From north to south and out into the heart of Singapore, Charles Montañez is back to where it all started. The chef known for his maximalist knack for wielding diverse ingredients into modern Latin-Asian flavors has finally revamped the original Alegria Manila in a cool new Uptown Parade spot with fine dining flair and delicious food stories to share.
It’s worth mentioning that its evolution from a sangria bar on top of the Uniqlo building in Bonifacio High Street into a fine dining space with resplendent interiors and gleaming Filipino art on a predominantly purple and black backdrop is everything that Montañez has kept in his head all this time. The man surely has big ambitions and it shows even more on the slick 16-course tasting menu that conjures an exhilarating journey between parallel worlds in around two hours or so.
From the knowledgeable servers and the equally attentive chefs (which include executive sous chef Gilbert Borja and executive pastry chef Chico Orcine), the 16 dishes grab your attention in crests and troughs. Montañez makes you feel things with the ebbs and flows of the Filipino and Latin American dishes cooked in South American techniques.
From the knowledgeable servers and the equally attentive chefs (which include executive sous chef Gilbert Borja and executive pastry chef Chico Orcine), the 16 dishes grab your attention in crests and troughs.
His signatures are present right at the beginning with the double opener of Pao de Quiejo (chewy mochi-like corn smut) and Infladita (an earthy explosion of smoked ‘shrooms and mushroom ‘soil’). It’s an early indication of a grown-up Alegria. Meanwhile, the crisp and slightly acidic Dinuguang Sinuglaw (grilled pork, market fish, blood cup, aji amarillo, ikura, potato), Okoy Tostada (crab, flax seed and kalkag tostada, smoked mussel creme), and Inihaw na Talaba that uses Aklan oysters robustly explore different textures to keep things interesting.
The rest of the dishes set the palate for more exuberant flavors that are frankly plucked out of the Philippine culinary map—from a brash Iloco Empanada Birria, Nicuatole (inihaw na maja blanca and corn in various forms), and Squid-Silog (using black rice from Kalinga) to a romantic Kare-Kare that uses kurobuta pork and almond puree and Bistek Tagalog ( one of the peaks of the tasting menu delivering glossy fermented sauces that progress from subtle to intense).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Montañez restaurant without elote, one of his favorite ingredients. Here, he uses baby corn grown by Ambiong farmers from La Trinidad, Benguet and coats them in chipotle and Baguio strawberry glaze before letting loose on the parrilla to turn it into a gleeful crunchy chaos. With each bite, the complexity in flavors belie the simplicity of its presentation.
“My favorite ingredient is corn because you can do so much with it,” says Montañez. “It doesn’t scream for attention or overshadow anything yet it is capable of being a star on its own.”
The overhaul of Alegria Manila is a fitting turning point for Charles Montañez and his brand of Filipino-Latin fusion—one that signals a new dawn for more adventures on local shores.
Orcine meanwhile bookends the experience with a well-meaning take on familiar Filipino desserts that declare these creations as sweet siblings rather than an afterthought to the dishes that came before it. While Orcine’s vision similarly melts into the overall theme with texture (Champorado Brigadeiro), mystery (Sundot Kulangot), and flair (Banana QT), the star dessert of deconstructed Halo-Halo is where Orcine lays it all out on the line.
He details a swirling smolder of pandan sago, nata de coco, leche flan, and red bean puree on a bowl that bounce off the macapuno mousse, ube halaya, and langka compote before they are all submerged in the liquid-nitrogen milk ice cream.
At the end of the journey (assuming you wouldn’t want another glass of Estilo Claro or Supremo to pair the dishes with), you realize that Alegria Manila’s overhaul is a fitting turning point for Montañez and his brand of Filipino-Latin fusion—one that signals a new dawn for more adventures on local shores. And perhaps with comparably colorful and enjoyable results.