January 03, 2011

Restaurant Review: Café by the Ruins.

Cafe By The Ruins entrance

Mark checking the menu

With true organic restaurants few and far between in the Philippines, that offer local ingredients, with a clear philosophy, well balanced food and flavours to match, Café by the Ruins is a little gem and the cornerstone restaurant of good food and local cuisine in Baguio - skip the stodgy country club and ditch the average ethno offerings in town and have some real food instead.

Though Café by the Ruins has been open for more than two decades, it’s always busy and there’s always a function. Designed around the ruins of the late  Governor General, Phelps Whitmarsh's mansion, the majority of the space has an outdoor organic garden feel, with plenty of greenery, artwork and fresh breeze going through it to make you feel like you’re dining alfresco. Think Sonya’s Garden, only low key, eclectic and more diner, less dinner. The majority of the space has been built using the two sections of the former mansion’s walls and the old garden well and trellis as the centrepieces, constructing a wonderfully calm dining space against the bleary traffic and general chaos of Chuntug St and Session Rd.

Mark's fave focaccia

Don’t expect a fine diner when you visit – it’s not that kind of place. Instead you’ll find large servings of home-made pasta, home-fired focaccia bread oozing with garlic, olive oil and rosemary in the centre and plenty of vegetarian options, all made in the restaurant’s kitchen and with as many organic ingredients as possible. No canned fruit or tomatoes here, nor the manufactured rubbish that gets churned out in restaurants across the Philippines these days. All the dishes are well-balanced, thoughtfully executed and truly healthy, offering the kind of meals any well exercised intellectual would crave for in place of another serving of cold, over roasted and over-salted slab of meat.
This is actually Mark's dish hehe

Tofu stuffed with marinated mushrooms in honeyed sweet and sour sauce

You’ll find plenty of vegetarian options on the menu, most better than the protein fan dishes. The golden and super-crunchy tofu stuffed with marinated mushrooms in a honeyed sweet and sour sauce flanked by watercress is reminiscent of the veggie dishes you find in health food restaurants in Sydney – all soothing textures, with a well-balanced palette – no aggressive flavors here. The zucchini fritters are an Italian-Indian inspired dish, crunchy and as addictive as chips, with a gutsy serving of dipping sauce over it. But you’ll find the best bread in town (possibly the entire region). Everything from pan de sal to wholewheat and Italian bread is baked to crunchy perfection in the kitchen. With a choice of sauces and fillings, their baked bread is a meal in itself.

 grilled chicken and Lemon Ricotta Pasta 

However, it’s not all curtains for protein lovers. The fettuccine with roasted chicken in carbonara produces a delightfully well tamed sauce, moreish and made for sharing. There are plenty of traditional Filipino dishes from pork to seafood on offer here. However, it’s really the veg, salad and café dishes that are a standout.

Desert-wise, the hot chocolate, served in three offerings can’t be beat. As tempting as it is to grab Rizal’s Chocalate-e with suman, skip ahead and get the dark chocolate, melted in hot water, with carabao cream, cinnamon and brown sugar or have it melted down the traditional Mexican way. The chocolate is tart, dark and extremely rich, putting the artificially sweetened rubbish at Starbucks and the likes to shame. This is real chocolate, done the way we liked it for over 500 years!

Whilst a great little place that makes you want to come back for more of its bread, chocolate and to sample more of the extensive menu; Café by the Ruins is far from perfect. For one, the service needs a good kick in the nickers. Expect the usual, brooding 20-something male, lacking in attentiveness and anticipation as your waiter, but be pleasantly surprised if that’s not the case. And while the interior charmingly matches the café’s philosophy, the lack of music is very noticeable. There is something appealing about hearing nothing but low key chatter in a packed café, but on quiet nights with nothing but rain, it is quite stark. Someone needs to introduce the managers to a sound system, good world jazz records and some Euro pop. When that happens and they start providing gueridon service, Café by the Ruins will be the perfect little gem we desperately need

What: Café by the Ruins.

For now, it’s content as a little gem evoking a most civilized palette, delicious organic offerings and a philosophy to boot – the perfect respite from ‘modern’ Baguio.


(Anything over 12/20 = good/very good)

Listening to : Potions, Late Night Alumni 
             <3 : cold weather
             =( : going home too soon!


  1. The photo with the pasta is:
    grilled chicken
    and Lemon Ricotta Pasta NOT Carbonara.
    Also, it's LATE American Governor General, Phelps Whitmarsh. He is dead now and he wasn't the last governor general of Baguio.


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