Metro Manila can feel like many cities within one; it counts 16 administrative districts, made up of hundreds of smaller neighbourhoods. Whether it’s retail therapy inside the commercial village Mall of Asia in Pasay or securing reservations at the fancy restaurants in Makati or tempting Lady Luck in the casinos of Parañaque, if you want to see all that the Philippine capital has to offer, you have to travel around.
But if you’d like a shortcut, head straight for Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City. BGC, as its often billed, has recently become the ‘it’ neighbourhood, where every week seems to usher in a new buzzy bar or restaurant – catering to residents of the luxury condos popping up at record speed, as well as other locals and visitors.
Previously, the land BGC occupies was used for military bases – first American then Philippine. It was turned over to the Bases Conversion Development Authority in the 1990s – with the aim of transforming former army properties into places where Filipinos could live, work and play – but it wasn’t until the 2000s that development of the BGC really got underway. Now the momentum shows no signs of slowing. To experience the best of the contemporary Philippines, follow our picks for where to stay, eat, drink and shop in BGC.
One of the country’s finest dining rooms (the original VASK once ranked as high as 35 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants) was revamped in 2018. Chefs Chele Gonzalez and Carlos Villaflor completely reimagined both the space – now featuring architectural wood furniture by Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue – and the culinary concept of the rechristened Gallery by Chele . Today’s more accessible iteration uses Gonzalez’s fine-dining background to explore all that’s possible with local ingredients. The menu changes often, but ‘black bombs’ (croquette balls stuffed with chopped squid, burnt garlic and Japanese togarashi spices) and the Cebu tacos, which uses ube, or purple yams, for the colourful shells, are recent crowd-pleasers.
5/F, Clipp Center, 11th Avenue, corner of 39th Street; +63 917 546 1673
A women’s boutique inside Uptown Mall that champions local designers (many of whom don’t have standalone shopfronts of their own), Mercer St . is perfect for discovering under-the-radar Philippine creatives. Owner Nicole Co, 25, calls her light-bathed shop a one-stop-destination, given the racks and shelves dedicated to everything from skincare to home goods. Some of the best finds include minimalist, wear-with-everything leather slides from Queen of Soles, stripe denim rompers by Hemlock clothing, sexy snakeskin-print Eighth Mermaid bikinis and coffee-scented hand soaps from Bare Essentials.
Uptown Mall, 36th Street; +63 917 554 1716
Like most major cities, Manila is experiencing a cocktail boom. In the BGC, one of the most popular drinking dens is Bank Bar , a speakeasy concept secreted behind a 7-Eleven. Inside, there’s an industrial-chic vibe courtesy of the juxtaposition of the exposed ceilings and velvet chairs. The bar itself focuses on fancy twists on classic cocktails, like the truffled whiskey sour, the coffee-spiked ‘cafe negroni’, or the Amaretto Flip garnished with wood chips for a smokier profile.
G/F, RCBC Savings Bank Corporate Center, 312 26th Street; +63 2 8801 4862
The local Wildflour empire built by Margarita and Walter Manzke – founders of Los Angeles dining institution Republique – shows no signs of slowing down. Their latest project, Wild Flour Italian , celebrates some of their favourite Italian recipes, including ones that haven’t featured on any previous menus. Expect pizzas, house made pasta and a seafood-loaded, cool-weather-perfect cioppino (fish stew) featuring a San Marzano tomato broth from the same sauce used on the pizzas.
G/F, Net Lima Building, 26th Street, corner of 5th Avenue; +63 2 8856 7600
Credit: Jonathan Tabisaura
Established in 2016, this destination for the arts and the sciences has already staged high-profile productions such as Andrew Keenan-Bolger’s Christmas Broadway concert, M Butterfly and the recent Pinoy Playlist music festival. But it’s not all singing here: on select weekends, for instance, visitors might get to peruse and shop the Art Mart bazaars, which highlights work by local artists. Not coincidentally, the BGC Arts Centre is run by the Bonifacio Art Foundation, Inc., which also oversees the neighbourhood museums.
26th Street, corner of 9th Avenue; +63 2 7796 0189
Credit: Anjo Lapresca
The five Manila locations of celebrity chef JP Anglo’s beloved local chain serve elevated takes on classic national dishes. In fact, Sarsa is an excellent place for the unfamiliar to begin their Filipino food education. Order the milkfish sinigang (a soup with a sour tamarind-base broth), palabok (a rice noodle dish slathered with a golden sauce and topped with a variety of ingredients including Anglo’s own XO sauce), and the chef’s speciality: the chicken inasal, charcoal-grilled marinated chicken that comes with a variety of dipping sauces.
Forum South Global, 7th Avenue, corner of 25th Street; +63 2 866 0912
Credit: Kevin Kaminski
One of the newest hotels in the capital region, Shangri-La at The Fort is also one of the swankiest. The soaring 61-storey hotel doubles as an entertainment hub, with extensive programming and amenities. Case in point: exhibitions held at the on-site Provenance Art Gallery , a showcase for the country’s growing cultural scene. Dining venues include a massive breakfast buffet (arguably the best in Manila), an outpost of Sri Lanka’s renowned Ministry of Crab and a clandestine speakeasy called The Back Room , which takes cocktail-making so seriously it has its own mixology lab.
30th Street, corner of 5th Avenue; +63 2 8820 0888
Credit: Miguel Nacianceno
The first international branch of Hong Kong’s upscale coffee roaster boasts the familiar Instagram-friendly experience that the Elephant Grounds brand is known for. Hong Kong-based Filipino designer JJ Acuña, who also worked on the Hong Kong cafes, brought this space to life with wood accents, lush tropical plants and a handsome stadium seating setup. The coffee is the very same that’s brewing across the South China Sea, but celebrated Manila-based restaurateurs Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar consulted on how to tweak the menu for the local palate. As a result, in addition to avo toast, you’ll find a trio of rice bowls including one topped with tapa, strips of cured beef typically enjoyed for breakfast.
LG/F, One Bonifacio High Street; +63 999 887 1417
Crowning the 60th floor of the year-old Grand Hyatt Manila, The Peak restaurant and bar is the highest you’ll find on any of the Philippines’ 7,000 islands – with city views unfurling in all directions. The equally photogenic interiors by Nao Taniyama & Associates are meant to evoke glamorous penthouse living through sculptural light fixtures, a mix-and-match collection of textiles (from shag to velvet) and plenty of marble tabletops. While the whisky bar is the most intimate and subdued corner of this multi-section emporium, it’s no less opulent: a 16-year Lagavulin and a Sullivans Cove double-cask single malt from Tasmania, Australia, are among the covetable bottles.
60/F, Grand Hyatt Manila, 35th Street, corner of 8th Avenue; +63 2 8838 1234
The mid-century-modern-inspired Case Study Atelier , which opened in 2018, is packed to the gills with some of the most sought-after streetwear brands: sustainable totes made of washable paper by Tuscany-based Uashmama ; limited edition Converse high-tops fashioned out of renewed denim; graphic happy-face ping pong paddles by Chinatown Market; and bright neon windbreakers by Fingercroxx from Hong Kong.
C2, LG/F, Unit 104-1A, Bonifacio High Street Central, +63 995 743 2259
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