The Sarabia Manor in Iloilo City proper has been home to travelers touring the Western Visayas since 1969 and has been the host for numerous conferences and conventions held in the city known as the Pearl of the Philippine Islands (Iloilo es la Perla de las Islas Filipinas, so goes the proud statement of many Ilonggos I’ve met over the years).
The Manor, as it is commonly known among the locals, was founded by the late Dr. Salvador Sarabia Sr., the eldest son of the renowned Dr. Federico Sarabia whose name lives on in the chain of optical shops he founded over a century ago. It continues to be managed by members of the Sarabia family and likewise continues to open its doors to both foreign and domestic tourists.
It is, essentially, a business traveler’s hotel – so don’t expect to find chocolates on you pillow, or a posh micro-tote filled with bespoke toiletries, or turn-down service. But the accommodations are, nevertheless, rather comfortable and staying at the hotel gives you access to the buffet down at the lobby’s Cafe Salvatore.
Located in the Manor’s lobby, Cafe Salvatore serves up a daily breakfast buffet, offers luncheon buffets on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and hosts buffet dinners partnered with live entertainment on Saturday nights. The offerings are pretty standard as hotel buffets go: a selection of appetizers, a salad bar, a dessert bar, and one dish each in the category of either meat, fish, fowl, or vegetable.
The breakfast buffet features a cook-station where the chef on duty can whip up fried eggs and omelets to the diners’ liking as well as a juice station featuring freshly made mango juice straight out of nearby Guimaras Island where the mangoes are sweeter and more delicious than anything grown elsewhere in the country. Breakfast at Cafe Salvatore also features one or two specialties that are done exceptionally well.
The picadillo featured in the buffet easily became one of my favorites. This rich, thick stew may not necessarily be part of a conventional breakfast, but it’s a delicious, filling, fortifying way to get your day started. This Cuban specialty involves ground beef or pork or a mix thereof stewed in tomato sauce with peppercorns and a bayleaf with potatoes, diced carrots, and peas. Raisins are added to add a hint of sweetness, but die-hard picadillo fans (myself included) believe that the stew is hearty and tasty enough without them.
Sarabia Manor’s version of picadillo is quite rich: thick, hearty, more brown than red, like a meat pottage, with none of the oil floating on top that characterizes many homespun versions of the dish. It is also more savory than sweet – Filipino-style spaghetti sauce it sure ain’t! – and goes down magnificently with either fried rice with a sprinkle of toasted garlic or plain steamed rice. Grab a fried egg from the fry station to make a version of arroz ala Cubana; the only thing missing would be the fried plantains [pritong saba], but the dish will be tasty enough without them.
Other treats on the breakfast buffet are the locally-made chorizos – Iloggo-style longganiza sausages that are both sweet and peppery and the breakfast potatoes which are cooked with sweet onions and mushrooms in butter.
Another favorite belongs to the lunch buffet spread on my last day in Iloilo: the Cuban-style roast pork. This richly flavored roast is totally fork-tender with a proper balance of lean meat, fat, and crackling. You get sweetly savory pork flavored beautifully with rosemary and pepper; a real treat over rice or potatoes. There was also a warmer filled with beef Alfredo pasta which was also delightful, but the pork was certainly the star.
The dessert buffet features a selection of house-made cakes and jellies, a halo-halo bar, and several kinds of fresh fruit. The cakes were nothing to write home about, but the fresh fruit was totally sweet – even the fresh pineapple was properly sweet without any hint of tartness whatsoever – and made a better choice.
All things considered, Sarabia Manor’s buffets may not really be as posh as, say, the one at the Makati Shangri-la or the much missed one over at the Manila Pen’s now-defunct Nielsen, but you certainly won’t leave hungry or dissatisfied with your meal.
Cafe Salvatore @ Sarabia Manor: Ground Floor – Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center, 101 Gen. Luna St., Iloilo City 5000