Sunday Brunch at Marriott Café and Cru Steakhouse is a culinary collaboration between the two main restaurants of the Marriott Hotel.
Normally, the Cru Steakhouse is an evening place for exquisite wine, fine dining and impeccable steaks fired in an amphitheater style grill, but seeing it in the daytime was an entirely new experience for me. As for the Marriott Café, it’s usually a quiet place with low-slung chairs, crimson washed marble countertops and lamps reminiscent of white chocolate rose balls.
All of that takes on an entirely new feel on Sundays.
A guided gastronomic tour
Chef de Parte Jojo Arazas welcomed me with an impish grin and a gentle gesture. The chefs and waiters were in various states of activity: refilling trays, frying meats, and prepping ingredients with the precision and harmony of an orchestra. I walked passed a lighted neon curtain which changed color every few seconds to take in the atmosphere as diners young and old, animatedly began to line up at the various stations. Chef Jojo beckoned me to follow as he toured me through the eatables on display.
The day’s selection at the pasta bar was pumpkin gnocchi, saffron pasta and salmon ravioli. All the pasta ingredients were brimming in white bowls: shrimp, bacon, freshly chopped garlic, onions, and the white and red sauces. It dawned on me that the pastas for all three dishes glistened and looked plump, an indicator that they were made from scratch hours ago. Cooks at the station had burners and skillets handy to prepare the pasta on request, put together to suit the diner’s wishes.
That customizable theme was noticeable in practically every station I visited. Even the soup station made seafood chowder and tom yum in front of you, a la Mongolian barbeque style. The Chinese station had slices of roast duck, suckling pig in fish crackling and rows and rows of dim sum in bamboo steamers. Once again, there was a selection of bowls full of minced carrot, bean sprouts, cabbage, beef, radish and squid. These were under the watchful eye of a smiling cook, standing at the ready to put together a noodle bowl or dim sum platter for his delighted guests.
The salad bar was a health nut’s wet dream, with ceramic bowls of arugula, and lettuces romaine, iceberg and lollo rosso (red lettuce.) Beside them was a plethora of concept salads such as broccoli, tomato and feta, beets with beans and Davao blue cheese, roasted shallots with bell peppers, grilled eggplant and red salted egg, and tomato and pumpkin. All of which are straight from local organic farms all over the islands.
Meanwhile, the sushi bar was packed with various sushi and maki on mounds of ice: unagi (eel), California, ebi (shrimp), tamago (egg) and tuna. The salmon sushi was creamy as milk with nary a rancid hint.
Beside it was a teppanyaki station, all set up with fresh beef, shiny squid and juicy chicken, with eight different sauces and nine vegetable sidings.
Another grill station had Filipino classics such as salmon sinigang (tamarind broth) and seafood kare-kare (peanut butter and fish paste stew) while offering fresh wobbly bits of chicken (gizzard, liver, cartilage and skin, to name a few) for roasting. Of note were the seafood grill offering fresh lobster and the Cru section, which boasted their so-incredible-I-thank-God-I’m-not-vegan signature steaks and all you can eat foie gras (fattened duck liver) seared while you wait.
Chef Jojo saved the best for last, the Chocolate Room—a glass temple paying homage to the wonders of that lovely confection, brought to life with a painting and sculptures carved out of solid chocolate (the flamenco dancing lady was a marvel.) Cakes, pralines, bonbons and clusters in dark, white and milk chocolate were on hand, beckoning for consumption.
Oddly, this place was not as packed as I had thought; that honor went to the ice cream bar. With homemade flavors such as Hazelnut Nutella, Black Forest and Palawan Walnut, it wasn’t hard to see why the area had a small horde ogling the confections.
One thing’s for sure. The next time my family gets together, I know where we’re going for Sunday lunch.
Interview with Meik Brammer, Executive Chef of Marriott Manila
Jocular and exuding joie de vivre, Chef Miek Brammer, the executive chef of Marriott Manila, explains the contrast between Cru Steakhouse and the Marriott Café and how they come together for the Sunday buffet.
“Three years ago, we used to offer a general buffet for Sunday lunch,” he recalls. “But it’s very competitive. Lots of other hotels offer all sorts of things. It wasn’t easy at the start and we weren’t very popular at that time.”
“Our regular customers at Cru Steakhouse were asking us why Cru didn’t offer steaks and other food at the buffet,” he adds. “So, we decided to listen. We really value loyalty and we want to give more to our regular customers, and the people who try us out for the first time.”
“We threw in some cocktails, fish and of course, our steaks for the buffet and ever since then, we haven’t had a bad Sunday,” he says. Chef Miek breaks into a warm, easy smile as he looks back. “Nowadays, I worry about trying to fit more people in because more keep coming.”
“The arrangement is perfect for Marriott Café and Cru Steakhouse as both restaurants share an adjoining door, so our guests can have easy access to the food from the buffet or our Cru steaks straight from our grill.” But even with this level of success, Chef Miek isn’t content to rest on his laurels. “It’s important for me to be around to give everything a personal touch. It’s all about giving our guests the power to choose. They can customize their food any way they want; it’s why we have so many sauces and sidings, so they have their favorite dishes tasting the way they like them.”
And yet, it doesn’t seem too difficult for him to give as much attention as he does. “I have cooked for hotels all over the world, but I love cooking for Filipinos,” he exclaims. “They love coming here and they bring their families. It gives me such a good feeling that even though they pay quite a bit to come here, they come back two, three, even four times.”
Interview with Brendan Mahoney, Director of Food and Beverage
The globetrotting director of Marriott’s Food and Beverage knows what it’s like coming from the other side of the kitchen, having spent twenty-four years as a hotel chef in Marriott’s various hotels in Waikiki and Cebu.
“That’s why I understand how important it is to be closely working with our chefs,” he explains. “We showcase our culinary staff, hire locally and our people also do food research. They’re always checking out new and viable organic and sustainable ingredients for our dishes. Our people are out there trying to connect with local farms. That’s why we can offer things like Davao Blue Cheese and locally grown lollo rosso greens. Our foreign guests absolutely love this stuff. There are lots of surprises and good food to be found in the archipelago, all these discoveries. We want to be able to elevate Philippine cuisine as an effect of our research.”
He stands by his people and by their choices. “Our chefs don’t compromise on quantity or quality. That’s why it’s very important for us to choose the right foundational products.”
Mahoney has his ear to the ground when it comes to what his diners crave. “Our guests love the seafood and platter sharing so we’re always coming up with all-time favorites to spice up stuff. Some buffets are too big, too overwhelming. Guests get full too soon so they feel that they didn’t get to try everything. What we do is we try to cover as much ground as we can so you feel that you got to try all the dishes.”
“The trick to it is standing out, we do this by being ourselves, focusing on being good at what we do, considering competition is fierce,” he reveals. “It’s no coincidence that our restaurants, Cru in particular, are set up like theaters. We stage everything for our guests’ benefit, to build on the drama of the food and of the service from our staff.”