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Dusit Thani Manila: Utopia Reimagined at Dusit Thani Manila

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Dusit Thani: a wondrous utopian kingdom dreamed up in the early 1900’s by King Rama VI of Thailand. This “town in heaven” – the name’s literal translation, with Dusit referring to Buddhist heaven’s fourth and seventh levels – was meant to embody the culture of paradise, and combine the best of the East and the West. In 1918, the town of King Rama VI’s visions came to be; a small city near Bangkok’s Lumpini Park, in which perfection was the ideal and blissful existence the goal. The spirit of this idyllic place lives on, worldwide, within its namesake: the Dusit Thani hotel chain.

In the heart of the busy, bustling, business district of Makati, just off the main artery of EDSA, Dusit Thani Manila has been a warm and welcoming abode for over three decades, with brand new improvements to ensure continued bliss.

Touch of Thai heritage

It is difficult – virtually impossible, even – not to be captivated by the touch of Thai heritage that greets you, as you walk through Dusit Thani Manila’s large glass doors, into its plush reception area. Staff garbed in traditional chut thai (Thai outfits), in a calming array of radiant earth colors and soothing pastel hues, welcome you with heartfelt Sawasdee kha greetings, hands held to lips in wai position. The shimmer of gold accents and gold-clad pillars – the warmth of which is rivaled only by the smiles across each staff member’s face – casts an iridescent, comforting glow across the spacious lobby. On schedule, a Thai lady skillfully plays tunes on the khim, a hammered wooden dulcimer customary to Thailand’s indigenous music. This Thai-ness – which is injected in everything from ambiance and service, to food and amenities – is one of the hotel’s strongest unique selling points, and it is easy to see why.

“We take pride in what we like to call our Thai-ness, as adapted to Filipino hospitality,” shared Bruno Cristol, Dusit Thani Manila’s part-French, part-Italian General Manager. “Our staff is trained in the ways of both Filipino and Thai hospitality. The former is more outward, extrovert, vivacious, and energetic, marked by good communication skills. The latter is more gracious and gentle. It is really a very good balance.”

 

A melting pot of all things delicious

Aside from Thai culture, Dusit Thani Manila embraces a variety of global influences, so much so that a good portion of its new management team is comprised of a mix of nationalities. This multicultural melting pot is perhaps most evidenced in the establishment’s culinary aspect, with four expat chefs cooking up a delicious journey across the globe. “We now have Canadian, Indian, Thai and Japanese chefs, and another one joining us soon from the Middle East,” Cristol shared. “This has been working out very well for us and is a big plus for our destination restaurants.”

“It allows us to adapt to different nationalities and to various needs of our guests,” Cristol added, as he pointed out that Dust Thai Manila is the first (and thus far, the only) hotel in the city to be officially certified for halal cuisine. “We recognize the growing travel markets – for instance, the Middle Eastern and the millennial travelers – and we want to do what we can to cater to these fast emerging sectors.”

Raiding The Pantry

The Pantry, the hotel’s nearly year-old all-day dining restaurant, offers a profusion of gastronomic delights, from Indian to Italian and Filipino, to pan-Asian cuisine, and halal-certified food. Set within a homey, cozy modern country-designed space, The Pantry exudes an atmosphere that is welcoming and inviting. A myriad of interactive theatre-type cooking stations boast mouthwatering epicurean offerings prepared with high standards of quality, creativity, and freshness. “The thing that sets The Pantry apart is that we try to take a more modern approach; we try to do things that other buffet restaurants are not doing, perhaps,” Canadian Executive Chef Nicholas Issel noted. “It is important for us to stay authentic to the cuisine, but also to do things with a culinary twist,” shared Issel, whose strong educational background in the realm of design and the arts plays an important role in his culinary flair.

While everything at The Pantry is well worth the calories, popular favorites include the Lechon Station (Dusit Thani is the only hotel in the metro with a buffet in which a whole pig is roasted on-site), the Carving Station (which, as pointed out by Issel, employs western techniques with Asian influence), the Indian Station (with Chef Fanishwar Rasmi at the helm of authenticity and goodness ), the Wok Station (Asian and Chinese comfort fare), and the Dessert Station (the freshly fried churros paired with rich chocolate are a must-try). The Pantry’s “Grab and Go,” which showcases Dusit’s baked treats, has likewise become a hit with those looking for a quick and sweet carbohydrate fix.

Exciting Asian flavors

For a foray into exciting Asian flavors which remain true to their roots, Benjarong Thai Restaurant and Umu Japanese restaurant are the go-to dining destinations within Dusit Thani Manila. Both outlets have been titillating taste buds for many years, and have garnered a following as vibrant as their much-lauded menu selections.

Benjarong serves up Thai food fit for royalty, enhanced by the traditional feel of the restaurant’s opulent interiors. Long-time bestselling dishes have remained on the roster, alongside the newer creations of Thai Chef Watcharaphon Yongbanthom, also known to Benjarong’s diners as Khun Ja (Miss Ja). We sampled the Massaman Nuea (a hearty mix of massaman curry with tender cutlets of US beef), Pla Sam Rod (succulent crispy whole King Fish with sweet and sour spicy sauce), and the See Krong Moo Kratien Waan (tasty crispy pork rib glazed with sweet garlic sauce). Each dish was a venture into the realm of appetizing, delicately balanced flavors characteristic of Thai cuisine. The meal was made even more delightful by the caring service lavished upon us by long-time Restaurant Manager Kullanit Yingkayun (Khun Nit or Miss Nit).   In the very near future, as part of Dusit Thani Manila’s current renovation project, Benjarong will enjoy a new look, in a new location within the hotel, and will offer guests a more modern take on Thai gastronomy.

Umu, on the other hand, is a well-loved haven for pleasurable Japanese palate-pleasers. With the meticulous methodologies of Chef Hiroyuki Fukata, Japanese bestsellers such as the Umu Maki (Umu’s signature makimono hand-rolled made with melt-in-your-mouth salmon, cucumber slices and cream cheese), Sashimi Gosyumari (an indulgent sushi platter made with the chef’s selection of five different types of fish like tuna, amberjack, grouper, salmon, and mackerel), and Wafu Steak (tender US Black Angus rib eye in a rich wafu steak sauce) are prepared with excellence and pride.

Luxury, minus the pretense

While Dusit Thani Manila aims to be known as a global dining destination, it continues to enjoy a solid reputation as a luxurious hotel, minus the pretense. “We enjoy a very strong reputation, founded on stability and knowledge, having been in the industry for 36 years, and being the second largest hotel in Makati. We are luxurious, in a sense, without being pretentious,” Cristol said, as he explained that the hotel continually strives to make guests feel relaxed and right at home.

Well-appointed rooms and suites offer a sanctum of respite for travelers and business people alike, and provide for the usual creature comforts along with a good night’s sleep (such comfortable beddings, I must say!).   For business requirements and other special needs, Dusit Thani Manila has several spacious function and meeting rooms, a grand ballroom that seats 900 people, and an exclusive, fully-equipped, large Club Lounge on its topmost floor.

The ultimate in luxurious pampering can be enjoyed at the hotel’s Devarana Spa. With a name that means “garden in heaven,” this luxury traditional Thai spa has the ability to transport you to heavenly realms, with its many soothing treatments and massages. With the expert guidance of Spa Manager Jannissa Siriwises, I opted for one of the new massages, the Borehilot, which is only available in the Philippines. The combination of Filipino hilot (traditional massage) and Balinese boreh remedies was 90 minutes of blissful gratification, which began with the application of warm compresses using banana leaves and extra-virgin coconut oil, before the stress-busting, stimulating massage with Devarana’s own blend of aromatic lemongrass and almond oil. Need I say more?

 

The kingdom expands

With thirty-six years in the business, and still going strong, Dusit Thani Manila is poised for the decades to come.   To this end, a large-scale renovation project has been underway since last year, and will continue into the next year. After all, in this day and age of extreme competition, even utopian kingdoms have to amp up the pace now and then. “Despite our success and strengths, we recognize the need to upgrade and step things up, hence the ongoing renovations. We have exciting new products and offerings, like The Pantry, and soon, the new Benjarong. Two hundred of our 537 rooms and suites have been fully renovated, 300-plus more to go, and we are also adding more meeting spaces,” Cristol elaborated.

This is all in line with the Dusit chain’s global thrust towards growth, with numerous new projects and developments slated, worldwide, over the next few years. The Philippines, Cristol detailed, will be the second largest focus, with five Dusit hotels set to open across the country and a Dusit Hospitality School currently under construction in Bonifacio Global City.

The kingdom expands, and rightfully so

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