There are millions of Filipinos who’ve made their homes outside the Philippines. They get homesick and often crave for Filipino cooking, or just miss conversing in their native language.
When they visit the motherland, they enjoy Filipino food every chance they get and love to sample new Philippine restaurants.
They should add to their list XO 46 Heritage Bistro, which provides a unique dining experience as the staff, garbed in elegant traditional Filipino clothing, speaks only in flowery Pilipino language, the formal kind you learn in school. There is a musical lilt to the spoken language that brings amusement when the guests try to answer in the same manner.
At their S Maison branch (adjacent to the massive SM Mall of Asia and the beautiful Conrad Manila Hotel), XO 46 Heritage Bistro has a section at the back with a glass wall that provides a lovely view of Manila Bay, bathing the dining area with natural light. We can imagine the view must be stunning in the evening as the sun sets over the bay. On the walls hang portraits of Filipino icons, like beloved former Presidents Manuel L. Quezon and Ramon Magsaysay.
The food is wonderful and offer classics as well as novel twists on favorites.
For starters, we had okoy, crispy shrimp and vegetable fritters dipped in spiced vinegar,
and tokwa’t baboy XO style, fried tofu cubes and crispy pork belly in soy-vinegar dressing with chili, topped with chopped red onions and spring onions.
This was followed by a hearty suam na mais sa alimasag sopas (crab and corn soup), which hit the spot.
There is only one green salad on the menu but it is excellent, with slivers of sour green mango and savory bagnet chunks.
The kare kare classico was to die for: tender beef tripe in a rich peanut sauce with banana blossom, eggplant, stringbeans and leafy pechay vegetables
Kare kare is often paired with crispy pata, deep fried pork knuckles served with a spicy soy and vinegar sauce and atchara, pickled shredded green papaya.
The escabecheng tilapia in sweet and sour sauce is artfully presented with the whole fish in an upright position, so it looks like it is swimming towards you.
A Bicol region specialty and now a personal favorite is the ginataang santol. The rind of the native sour santol fruit is cooked in coconut milk and chili and topped with shrimp. Simply delicious!
We loved the binagoongan sa gata, pork cubes cooked in shrimp paste and coconut milk, served with sliced green mangoes. We can never get enough of sour green mangoes and they are the perfect side to this salty/creamy dish.
Ginisang monggo (sauteed mung beans) is a staple in Filipino dining tables, and XO 46’s version has flaked tinapa (smoked fish) and is topped with a slice of crispy pork.
X046 offers a variety of Filipino desserts all for less than 200 pesos each! You will want to try them all, but most everyone on our table wanted cold halo halo or sapin sapin.
Halo halo is shaved ice, milk and a mix of sweetened bananas, beans and purple yam, topped with fragrant pinipig (newly harvested rice pounded and toasted).
Sapin sapin bahaghari is a rainbow-colored layered square delicacy made from ground sticky rice cooked in sugar and coconut milk, topped with heavenly latik (toasted coconut milk crumbs), and served with mantecado icecream.
I forgot to take photos, but the restaurant served complimentary multi-colored puto (rice cakes) with butter and orange-colored aligue (crab fat) butter at the start of the meal, and choc-nut, a popular chocolate-peanut candy at the end of the meal.
The wait staff elicited genuine smiles when we asked her to take a group picture because she said in perfect Pilipino, “Isa, dalawa, tatlo… ngiting kaaya-aya!” just before snapping the photo.
XO46 Bistro Filipino is at Level 2, S Maison, Conrad Manila, Seaside Boulevard Corner Coral Way, Mall of Asia Complex (MOA), Pasay City, Philippines. Telephone 63-2 805 3850
XO46 Bistro Filipino is also at the following locations in Metro Manila, Philippines:
Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City | Century City Mall, Poblacion, Makati City | SM Aura Mall, Bonifacio Global City | Estancia Mall, Oranbo, Pasig City