets are a great indicator of which cuisines and specific foods have become favourites of locals over the years.

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No matter how many people from all over the world come to call their hotels their temporary home away from home, majority of the diners in these kinds of buffets are still locals after all. It’s interesting to see how the hotel kitchens take on the challenge of trying to create things that will satisfy both the local and international palate; the latter often seeking authenticity while the former usually just wanting something that sits in the realm of the familiar. Judging from the number of patrons on a Saturday noon, Spiral is able to accomplish these tasks well while at the same time keeping their own identity intact by offering their signature French dishes.

They have a glass L’Epicerie (Cheese Room) for crying out loud! You enter the cheese room through automatic sliding glass doors and inside are all different kinds of cheese imaginable. (I have never been in a room with this much cheese before.) Now I am not knowledgeable in cheese and wine pairings but I do know that fromage is an important component in the French diet. The fact that Spiral has their own wine cellar makes it much easier to pull out your favourite wine cheese or no cheese.

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They even have a special area for locally cultivated cheese, these ones from Malagos Farm.

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Of course no L’Epicerie would be complete without cured meats and dried fruits and nuts to match the cheese. (Someone please teach me some pairings for next time I come back here!) This is the most extensive cheese selection I’ve seen in any hotel I’ve ever dined in.

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Sofitel has always been a brand I associated with class and 5-star treatment (even more so after finding out it was where President Obama lived during his state visit), and to tell you the truth, back when I was a kid, Spiral was to my young mind the only place synonymous to “5-star buffet”. My family always seemed to come here when we were in the mood for something fancy. These days there are buffets popping up left and right, yet people are very willing to shell out a bit more cash if they perceive they are getting value for their money. And this is exactly what Spiral boasts– quality and selection of food that will give you value for your money.

Spiral’s Lunch buffet from Mondays to Saturdays go for about Php 2,400+, and their special Sunday Brunch (sans champagne) is Php 3,300+. I know it seems like a lot, but I feel that good brands and brands that are confident about themselves always come with a premium.

My expectations of Spiral have been the same through the years, and during this day it was no different. It was pretty darn high.

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The concept of this new Spiral was to take all the good stuff from the French markets and Asian hawker stalls and put them into a 5-star environment. I loved the concept of dividing the buffet into 21 dining “ateliers”, highlighting the craftsmanship that comes with the preparation of each dish in every cuisine made available in the buffet. Baking and cooking are art forms to me after all! But 21 is a pretty overwhelming number, my friends. It can get even more overwhelming once you’re there in person, faced with so many delectable food you don’t even know where to start! I just hope this little tour I’m taking you on can help.

We start our buffet tour in the Japanese section, which is divided into hot and cold areas. As the name suggests, hot is for cooked Japanese dishes like tempura and teppanyaki. I adored the ceramic pots with calligraphy on the side they used to keep the food warm.

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The cold Japanese dishes are my favourites across every buffet I’ve ever been to, as I always like to stock up on fresh raw salmon and Japanese rolls with raw tuna in the middle. The rolls here in Spiral are few in variety but each very creative. I especially loved the one with the black and white sesame seeds for its explosive mix of flavours.

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Right beside cold Japanese is Spiral’s selection of fresh seafood. You can take these and have them cooked in the cuisine you prefer, or eat them as they are with a squirt of lemon.

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Being a French hotel, Spiral put great emphasis on their French dishes, which are cooked on a multi-million peso Bonnet French stove system, and those lovely copper cookware I covet. You can even foie gras all you want. There is also a pasta station here, as well as the Moroccan station, where I inevitably fell fast in love for the couscous dish.

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If you’re in the mood for some hot wood-fire-baked pizza they’ve got a selection as well! You can request your own version with your favourite toppings if none of the available pizzas strike your fancy. Occasionally you will see a chef tossing pizza dough up in the air, which only goes to show the food here is freshly made.

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The Churassco station can make any meat-lover’s mouth water just by the choices of meat and condiments/sauces to match them. Lamb, beef, pork, seafood, just name it. I have a feeling this is going to be one of my brothers’ most frequented areas when I get a chance to bring them here next time.

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The North Indian Station has quite the assortment of rich curry, vegetable, and lentil dishes, complete with a tandoori oven! They also have what I consider one of the best things on earth: Indian bread you can smother with aromatic Indian curry or dips. This cuisine is definitely on the rise. I think restaurants should try to keep their Indian dishes as authentic as possible. I was pretty pleased with the dishes I tried here.

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Next to the Indian station are the other Asian cuisines that are well-loved by Filipinos. First thing I saw was the Peking duck station, where you can request for the infamous pecking duck wraps. You can also buy a Peking duck to take home!

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Of course the Chinese station is pretty much a shoo-in for the buffet. The selection here consists mostly of wok-cooked dishes, alongside some giant dimsum. Gilbert and I are dimsum fiends so we had a lot of dimsum on our plates. We will eat anything from hakao to xiao long bao with a side of spicy chilli sauce.

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Another thing I love is that they have a selection of Asian noodle soups, which is one of my favourite group of dishes in the world! You can even ask for their in-house hand-pulled noodles. I completely regret not getting a bowl of laksa. Something to look forward to for next time, yes?

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The Korean station is filled with usual favourites like kimchi and Korean barbecue. Then they have a Thai station as well. I didn’t focus much on this area because I had just eaten Korean and Thai food recently.

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The Filipino station had favourites that felt and looked “lutong-bahay” more than anything, evoking a feeling of eating heirloom dishes cooked at home by Filipino mothers and grandmothers. Kare-kare anyone?

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For those veggie lovers out there (including myself) the salad bar is your friend! You can mix and match your veggies and pick one of the many many dressings. Confused and clueless about how to create your salad? Spiral makes it easier with their Shake-and-Go jars, their ready to eat salad combinations. Sofitel supports homegrown vegetables and have these fresh veggies delivered from farms in Tagaytay, so whatever combination you pick it’s sure to be a good one!

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And if you happen to fall in love with any of the dressings, you can buy a bottle to take home.

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Maybe you’ve noticed from some of my pictures the presence of shelves and bottled things scattered all over the buffet. Spiral has packed some of their sauces and seasonings into to-go bottles ready for purchase by any interested patron. There’s an area called Spiral To-Go right at the reception area of the buffet. You can even buy organic rice, Peking ducks, and some cuts of meat. Oh, and the cheese from the Cheese Room too.

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I actually bought a bottle of their Mango-Kiwi jam to take home, even Instagram-ed it because I love it so much. (I am strangely fascinated with fresh fruit jams, you guys.) It’s now more than halfway finished, sadly. And even if it costs Php 450, I have no regrets. I know so many people who are willing to shell out this same amount for Cookie Butter or whatever imported spread, but I feel like this is even more worth it. I highly recommend this sweet and tangy party-in-your-mouth delightful little fruit jam!

The jam, by the way, would go perfectly with any bread they’ve got in their in-house Boulangerie. I gawked a little when we got to this area because it was full of so many kinds of bread. Bread is really one more thing I am fascinated with making in this expansive world of food.

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I didn’t have space for any bread during this trip but I did try their specialty, the crusty Olive Bread which is served at each table with some herb butters. It was delicious! The fruity flavours of the olive had this pleasantly light presence that comes from within the crumb. Pairs perfectly with their tall “light” drink (a healthy, freshly-made drink), which during that day was this refreshing blueberry-calamansi concoction I could not get enough of! Gilbert had their Bitter Basil drink (pictured below, with the ice cream shots) and he says it was fantastic as well.

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And now we arrive at the final and my favourite area which is the one housing the desserts! The first thing that catches the eye is the set of chocolate fountains, which can only mean that you have the freedom to drizzle everything with chocolate! I was also really happy to get to eat some bibingka and puto bumbong on a regular day.

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There is a selection of ice cream and sorbets, plus an array of condiments for DIY halo-halo. I got the Lychee flavour which was nicely refreshing, but I wish there were more dynamic flavours in the creamery.

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The cakes and puddings are placed in these glass drawers to keep them fresh. There was so much eye-candy and it wasn’t at all difficult to keep filling my plate. I don’t eat much sweets but as a baker I love to discover new ones, give them a taste, trying to replicate the interesting ones at home… I wanted to sample everything and get some inspiration from them all.

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My favourites on my dessert plate are the Chocolate Chilli Cake (dark chocolate with a very light spicy kick) and the Mango-Coconut Pudding (a yummy tropical specialty). They had these gigantic madeleine sandwiches I just had to grab, and of course I took some puto bumbong and a super thin slice of the strawberry cake that has jelly in the middle.

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Gilbert grabbed some lovely desserts in shotglasses. There is one in particular called Rum Baba, which has a doughnut-like pastry set atop custard. There is a small vinyl of rum that comes along with it which you drizzle unto the pastry and oh boy. The pastry absorbs all that yummy rum and explodes in your mouth with every bite. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Right across from the cakes are the confections– gummies, mallows, nougats, truffles, and my personal favourite, dark chocolate barks dotted with nuts. They also have the barks in white chocolate form, in case you’re wondering. I love how the set-up of this area looks like something out of Honeydukes Sweet Shop from Harry Potter.

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This area is literally a haven for chocolate lovers like myself what with Spiral’s collection of pralines and truffles. If only I had more time looking through each of these treats so I could name them all right here!

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But my favourite has to be the Chocolaterie, where I got to briefly watch the chef work her chocolate magic within her glass house. Inside the temperature is 16 degrees to help keep the chocolate in a manageable state. Around her are displayed her creations, Mother’s Day themed at the moment, with perfectly-designed chocolate purses, lipsticks, shoes. Stunning!

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I wanted so badly to knock on the door and ask her to teach me! I’ve always wanted to learn the art of manipulating chocolate. Hopefully I’ll get to try out some basic recipes and write about my experiences here soon!

Interestingly enough, Spiral promotes an interactive dining experience. Requests to customize dishes are often granted so you may see them being prepared in front of your eyes. What’s more, they encourage interaction between the diners and the chefs. They don’t put as much labels on their different dishes because they actually want the diners to be curious personally ask about them.

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Speaking as a person largely interested in how food is prepared and made, this is a pretty brilliant approach for me. I always believe that there’s some value added to your dining experience in being able to actually know what you’re eating and how it’s being made. Let’s make an effort to know what we’re putting into our bodies right?

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You can tell with the photos of our plates above that we gorged ourselves on our favourites! But as much as I was impressed with the food here in Spiral, I was also pleased with the hospitality shown by the staff. They made me really feel like a special customer with the attentive and warm way they attended to my needs, and in the end that does make a lot of difference in the overall dining experience.

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Thank you so much to Ms. Jane and the rest of the Spiral staff for making Gilbert and I feel extra special and extra full! We felt so at home we literally stayed there until almost 5 in the afternoon, where it was just the two of us left and the Spiral staff were already preparing for the dinner buffet.

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PS. I just saw on their Facebook page that they’re having a Mother’s Day promo from May 6th to the 15th with a 40% discount when you dine during their lunch buffet! Check it out. 😉

Spiral

Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila
CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City
Telephone: (+632) 551-5555
Sofitel Website | Spiral website | Facebook page

Full disclosure: I received an invitation to dine in Spiral, but as always, all opinions expressed above are my own. Photographs borrowed from Sofitel used for this post truthfully reflect what I saw but was not able to photograph while in Spiral.

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