Where flowers bloom and the food is ravishing.
WORDS TEODORO Y. MONTELIBANO | IMAGES LANCER SALVA
Going up Mirèio on the ninth floor of Raffles Makati is like stepping into a swath of sun-lit Provence, with vases of sunflowers placed in both the restaurant’s brasserie and the more intimate dining salon, highlighting how that region is regarded as the garden of France.
The capacious restaurant is probably the most fetching among dining establishments to open, of late, in a luxe hotel in the metropolis. It is ensconced within a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides, bringing the outdoors in at daytime and at night, enveloping patrons in luminescence as the lights of Makati outside are switched on.
Opened in January this year, the restaurant is named after Mirèio (Mary), the subject of the epic poem by Nobel Laureate Frédéric Mistral, the great French poet and lexicographer whose passion was the 19th-century revival of the old Occitan language spoken by natives of Provence, in southern France.
Scion of a wealthy Provençal family, Mistral was named Nobel Laureate (sharing the honor with fellow Spaniard, José de Echegaray) in 1904 for his works in philology and literature.
A full-scale epic poem in 12 cantos, Mistral’s “Mirèio” is set in the poet’s own time. It tells of the daughter of a well-to-do farmer who is enamored with Vincen, the son of a poor basket maker. Prevented by her parents from marrying Vincen, Mirèio goes on a pilgrimage through Provence. She walks on foot through the region, the rustic, sun-soaked beauty of which is vividly described by Mistral in his poem.
A heart-broken Mirèio imagines saints imploring her to give up her suffering so that she could be brought away from earth, and to a better place. But she walks on, and upon reaching the Church of Les Saintes-Maries de-la-Mer, she sees Vincen waiting with her father who has had a change of heart and is now ready to give them his blessings. Alas, however, Mirèio drops from extreme exhaustion and, as she breathes her last, she has a last vision of saints coming for her, to bring her with them to paradise.
It might be a poor parallel but let me just say that entering this restaurant — a smashing job done by world-class interior designer Manny Samson — for the first time is like dying to the cacophony and frenzied pace of the metropolis nine floors below, and being transported to a paradisiacal environment where flowers in fine glass containers bloom, walls are hung with stunning works of art and tables in the 77-capacity restaurant are laid with the culinary artistry of Chef de Cuisine, Nicolas Cegretin.
Nicolas Bracq, Mirèio’s affable general manager, is quick to say that the restaurant is not a fine dining establishment but, rather, “an upscale, casual brasserie.”
Mirèio actually has two dining areas — the brasserie with an open kitchen where the chef and his crew prepare appetizers and desserts, and a more intimate wooden-floored space where a mural by Marcel Antonio depicting Mistral’s poem hangs from the wall.
Other works of art are on display inside a private dining room for ten as well as in an enclosed salon and a boardroom; the walls of the ultra-chic Parisian lounging area of Mirèio’s rooftop terrace on the 10th floor are hung with blown up black and white prints of Parisian scenes and mademoiselles acquired from the Condé Nast photo archives.
More paintings, done in a modern cubist style by such artists as Anthony Palomo and Inka Madera, are scattered through the main dining area of the restaurant which, however you may call it, is an exceedingly comely venue to showcase the cuisine which Cegretin grew up with and knows by heart.
Born and raised in Villeneuve, a commune in Alpes-de-Haute Provence, Cegretin brings to Mirèio years of experience working in Michelin-starred Paris restaurants, Apicius and Lasserre, as well as in La Mamounia, the acclaimed palace hotel located in Marrakesh, Morocco.
The dishes he concocts in the menu are decidedly reminiscent of his provenance, that is, simply executed in a traditional manner, redolent with flavors exuded by the freshness and sustainability of ingredients sourced from the sea and terra firma.
Our repast during our initial visit, for instance had us sampling Cegretin’s tuna carpaccio—done simply in fresh lemon juice and olive oil, and copious servings of Bouchot mussels just flown in from Brittany cooked in a deep copper pot with white wine, parsley and shallots. Grilled bread, lathered with French butter, was passed around to soak up the toothsome briny broth bathing the small but delicious meaty bivalves.
We also feasted on Cegretin’s foie gras-topped pan-seared duck breast, with corn texture; and classic beef tenderloin tartare with shallot, capers, cognac and a bit of house-made mayonnaise. The latter—one of a selection of tartares—the others being smoked haddock with pickled beetroot and Comte cheese aged 36 months; torched prawn with jus and garlic butter, and smoked fresh salmon with apples and Dijon mustard cream—is a favorite among the establishment’s regular dining patrons.
For dessert, the chef concocted virtual art-on-a-plate with strawberry foam (strawberry and egg white coulis) and a raspberry sorbet, a ravishing sweet-ender to a lip-smacking repast.
There is ample choice for libation, with Mirèio’s list featuring Old (French) and New World wines, particularly rosés, for which Provence is famous. A notable drink, and one which Bracq takes pride in pointing out are the Rosé Majeur, Brut Majeur, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from the distinguished 150-year-old champagne house, Champagne Ayala (no relation to the Philippine Zobel de Ayalas) which had been suppliers of champagne to the royal houses of England and Spain, and which are available in Mirèio.
Our Mirèio experience began, post-dinner, with cocktails at the stylish al fresco rooftop bar which offered a stunning view of the Makati skyline. We decided to end the night with the last drink at the same place, from where we sipped wine, visualizing rustic farmhouse kitchens amid relucent fields of flowers, and seaside cafes.
If you have a hankering for, but cannot be in, the South of France right this instant, come up to the ninth floor of Raffles Makati, and allow Cegretin and Bracq, along with their respective crews, to give you the next best thing at this gorgeous establishment.
9th Level, Raffles Makati
1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue, Makati, 1224
+632 795 1840