Le Monet Hotel: Cool Hideaway in Baguio

Le Monet Hotel stands right beside The Filling Station just half a kilometer away from the Camp John Hay entrance

Le Monet Hotel stands right beside The Filling Station just half a kilometer away from the Camp John Hay entrance

BAGUIO occupies a special place in my heart. It is my childhood vacation place. When I was a kid, my sisters (I have four older sisters) and I used to spend our summer vacations in Tayug, Pangasinan, where our maternal grandparents owned and managed a hardware store. Our cousins would be there, too, and our Tayug-based aunt would often take us up to Baguio, where we would often stay for a few days. That’s where and how I learned to speak Ilocano, although my Ilocano pales in comparison to my older sisters and cousins.

‘Tis why I welcome every opportunity to be able to visit Baguio, and, just last month (July 2013), I got a chance to go up to Baguio again, this time for a three-day stay at the new and chic Le Monet Hotel inside Camp John Hay. I was excited when the invitation came from Le Monet’s public relations manager Ana Mendoza, because I had been to Le Monet for dinner last year (2012), around August or September, and the hotel had left quite an impression on me despite seeing only the lobby and the cocktail venue that evening. So I cleared my schedule for that weekend, and my husband Raff and I joined Ana on an early morning trip up to the Summer Capital of the Philippines.

Facade of the new luxury hotel in Baguio

Facade of the new luxury hotel in Baguio

The entrance to the lovely pocket garden where guests can take a leisurely walk at any time of the day

The entrance to the lovely pocket garden where guests can take a leisurely walk at any time of the day

"Green" arches crowning the pathways in the garden

“Green” arches crowning the pathways in the garden

Yes, you can marvel at the flowers and even stop to smell them, too!

Yes, you can marvel at the flowers and even stop to smell them, too!

Le Monet Hotel, which is quite new, is named after French impressionist painter Claude Monet, just as its sister hotel in Quezon City, Hotel Rembrandt, has been named after Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. It is a six-storey luxury hotel that stands right beside The Filling Station, just half a kilometer away from the entrance to Camp John Hay. Right in front of it is the picnic area of Camp John Hay, which has preserved the towering pine trees and greens throughout its vast property. Le Monet blends right into the green environment around it, even building a beautiful Le Monet Garden on one side of the hotel facade, where guests can take a relaxing, very leisurely walk down the pathway to the pocket gardens at the back at any time of the day. Here, you have the luxury of really being able to stop to smell the flowers, of which there are plenty and in bright, beautiful colors, too.

Cozy and luxurious Deluxe Room at Le Monet Hotel fronting Camp John Hay's picnic area

Cozy and luxurious Deluxe Room at Le Monet Hotel fronting Camp John Hay’s picnic area

Dresser cum work table

Dresser cum work table

The veranda of our Deluxe Room on the fifth floor, overlooking Camp John Hay's picnic area

The veranda of our Deluxe Room on the fifth floor, overlooking Camp John Hay’s picnic area

The signature of luxury on the bed

The signature of luxury on the bed

DAY 1: SETTLING IN

Reaching Le Monet Hotel by around 4:00 p.m., we got to check into our room, a Deluxe Room on the fifth floor, right away. We proceeded to our room, where we found two Queen size beds with a flat-screen TV and a dresser cum work table near the window. The window turned out to be sliding doors leading out to the veranda, where Raff and I sat on the chairs to relax, watch cars and people pass by in front of us, and feast our eyes on the rolling terrain of the picnic grove in front of us. The sight of the greens was very comforting. It, in tandem with the cool breeze that you enjoy only in Baguio, relaxed me and made me feel right at home.

The two of us sat there for a long time, enjoying the view that you don’t get to see much of in the metro, until dusk began to fall and it was time to wash up and prepare for dinner.

The bathroom was an extremely pleasant surprise. There was no bathtub, thank goodness, only a glass-enclosed shower area, and the toilet was out of this world. It had a heated toilet seat with digital temperature control, kind of like reminding you that you’re in Baguio, and there was a small, flat-screen TV with remote control right in front of the toilet. Talk about luxury!

Le Monet Hotel's exquisite lobby

Le Monet Hotel’s exquisite lobby

The interactive grill station at the Dinelli Gourmet Café during dinner

The interactive grill station at the Dinelli Gourmet Café during dinner

Chicken and pork satay

Chicken and pork satay, served with peanut sauce and sambal sauce

Dinner began with a soup called GM's Favorite

Dinner began with a soup called GM’s Favorite

Cebu Lechon was at the carving station

Cebu Lechon was at the carving station

Dinner was at the Dinelli Goumet Café at the lobby. Ana was already at the table when we arrived, and together, we had a most satisfying dinner under the grand chandelier of dangling crystals that glowed like diamonds in the sky. They were, according to Ana, just glass, although they looked like Swarovski crystals – and behaved like Swarovskis, too!

Vietnamese Vegetable Roll

Vietnamese Salad Roll

Thai Mango Salad

Thai Mango Salad

Grilled Chicken Almond Salad

Grilled Chicken Almond Salad

Assorted sushis and makis

Assorted sushis and makis

Ginataang Seafood

Ginataang Seafood

Thai Fish Skewers

Thai Fish Skewers

Chinese Style Fried Chicken

Chinese Style Fried Chicken

There was a buffet setup for dinner, and, although the space for the buffet spread was quite limited, it was teeming with delicious eats. There were a number of salads to choose from, including Thai Mango Salad and Grilled Chicken Almond Salad, to highlight the fresh produce that is abundant in Baguio. Appetizers included assorted sushis and makis and Vietnamese Salad Roll (better known as Vietnamese Fresh Spring Roll). A whole Cebu Lechon sat on the carvery, with skewers of Chicken and Pork Satay being cooked a la minute at the interactive grill station. Rows of chafing dishes offered quite a number of delightful hot dishes, including Ginataang Seafood, Thai Fish Skewers and Chinese Style Fried Chicken.

Choco Peanut Mousse

Choco Peanut Mousse

Almond Lychees

Almond Lychee

The dessert spread was equally impressive. Aside from fresh fruit slices, it had Choco Peanut Mousse in terrines, Ana’s favorite, and the lighter Almond Lychee.

It was back to the room for us after dinner. We hurried up to catch My Husband’s Lover on TV for the first time. People in the publishing industry had been raving about it, but Raff and I never got a chance to catch it since we work till late in the evening and don’t get to go home in time for it, so we were definitely very curious about it. This was our chance to catch it, and the soap opera with the innovative, controversial topic didn’t disappoint.

After My Husband’s Lover, Raff switched channels to cable TV, and I worked on a few articles on my laptop as he watched. Since we had a long day, waking up early in the morning for the trip to Baguio, Raff and I decided to call it a day earlier than usual, looking forward to the Eggs Benedict that Ana said Le Monet serves for breakfast.

DAY 2 – A BUSY DAY

We were up early the next morning and jump-started our full day ahead with a hearty breakfast at Dinelli. The place was full. Luckily, we were able to find a vacant table, and Raff and I settled back on the huge chairs with a tall backrest and first enjoyed a cup of freshly brewed coffee before doing the rounds of the breakfast buffet spread. When Ana arrived and joined us at the table, she immediately ordered Eggs Benedict for each of us.

Le Monet Hotel's signature Eggs Benedict for breakfast

Le Monet Hotel’s signature Eggs Benedict for breakfast

Salad Platter of Cherry Tomatoes, Shredded Lettuce and Salted Eggs

Salad Platter of Cherry Tomatoes, Shredded Lettuce and Salted Eggs

Smoked Salmon with Capers and Cream Cheese

Smoked Salmon with Capers and Cream Cheese

Crispy Espada Fish

Crispy Espada Fish

 

Talbos ng Sayote, Talbos ng Kamote and Tomato Salad

Talbos ng Sayote, Talbos ng Kamote and Tomato Salad

Le Monet’s egg station does more than just Sunny-Side Ups and Omelettes. It also assembles hearty Eggs Benedict (soft-poached egg layered with bacon and asparagus spears on a freshly baked biscuit then topped with freshly made Hollandaise sauce and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and paprika). Le Monet is the only hotel in Baguio that serves Eggs Benedict as part of its breakfast buffet, so a lot of walk-in guests do come to the hotel for breakfast. It’s one of the innovations and special offerings introduced by Le Monet’s corporate chef Robby Goco (of Cyma fame), and it became an instant hit.

Aside from the Eggs Benedict, Chef Robby also made sure there’s Buttermilk Pancakes (freshly made from scratch using buttermilk from Lipa), French Toast, and freshly baked Biscuits served with Gravy, Fried Chicken and Country Potatoes on the buffet for that all-American breakfast fare.

First having a platter of fresh fruits from the buffet before enjoying my Eggs Benedict, I also assembled a breakfast sampler platter of my own that had a little Longganisa Fried Rice with Crispy Espada Fish and Smoked Salmon that had been painstakingly rolled up and served with capers, cream cheese and shallots. Ana also had a platter of steamed talbos ng sayote (sayote tops) and talbos ng kamote (kamote tops) with salted egg, cherry tomatoes and onion rings served at the table.

The buffet spread likewise included fresh garden salads, herbed butter, lots of breads, and hot dishes like tapa, tocino and danggit, and desserts, as well, but there was no more room in our tummies for more.

After a sumptuous breakfast, the three of us got into our van and went out for a day about town. We stopped by a couple of places that Ana suggested we feature in FLAVORS Magazine and did quick shoots with them. We also dropped by the Good Shepherd store to buy a few bottles of strawberry jam to take back home to Manila as pasalubongs, and stopped by another store for a couple of Baguio’s famous Raisin Breads before hurrying back to Le Monet for a food shoot and late lunch with Chef Robby Goco. Chef Robby happened to be in Ilocos at that time and had, upon being informed by Ana of our request for a food shoot, decided to proceed to Baguio to personally be there for the shoot.

Red Iced Tea

Red Iced Tea

Le Monet Salad

Le Monet Salad

Fresh Fruit Platter

Fresh Fruit Platter

Lunch service was done by the time we got back to the hotel, so Dinelli was empty and quiet. We occupied a table and enjoyed Red Iced Tea as we waited for Chef Robby to arrive. Before long, he arrived with a cousin, and despite aching ribs (he had hurt himself when he went sand-boarding down the sand dunes of Ilocos and taken a fall), he had 10 plated dishes assembled by his kitchen staff for the shoot, and, after the shoot, sat down for a late lunch with us.
Growing up at the time when Baguio was at the peak of its popularity and spending summers of his childhood in the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Chef Robby knew Baguio like the back of his hands. He built his menu for Le Monet around this memory of the Baguio of old, when he and his family would go to the steakhouse and enjoy a huge, American style steak, so he designed the menu of Dinelli around this concept and put together a Steakhouse for Le Monet around his steakhouse memory of Baguio.

“I got the best meats for Le Monet’s steaks, such as Wagyu, USDA Prime, Aged and Kitayama beef, and since the eggs that we get here are real fresh, we do Eggs Benedict and other egg preparations for breakfast,” explains Chef Robby.

He also capitalizes on the fresh produce that is abundant in Baguio by laying out about six salads every day and serving fresh fruits and vegetables.

After a few hours in Baguio, Chef Robby was gone again. He was proceeding to La Union, where he would spend the night. Busy weekend for Chef Robby! As for us, we spent the rest of the afternoon (and early evening) in the room, with Raff watching TV and I working on a blog post for this blog of mine and some articles for the magazine. Ana took the time to go and see her brother, who was celebrating his birthday and who went up to Baguio with some members of his family so they could celebrate his birthday together.
Simple joys in my childhood vacation place – Baguio. I felt very peaceful and happy.

DAY 3: GOING BACK HOME

Our third day in Baguio began early in the morning. Raff and I woke up early and had breakfast at the lobby, where the setup had always been very casual and comfortable. Just like the morning before, the breakfast buffet spread this morning was once again very impressive.

The Garden Fresh Salad I assembled for breakfast

The Fresh Garden Salad I assembled for breakfast

Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Croutons

Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Croutons

Buttermilk Pancakes

Buttermilk Pancakes

I assembled a fresh garden salad with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, red cabbage and black olives with crabsticks to savor the fresh produce of Baguio for the last time before heading back to the concrete jungle that is Metro Manila. I also had a bowl of Cream of Pumpkin Soup and got croutons from the salad bar to top it with. Delicious! Then I assembled a stack of Buttermilk Pancakes topped with butter and syrup, which Raff and I shared. We’re supposed to have a hearty breakfast, because we would be traveling back to Manila after a quick stop at the Baguio Market. The trip back down would take about four or five hours, so it would be best to travel on a full stomach.

Halfway through breakfast, Ana joined us, and we left together for the market afterwards. Ana wasn’t going to join us on our trip back to Manila, because she had guests coming up to Baguio the following day, so there would just be Raff and I plus the driver in the van back down. But Ana would take us to the market, because she knew where to find the best bargains. And, boy, she really did!

We made our way through the aisles and corridors of the Baguio Market, and though my original plan was to buy only carrots and lettuce and nothing more, I ended up with a lot more than originally intended. I bought marinated baby bangus in packs of seven for Php55 per pack, then we inched through the crowd to get to the area at the back called the Hangar, and I had a feast with all the fresh vegetables there, ending up with talbos ng sayote at Php13 per bunch, carrots at Php20 per kilogram, lettuce at Php40 per kilo, cucumber at Php15, and Baguio beans at Php25, saba and latundan bananas at Php50. Awesome!

Raff and I both had Baked Salmon with Miso Glaze for lunch before leaving for Manila

Raff and I both had Baked Salmon with Miso Glaze for lunch before leaving for Manila

We spent such a long time in the market that when we got back to the hotel, it was almost lunchtime. Ana said we should have a quick lunch first before leaving so we’d have energy for the trip back to Manila.. So we packed our stuff, had a quick lunch at Dinelli with Ana, then said our thank-yous and good-byes and got on our way.

Settling back in my corner of the van as it got on its way, I chose to enjoy the view down the mountainous terrain of Kennon Road. It was comforting to look at the pine trees, the Lion’s Head, the greens of the Baguio of my childhood, although the mountainsides are now punctuated with mass housing areas and Session Road is now a crowded metro center. I would still keep coming back to Baguio – especially now that I’ve found a new home in Le Monet.

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