Approaching the estate of Hacienda San Benito, we look up to see the view of Mt. Malarayat standing out in the middle of the Batangas landscape of farms and habitation. Coming off the main road after almost two hours of travel, we pass through eight kilometers of farm after farm, a strip which we learned was known as the Millionaires Row as these are private farms of celebrities and tycoons, on the narrow path leading to Barangay San Benito.
It was a little past lunchtime when our van stopped at a gate that announced “The only organic sanctuary in the Philippines” and opens up to a short dirt road leading to a terrace-like structure sitting on a land formerly planted to liberica or barako coffee. The place is appropriately called Terrazas de Barako, an organic restaurant located within the 22-hectare Hacienda San Benito in Lipa, Batangas. While there’d been a plethora of restaurants that rode the organic bandwagon years ago, Terrazas de Barako seeks to be short on the hype and long on the promise of a truly organic food experience or what they want to call as “farm dining”. After all, it sits right inside a farm cum organic sanctuary and sources most of its ingredients on site and from its sub-farms elsewhere in Batangas.
Let’s talk about the farm ambiance
Lagal[og] says: It’s hard not to relax in these surroundings. From the veranda and al fresco dining area, you can see Mt. Malarayat to the east. From the inside of the screened dining area, you can see either the trees, the horses and the farm lots. At mid-day, it may be sunny and warm outside but cool inside. The wind picks up mid-afternoon and the place becomes really conducive to an unhurried meal, the peace only occasionally punctuated by neighing horses and distant rumble of vehicles. I was eyeing the cabanas outside near the coffee trees and grape vines which would be ideal for an after-meal massage.
Ironwulf says: I definitely liked the boldness in the architecture of the Terrazas playing with angles and distortion. Even if its in the farm it doesn’t have to look like a hut. It was modern but makes use of abacca furnitures. The koi pond is amusing along with the z-pathway. It’s definitely a place not only for dining but to relax and slow down, either by engaging in an interesting conversation with friends or family or by oneself with a good book and rich barako coffee.
The diversions before the meal
Lagal[og] says: It takes awhile to prepare the food as Chef Teresa Lobb gives each dish her personal touch. That gave us a window to explore the organic sanctuary onboard the electric tram. I’ve been here two years ago for a magazine assignment and was curious about the changes. The friendly and very knowledgeable farm manager, Mang Nev (Villamar), took us around explaining the main concept behind the integrated hexa organic sanctuary where each part is part of a symbiotic whole — from the animal husbandry to vermiculture. It’s nice to ogle the ostriches, chase after the shy sheep and survey the horses.
Ironwulf says: For a person like me who’s not really into farming, the large chunk of land may seem like nothing but plenty of farmspace, however, a tour with Sir Nev is a fun and easy way of learning the ways of organic farming. It gave me a better appreciation of the place. Aside from the sheep, ostriches and horses, he also showed us the Red Tilapia ponds which I didn’t know exist. For some divine quiet time and another architectural inspiration, check out the Capilla Sagrado Corazon.
Savoring the meal, one dish at a time
Lagal[og] says: Part of the charm of Terrazas de Barako is the deliberate lack of haste not because the service is slow but that each dish is meant to be savored. For starters, we were served a basket of warm, homemade bread dusted with malunggay bits and complimented by a pat of butter laced with malunggay (Moringa Oleifera). This obsession with incorporating this nutritious leaf becomes more apparent with the serving of the other dishes but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Ironwulf says: There’s also a couple of bite size Chicken Liver with Mango Chutney Crouton as starter treats. The liver was smooth with the mango chutney adding tangy flavor. The bread was also pleasantly crisp.
Lagal[og] says: For appetizers, we got the benefit of sampling all three choices available on the menu: the Cream of Roasted Vegetable Soup, the Fresh Malunggay Lumpia filled with Prawn and Crabmeat with White Wine and Tofu Sauce, and the Tamban Fillets in Crispy Bacon. I really liked the Roasted Vegetable Soup which was really thick and viscuous, the slightly tart taste accented by the slight saltiness of the goat cheese on top. I also liked the Tamban (Sardinella Albella) Fillets, the sardines sprinkled with herbed breadcrumbs thoroughly satisfying though I felt it can be quite a heavy choice for an appetizer. I just thought it would be a fine meal in itself served with organic red or brown rice.
Ironwulf says: We were fortunate to sample the three appetizers they offer. I really like the Cream of Roasted Vegetable Soup too with its thick consistency and oftentimes crunchy bits with hints of spiciness here and there. The Tambans Fillets were good, wrapped with crispy bacon and sprinkled with a thick coat of crumbs but too heavy for an appetizer It could be an entree though. I really liked the Fresh Malunggay Lumpia filled with Prawn and Crabmeat as every bite felt like I was taking a sip of good wine which compliments the rich seafood flavor of the meal. It leaves a pleasant aftertaste of the flavor of wine with a slight citrusy note on the throat.
Lagal[og] says: For our entree, we were able to taste all three choices on the menu and I was really curious about the Pan Fried Red Tilapia which was harvested from the farm’s own pond. The tilapia meat was light and flakey, without that usual fishy aftertaste. It was served with a Ginger and Cucumber Relish but I liked it even sans the accompaniment just fried lightly so the meat is tender and comes off easily using my fork.
Ironwulf says: It’s my first time to try Red Tilapia and the fish meat tasted really clean unlike the regular tilapia. It was also pan fried evenly so that there’s the right amount of saltiness and crispiness on the skin. The Free Range Organic Roast Chicken Breast with Langgonisa was a surprise. The chicken meat was unbelievably tender and really goes well with the strong flavor of the langgonisa. ThePotato Croquette that goes along with the meal also have an interesting mix of flavors lent by the lemongrass, roasted garlic cloves and beans. A really complete meal.
Lagal[og] says: There’s only one dessert item on the menu but the Trilogy of Chocolate doesn’t disappoint especially for a chocoholic like me. There’s the mini hot chocolate fudge, a chocolate-filled cannolli cone, and interestingly, a chili ice cream. The fudge finds a worthy pairing with the chili cream, the latter having a interesting hint of spiciness after the initial chocolate-sugar flavors hit the taste buds. The better to enjoy the barako coffee that comes with this sweet treat, perhaps to ward off the sleepiness induced by the meal and the afternoon breeze.
Ironwulf says: The dessert was much-awaited seeing Trilogy of Chocolate on the menu. The Chocolate Fudge was really rich with warm molten choco and thick buttery taste. The Chocolate cannoli cone was a delight especially with the tinge of spiciness. After the terrific trio dessert we capped off with a cup of barako coffee, like I always tell my friends I’m not a regular coffee drinker, but I appreciate good coffee like we had here.
Terrazas de Barako
Call 806-2580 (Manila), (043)806-3834 (Lipa)
or Mobile (0927) 909-1867
Email at [email protected]
Open for breakfast and lunch by appointment only
(Diners are encouraged to book at least three days ahead)