Fancy might be a misnomer, since it’s perfectly acceptable to turn up in beachwear, but the quality of the food and range of the menus places these restaurants several stars over the average lunch stop. Panglao is full of amazing restaurants where most meals come to under 10$ US, but have the quality of a 40-50$ meal. I managed to visit the Pearl at Linaw, the Bohol Bee Farm, The Personal Che’f, and The Bougainvillea. At least two of them are places I’d happily go to again and again.
Pearl @ Linaw
I ended up here twice. The first time on my very first night in Panglao because it was the closest thing to the hotel. The second time to get a spectacular view of the beach at sunset, because this is one of the best places on the island to do it from.
If you’re looking for the Pearl restaurant, be sure to search for the Linaw Resort because the restaurant doesn’t have it’s own Google pin. We got lost, asked directions, parked in the wrong place and were generally silly tourists until we finally got settled down at a table near the water. I wanted to start my vacation off with some Filipino specialties, and ordered a kind of tomato and eggplant salad, a pork belly adobo, and finally halo halo for dessert, all while watching a stunning lightning show over the black ocean beyond our little pool of light.
The second time I went, the very ocean most tables were all reserved for the top paying guests at the Linaw Resort, but we got a fairly good table on the west edge where we had a nearly unobstructed view of the impending sunset. We ordered early on, knowing it would take a while for the food to arrive. I tried again to order the kinilaw which had been unavailable the last time we came (and while I am eternally grateful they decided to tell me the fish was off rather than try to serve it, I was disappointed). The waiter asked me if I was ok with spicy, and because of my excessive spice exposure in Korea I promptly replied that I love spicy. I won’t say this was a terrible mistake, but it was the first tourist place I’ve been to where anyone took me seriously and didn’t give me “white girl spicy”.
Kinilaw is a raw fish “salad” (just a mixture, not really any lettuce involved). It’s more like ceviche than poké, since the fish is soaked in vinegar to help tenderize the fish flesh. Even though it was an appetizer, it was all I could eat. The portion was so generous and the flavor so intense, I had no room for a main dish, and only took in a few bites of rice when the spice build up got too strong. The waiter came out to check on us (perhaps thinking that it would be too spicy), and I told the story of missing out on the kinalaw before and how happy I was to get to try it. They told me they were glad too, since it is one of their signature dishes. Even if you don’t like it as spicy as I do, I highly recommend this to any seafood lover.
When all the beautiful colors of sunset were gone, we finally gave up on the sand, chased away by ants at our feet. It’s the only disappointment in this particular restaurant, choosing between a view and ant free feet. But once we were inside (and the staff were gracious about relocating us), we had a pleasant ant-free dessert of mango crepe supreme and blended ice coffee. And if you’re worried about being too full from dinner to order dessert, that could be the only time the long wait for food is a boon, since you’ll have plenty of time to digest your meal while you wait. In fact, after several such experiences, I’ve decided that should I return to Panglao another time, I’ll be sure to order *all* my food choices at the beginning of a meal, and simply ask for the desserts to come last.
Bohol Bee Farm
Bee farm? For dinner? Yeah, I know, I thought it was weird too, but I read so many reviews of this place and blogs that included it as a must do at least for the ice cream, if not for the restaurant and tour, so I figured it was at least worth checking into. The restaurant features dishes that are made with organic ingredients, and as many of them from the farm itself as possible. A variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers are grown on the farm and used in the restaurant, plus of course the honey from their bees which is the only sweetener they use.
There was no listing for tour times on their website, but knowing the sun set around 6, we hoped to get there in time to do the 30 minute tour before settling in for dinner. Sadly, we didn’t make it. The tours end at 4:30, but we did get a nice table overlooking the sea. The fresh juice menu is not to be missed. I got a ginger watermelon juice with no extra sugar (you have to ask or they’ll add it). The reviews I read indicated the top things to try here (other than the ice cream) are the floral salad and the pizza. I know, so very American, go to another country and order pizza, but 1) good pizza is an art no matter what country you’re in and 2) I don’t actually get pizza that often in Korea. Although the recommendations had been in favor of the plain cheese, I decided to brave the spicy honey pizza, made with honey from the local bees.
While waiting for the food, a bread plate with some fresh house made squash bread and cassava chips was brought out. The spreads were honey mango, basil pesto, and some kind of pico/chuntey thing. They were all divine, but my favorite was the honey mango on the squash bread. They sell it in the gift shop, and only my tiny backpack luggage kept me from bringing jars of that stuff back here.
When the salad arrived it was clear that this was one of the most instagramable foods imaginable, a salad like a floral bouquet! But don’t be fooled, this was not simply lettuce and petals, there were plenty of generous chunks of cucumber, pineapple and other goodies buried beneath the presentation. And the dressing? Honey mustard, of course.
The pizza was a much simpler presentation, but every bit as much of a taste explosion. The crust was thin and made from some mix of whole grains that gave it a rich flavor and appealing texture. The sauce and cheese were well made and generously spread without being overwhelming. The “spice” was reminicient of spicy italian sausage without actually being sausage. I think that the more Asian chili spice combined with the pizza herbs like basil and oregano created this gustatory illusion. And the honey was a little drizzle, a mere hint that served to counterpoint the spice and compliment the grains of the crust. I have never had anything like it before and I can honestly say that while I would never have thought to put honey on a pizza, it’s now one of my favorite flavor experiences.
Finally, for dessert I knew we had to have some of the ice cream that appears on every Google search for “things to do in Bohol” and find out what all the fuss was about. The Bee Farm keeps a wide array of flavors on hand, some are annual standbys and others are seasonal or even du jour.
The Bee Farm makes all their ice cream using coconut milk so it’s dairy free, and they serve it in casava cones which are gluten free. Organic, vegan, and GF trends aren’t yet a big thing in most of SE Asia, but the Farm’s success is very promising. In addition, coconut milk is a local product, coconut palms were everywhere, but dairy cows are still scarce. The Dairy Box project is a small dent in the issue, but most milk there is the processed and recombined variety we got at the store. The ice cream flavors are all based on the fruits, vegetables and herbs that they grow at the farm (except the chocolate), and it’s all only sweetened with the honey they harvest from their own bees.
The most famous flavor is the mulangguy, but I wasn’t up for a total mystery and decided to put that off for another day and instead ordered the salted honey, imagining (correctly) that it would be similar to a salted caramel. My dinner partner decided to try the flavor of the day: tomato.
The salted honey flavor was rich, creamy, and intensely flavored. I found it to be a good balance of salt and sweet, and also that my single scoop was quite satisfying. I had a small taste of the tomato ice cream out of pure curiosity. I have to say that I think it would have been an amazing soup, the coconut cream and tomato flavors were good together, but somehow the chilled temperature and ice cream texture were just too much dissonance for me to enjoy it as a dessert.
Since we missed a chance at the tour the first time (and because any excuse to eat there again), I headed back to the Bohol Bee Farm on anther occasion. I switched up to a lemon ginger juice (I might have a ginger addiction) which was strong and delicious, then got the spicy honey pizza again (yes, it is that good). We tried the honey glazed chicken as well, which was also excellent, and came with a mini floral salad and a grain I always knew as “kasha” as a child. Kasha is buckwheat grains cooked kind of like rice, and it’s dominant in Eastern European or Russian culture, but not known well in SE Asia, so I was surprised to see it there.
I also went on the tour, and I finally tried the mulungway ice cream. Mulungway, or malunggay, is a medicinal herb that is very popular in the Philippines, especially made into sweets. I found the flavor to be a fresh green experience and enjoyed the ice cream, but some people think it tastes too much like vegetables. Either way, it’s a quintessential Philippine flavor that’s worth the taste.
No, that’s not a typo version of “Chéf”, that’s how it’s written, I looked several places. The Personal Che’f is run by a Russian couple and serves unbelievably good super fancy food. I had a little trouble finding it because there’s only a small sign on the side of the road in front of what looks like a patch of woods. I finally found the entrance to a path through the trees that led us on a lovely walk back to the restaurant.
Like almost every restaurant here, it had no walls except for the kitchen. It was empty when we arrived but nearly every table had a “reserved” sign. Lucky for us, there was one unclaimed and we were able to be seated. I say lucky, because quite a few people showed up after us only to be turned away. My feelings on this restaurant are both strong and mixed.
I liked the set up, it was simple and elegant, and the contrast of the stunning food, artistic plating and upscale prices with the rustic bamboo thatch and the occasional lizard on the furniture was fun. The huge volume of mosquitos brought on by the fact that we were embedded in the jungle was not. They seemed to be aware of the issue because our waitress brought us mosquito spray to use, but it would have been nice to have more effort. Maybe citronella would conflict with the flavors of the food, but there has to be something, bug repelling tiki torches, candles, electric zappers? Almost anything would have been better than being dined on while dining.
The chef was an amazing, kind and extremely talented person. He came out to talk to us, checked on my travel buddy’s allergies, told us a story about how he’d made something off menu just the other day for a woman with serious dietary restrictions. The chef was great. The rest of the staff was… less so? There was only one waitress and she became quickly overwhelmed, especially when a huge group showed up without a reservation and insisted on talking to her for 15 minutes about it. There were only maybe 7 tables seated, but it was more than this poor server could manage. Her only real help was the barback/busser, a guy who repeatedly took food to the wrong table, or made other mistakes she had to correct when she asked him for help, and otherwise just stood behind the bar looking lost. Any time we asked about anything (like, hey does this dish have any xyz in it) she had to go get the chef, who was gracious about it and wanted to help, but he was clearly doing too much trying to both cook and do things in the front.
The food is the only part I have no mixed feelings on. It was hands down amazing. We ordered a gazpacho soup with strawberry for a starter and the chef kindly put it in two bowls, even though that meant extra time in plating. We received wide white dishes with beautiful curls of cucumber and a little spattering of diced herbs and vegetables. The gazpacho was pureed and served in a carafe that we would then pour over the display. I have to say I would never have thought of adding strawberries to a tomato based soup, but it was truly a flavor revelation. I historically prefer my gazpacho a little on the chunky side, but I don’t think that would have worked with the berries. The puree mixed the flavors so thoroughly they became something new. It also did make me wonder about making a strawberry salsa someday.
For the main dish, I gravitated to the mushroom risotto and was not disappointed. The flavors of the cheese, the shrimp, the broth and the mushrooms were each distinct and outstanding and yet blended so well. It made me think of the instruments in a string quartet, it is easy to hear each one as they play, but together they are a concert. And it made me feel a little like Ratatouille (the cartoon rat, yes) which was also fun. Sadly, the main dish was not a success for my companion, who had an allergic reaction despite the chef’s precautions and decided head back to the hotel to take some medicine.
I had thought to stay behind and have a dessert, but the waitress brought out our check at once. It took me ages to get her attention, and in the meantime, I managed to get the bar back to come deal with the fly that was swimming in the wine… one more reason to get those bug zappers. He took the glass away but didn’t bring a replacement or it seems tell anyone. So when I finally got the waitress to stop at my table again, I told her that I wanted to order dessert and about the wine issue. Over the course of the next hour, I kid you not, I managed to get a dessert menu and to find out that they would take the wine off the bill. When I did order a dessert, I was told it would be another HOUR to prepare… and no it was not a souffle. I declined.
It was such a difficult experience to evaluate. It was some of the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten, and the chef himself was so kind and gracious about everything. But the service was terrible, the bugs were a major enjoyment killer, and while I value the quality time that goes into creating the kind of amazing food we were enjoying, it seems like if it’s going to take an hour or more to make a simple dessert, you should warn people to order ahead, or accept fewer customers. I really hope they manage to find a solution, because that kind of talent with food deserves success, but I chose not to return a second time.
I still can’t get over how much astonishing food is available on Panglao. Of course traditional Filipino food is delicious and worth perusing, but the quality of restaurants on the island makes many nationalities dishes a must dine experience. For my final dinner, the restaurant of choice was a relatively new (and hopefully long lived) tapas restaurant that Bob had enthused about called Bougainvillea, next to but not to be confused with the resort of the same name.
I was negligent in every instance of making reservations, and it’s pure luck that I was ever able to get a table, so if you’re going to any of these places I suggest calling ahead because I regularly saw people get turned away. The fancy restaurants are stunning but very small and intimate with limited seating. The Bougainvillea was no exception. We arrived a little after dark and we’re lucky to find that some diners were just about to leave and that their table had not yet been claimed, so we only had to wait perhaps 10 minutes for a table and a kind young man from the resort kept us company while we waited. I suspect that the garden we waited in was beautiful and even at night I could tell it was filled with the flower that both the resort and restaurant took their name from.
The restaurant was elevated, which at first seemed odd to me, but once we were on the second floor I began to understand the choice. One was the view, which we had also missed out on by showing up after dark, because one wall opened out toward the sea. I say wall, but like most of the places we’d been, it was a roof and open sides (except around the kitchen). The other main reason for the elevation was the avoidance of insects. By lifting the restaurant out of the jungle flora, we were blissfully free of ants, mosquitoes, and flies that had plagued nearly all of our previous dining experiences.
I ordered some of the house made sangria, for which they use their own mix of spices in syrup, red wine, and fresh apples and oranges. It was amazing, refreshing and light while not being too sweet and carrying a wonderful tendril of cinnamon. The bread arrived as well, served with whole garlic cloves and olive oil so rich you wouldn’t miss the butter. We noticed that extra bread portions were 30p and were hardly surprised they felt the need to charge for this delectable dish after the first serving.
While I was perusing the descriptions, I noticed they had a few dishes with manchego. I cannot express my joy. Manchego is a Spanish cheese that holds a special place in my cheese loving heart. I had not had any for several years because I’m pretty sure that the Koreans have never heard of it, and even when I can find it in the US, it’s expensive. I asked our server how in the world they managed to get it on the tiny island of Panglao and he seemed quite pleased that I recognized the difficulty involved and the dedication it represented.
Although I was tempted by the paella, the minimum order was 2 people and my companion was unable to eat seafood, so instead I tried a smaller appetizer of “Calamares a la andaluza” described as flour coated baby squids, deep fried and served with honey mustard sauce. My dining companion ordered the Patatas Bravas (deep fried potato cubes with spicy “bravas” sauce). We were both well pleased with these choices. I had a bite of her potatoes and was pleased as punch to find that they had perfected the crispy outside, squishy inside of a truly excellent home fry. The sauce was creamy and spicy. My squids were stellar, maybe even interstellar. I have never imagined in my life that I would have a tender squid. They’re just always chewy. Maybe it’s the “baby” squid or maybe it’s just the chef, but the squid was actually tender. The flour fried coating was light and not oily, and the honey mustard sauce rivaled that at the Bee Farm. Plus, both appetizers were served with tiny crispy bread sticks that we could use to clear our palettes between dishes or just to scoop up extra sauce with.
Next we had some Mondaditos, described on the menu as an Andelusian style bun. Starting to guess where the chef is from? I ordered the “Catalan” because it was manchego, fresh tomato and olive oil. She got the Don Quijote [sic] which was chorizo, sweet red pepper sauce, and manchego. Of course we traded tastes, and although I preferred the simple fresh flavors in the Catalan (I was out for the manchego), I was blown away by the sweet pepper sauce. The saucier at this place is clearly blessed by some kind of culinary deity, or maybe Dionysus. In addition to their own simple yet elegant awesomeness, the mondaditos were served with “veggie crisps” which turned out to be thin sliced and fried vegetables, rather like potato crisps (or chips), but with an array of other vegetables.
For dessert I settled on the crema Catalana, which looked to me like a Spanish version of a creme brulee (a dessert I have loved since I met it). Looking later, I find it is quite similar, but is traditionally flavored with cinnamon and orange peel. I haven’t had the chance to try this dish more than once, but I would happily try it many more times. While in my experience creme brulee is always a rather thick custard, the crema Catalana at Bougainvillea was much softer, almost as if it were the sweet love child of a creme brulee and a zabaglione. It was a wonderful finish to an excellent meal, and my only regret was that I only found it on the last day and I didn’t get to taste more of the menu!
I planned to enjoy great food on this trip, learn more about Filipino food and do some proper local dining. I did do those things, but it was a surprise and delight to find such a plethora of fine dining options with considerations for organic, dietary restrictions, allergies, and of course quality food. I never thought Panglao would be a foodie haven, but it’s full of local delicacies and so much more. Bon Appetit!
I’m writing this a week or more before the publish date because I finally have some free time between the end of school and the beginning of winter camp, and I don’t want to dump all my polished posts on the internet at once. Who knows what news will come by the time this is online, but for now I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m leaving Korea and still wondering if I’m going to find that next job before May. I’m hoping to get the rest of these stories out before my moving day (Feb 25), and I’ll have some new adventures to write then. Whether it’s a new job, a new country, or something wholly unknown, there’s no doubt it will be a good story. Thanks for sticking with me! Happy New Year!