Friday, July 24, 2015

Costa Coffee

I live in the south and you all know it takes A LOT to tempt me to go past Makati. 

But one fine Tuesday, I made it to Eastwood.

Only coffee from London possesses that power over me

I was not surprised to see half of Quezon City in Costa Coffee. After all, it is the newest
concept to arrive in our shores and did I mention it is also UK's #1 coffee chain?

 Costa Coffee promises fresh brew all day every day

Coffee beans are roasted and shipped all the way from London.
In this bag is the famous Mocha Italia, a unique blend of arabica and robusta that combines 
sweetness, bitterness and the body needed to make a good, strong cup of joe.

 While I took photos of this lean and mean caffeine machine, the barista proudly pointed out that
 it is THE coffee machine of all coffee machines, even describing it as "The Jaguar." Ooh la la.

There are cakes and sandwiches on display

Salads, too. But I did not travel all the way here to eat like a goat.

 I placed my orders and went up to the second floor because "the best seating is upstairs,"
according to the wall.

What I saw made me smile

I totally did not expect this cuteness. Costa Coffee succeeded in creating a fun and homey, 
cheerful and cozy place for its diners.

And I was pretty sure this little nook was designed for me

See? Perfect fit! 
Except the table was too small for everything I ordered.

Since I crossed continents to get to Costa, I did not shy away from pointing at every interesting thing on the menu. 

 Tuna with Sea Salt and Italian Vinegar Cucumber on Ciabatta

Melted Swiss Cheese with Mushrooms on Flatbread 

BBQ Pork Loin in Ham & Cheese Panini. I enjoyed this the most.
Do you see the extra layer of cheese on top of the bread?

Being the dessert monster that I am, I ordered double the amount of sweets, of course!

Freshly baked cookies: Belgian Chocolate Chip, Salted Caramel Chip, Oatmeal Raisin

The Sinful Cake, which, in my honest opinion, needed more wickedness.

I finished this light, sweet and creamy Oreo Cheesecake in no time. This was my favorite thing
 to bake when I was younger and every bite brought back happy childhood memories.

 The coffee at Costa will always be the star. My cappuccino was smooth and velvety.

 And the Flat White was one of the best ones I've had recently. The coffee melded seamlessly
with the milk yet retained the depth of flavor of the roast. 
Yes, I needed two cups to wash down the army of cookies and cakes.

I swear this poor guy lost a few pounds watching me eat! Hahaha!
Mark Shofield came all the way from London to train the Costa Philippines Team and I must say he 
did an excellent job. The service was warm and friendly, and my coffees perfectly balanced.

 Businesses don't make great coffee. People do.
I wholeheartedly agree!

The closest to London I can get for now… That is, until Costa Coffee opens its second branch
in Robinsons Manila this July 31. Finally, much closer to me!

Costa Coffee: Citywalk 1, Eastwood Mall, Quezon City

Costa Coffee Website
Costa Coffee Facebook Page
Instagram: @costacoffeeph

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seville Favorites ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Published on Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, July 9, 2015

The more I travel, the more I realize I am truly an old soul who loves old music and old towns. I spent one month touring Spain, hitting the Andalusian region, the Basque Country, cities both big and small. And yes, I ate my way shamelessly around in each of them, averaging three to four meals a day, sneaking in little snacks here and there.

The number one question people ask, aside from “what was the best meal of the trip?” is “what is your favorite destination in Spain?” It is Seville, the most charming and laidback of them all.

Me in front of the Alcazar of Seville

This southern city in Spain is not necessarily my first choice for unparalleled gastronomic experience—that spot is reserved for San Sebastian—but I had unforgettable meals in its old towns that boast of beautiful architecture, narrow cobblestoned alleyways, horse-drawn carriages, and sweet-smelling oranges. I love Seville and its food with all my heart.

After dropping my bags off at the hotel following a long-haul flight from Manila and a train ride from Madrid (with a quick stop at San Ginés for some churros con chocolate), I literally ran to conTenedor to make it to my 4 p.m. lunch reservation.

Pots and pans hanging from the ceiling at conTenedor

A friendly server led me through the bright, colorful, quirky restaurant and seated me at a table with Tiffany blue paint. Ordering was a breeze as I already knew what I wanted. I pointed to two items on the handwritten chalkboard. It was my first time in Spain, but I understood clearly what I needed to survive. At that moment, it was tartar de salmon con mango, aguacate y ajoblanco de anacardos, and arroz negro crujiente de calamar y alioli.

Salmon Mango Tartare

The salmon mango tartare was incredibly fresh and sat on an irresistible almond and garlic cream, topped with crisp, peppery arugula. I finished this in no time and used the bread to mop up every last drop of the ajoblanco. The flavorful squid ink rice had crispy bits of grains in it, crowned with tender calamari strips. 

Arroz Negra 

My poor stomach was ready to explode after that, but I saw the magic word when my server handed me the dessert menu—tiramisu. The sweet mascarpone was as heavenly as it looked. I had absolutely no regrets polishing off the whole plate. It was a perfect first meal that kept me full and satisfied throughout the most intense and passionate flamenco performance I enjoyed that evening.

The next day, after a whole morning of sightseeing around the magnificent, every-corner-is-picture-perfect Royal Alcazar, I was ready for a big lunch at La Azotea. Starved to death by the time the restaurant opened at 1:15 p.m., I exercised great control not to order the entire menu. I started with homemade foie gras served with soy crunchies and orange jam that Seville was famous for. Then, octopus on potato puree, followed by probably the most delicious potato salad I have ever had, speckled with smoked fish and capers. 

Homemade foie gras with orange jam at La Azotea


I would skip the cheese and prawn triangles next time so I could have two servings of the amazingly tender Iberico pork cheek, cooked in red wine and topped with goat cheese gratin. Or three.

Potato salad, Iberico pork cheek, cheese and prawn triangles

Light dinner was jamon bellota, sausage cooked in white wine, baby squid in its own ink, albondigas, and queso Viejo de Zamora at Casa Morales. I wanted to try more tapas except it was standing room only and my feet were killing me after touring the biggest gothic cathedral in the world and crossing over to see the other side of the Guadalquivir River. I slept very soundly after two glasses of Ribera del Duero.

Casa Morales

Tapas dinner of sausage cooked in white wine, jamon bellota, 
baby squid in squid ink, and a glass of local wine

Lunch the following day was at the popular Eslava, which, save for the expertly grilled razor clams, proved to be rather underwhelming. Still, I was glad I went because it was there that I met the friendly local who tipped me about La Brunilda. I canceled my original booking for dinner and proceeded to have what turned out to be my best meal in Seville. 

La Brunilda

The portions at this tapas restaurant were generous, so generous I thought I would not be able to finish the mountain of tuna tataki on my plate, but I did, effortlessly, down to the last grain of couscous. I even ordered another heaping plate of beef tenderloin because the waiter promised it was not to be missed. He was right. Had I known about this gem at the start of my trip, I would have gone back, again and again, to try every dish on the menu. 

Tuna tataki

Beef tenderloin and roasted potatoes

As it was, it was my last night and I capped dinner off with a slice of sweet, moist carrot cake. La Brunilda will certainly be my first stop next time I visit my favorite Spanish city.

conTenedor is located at Calle San Luis, 50, Seville, Spain. Tel: +34 954916333.

La Azotea is at Calle Mateos Gago, 8, Seville, Spain. Tel:+34 954215878.

Casa Morales is at Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, 11, Seville, Spain, Tel: +34 954221242.

La Brunilda is at Calle Galera, 5, Seville, Spain. Tel: +34 954220481.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Home Hotel Daan ♥ ♥ ♥

Home Hotel Daan was in its early months of operations during our stay. Honestly, I was a bit
 hesitant because it was so new I could not find any reviews online. Plus, I thought the name 
"Home Hotel" sounded a little funny. 

But all that uncertainty disappeared once the huge wooden door slid open and welcomed us
into this bright and cheery space. I loved it the moment I set foot in it.

"Welcome Home," the wall greeted us. Then everything at Home Hotel began to make sense.

Reception is at the 5th floor and check-in time is at 2:00pm, but the hotel staff was so nice
to let us into our rooms when we arrived before noon.

It is called Home Hotel because it champions homegrown artists and designers. 
Everything here is proudly MIT or Made in Taiwan

From this vertical garden display rack...

Down to the furnitures, flowers, magazines, and throw pillows

I wanted to take these home!

My favorite piece of furniture is this chair. What genius play on marble, wood, and leather!

Not your usual hotel lighting fixture. Those are lightbulbs inside the deer!

A fireplace which is not really necessary in the current Taipei heat, but will be comforting
 during chilly winter months

Computers free for hotel guests to use

The keycard bears the nicest message - No place like HOME ♥

Another heart-warming greeting when the elevator doors opened on our floor. 
Love begins at HOME. ♥

 Hallway to the rooms

Our Standard Marvelous Room

The design is warm and cozy, simple yet tasteful. Every night we slept like babies in our beds.

No to boring hotel room furnitures! Each piece at Home Hotel is an artwork.

Including the notepad and tissue paper holders

The desk lamp is simple yet so stylish

My bedside table light, called The Home Lamp by Taiwanese designer Tony Yu, is made from 
a whole-cut trunk of Taiwania Justo from the Taiwan aboriginal tribes. This part of the tree is 
actually a refused piece that is considered junk, and look what beauty came out of it! 
The stainless steel triangle represents the traditional aboriginal rhombus symbol, and together
these two elements bring a design with form, functionality, and very special meaning.

Robes and in-room safe

The cutest shopping bag. I admit I took home quite a few pieces. :P

Drip coffee, tea set, and the most adorable coffee mugs. These are designed by BLANQ
and can be purchased at the hotel lobby. Edison gifted me with the bear. Thank you! :)

Now you see the sunken shower from the work table...

And now you don't!

The bathroom uses shiny gold fixtures

Toiletries include toothbrush, comb, razor, shower cap, cotton kit, and cypress essential oils soap

Shampoo, conditioner and body wash by Cha Tzu Tang in very special scents like lotus leaf,
 marigold, and mulberry. These made me so excited for bath time everyday!

You can opt to shower in private

Or with the view of Taipei skyline. 
I adore the happy, colorful tiles, but wish the water pressure were a little stronger.

Balcony with the chicest wooden rocking chair, another amazing design by Taiwanese talent

Coffee, mornings, and me :)

I appreciate the separate toilet which allowed me to do my personal "business" while my
roommate Sheryl used the shower

I don't really like sharing bathroom spaces so this second sink is perfect

Another wonderful thing I need to mention about our room is the presence of electrical outlets 
everywhere. This is very important to me because I bring so many devices when I travel (mobile
phone, camera, multiple powerbanks, pocket wifi, etc), and now I can even charge while 
conducting very important business on the bathroom throne. Lol.

Our room came with breakfast at the hotel restaurant Fancalay 

Cold cuts, salad and fruits

Breads and cereals

Congee, coffee and tea

I can't get over how beautiful these coffee mugs are!

Aside from the buffet spread, you get a plate of bacon, ham, sausage and hash brown with 
your choice of egg

Always soft-scrambled for me

Remember the Cha Tzu Tang toiletries I so enjoyed in the shower? Good news! 
They sell them at the lobby!

Each product is special and unique, and don't you just love the packaging? 
This one is cucumber honey body lotion. They have many other chinese-inspired scents 
like lotus leaf, rosskastanie, mulberry, and marigold

These travel sets make the perfect gifts to family and friends back home

Another bonus is the hotel location. Home Hotel is right smack in the middle of Daan District, 
close to two Sogo Department Stores where you can go crazy with food pasalubong shopping, then
enjoy a meal at the xiao long bao institution Ding Tai Fung. There is also a Family Mart right beside
the building, meaning 24 hours of tea eggs, milk teas, and other Taiwanese snacks enjoyment.

That's Sogo in the far right, and directly below it is the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station
which connects you to all other areas of Taipei. It's a short 5-minute walk away.

You will be eating A LOT in this city, so the Yoga studio across the hotel will save your life. :P

I truly enjoyed our stay at Home Hotel Daan. The room is cozy and comfortable, the atmosphere welcoming, and most importantly, the service is warm and genuine. Dison and Michelle at the reception helped me with our restaurant reservations and sent me updates through Line. 

He was such a pooh bear who always made us feel we were coming home to Home.

I whole-heartely recommend Home Hotel for your next Taipei tip, and for the best deals, book through Agoda.

Home Hotel Daan: No. 219-2 Fuxing South Road, Section 1, Daan District, Taipei, Taiwan
Tel: +886 2 8773 6333

To book Home Hotel Daan through Agoda, click here.

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