One of the saddest songs I can listen to over and over again is Paul Tiernan’s How to Say Goodbye. It’s like a lullaby to me, only it pierces the heart. If only I had the voice, this is the song I would probably make a cover of to dedicate to La Cocina de Tita Moning as it will be closing its doors soon.
The moment I heard the sad news, I took it as a sign to finally visit the Malacañang heritage house turned fine-dining restaurant. No more excuses, even if it will cost me an arm. As I would like to put it in the words of the Philippine Tatler “it's not every day that one can luxuriate in an ancestral home evocative of a bygone era that will never be replicated.”
Completed in 1937, the two-storey Legarda Mansion is one of the first few Art Deco houses built in Manila. The mansion is owned by the old-rich and prominent family of the late gynecologist Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and his wife Ramona “Tita Moning” Hernandez. It has survived the horrors of World War II, which during that time the kind doctor treated wounded American and Japanese soldiers. In 2001, after almost six decades, their granddaughter Suzette Legarda Montinola, with the support of the clan, turned the mansion into a restaurant. She called it La Cocina de Tita Moning, in memory of her grandmother who had wanted then of owning her own restaurant but never had the chance to make her dream come true.
La Cocina has one of the most beautiful salas I’ve seen. Several family photos are on display, along with old furniture, antiques, crystal chandelier, grand piano, and original paintings by National Artist Felix Ressureccion Hidalgo and Juan Luna.
There’s a main dining area and two smaller function rooms for a more intimate and private dining experience. Every table is decorated with fragrant rose petals, fern leaves and candles, evoking elegance and romance. I also found a brochure on the table containing the names and short bio of all the staff and servers. I find this gesture from the owners quite personal as it honors the people who labored behind the success of the restaurant.
La Cocina features delectable specialty dishes, which are of Spanish-Filipino influence. They, together with the fine-dining set-up, are reminiscent of the grandiose and lavish parties thrown back then by Tita Moning in this house where her culinary skills became a word-of-mouth in the high society circle of Manila. One of the notable guests they had was William Howard Taft, the first commissioner of the US assigned to Manila.
Pan grilled salmon on white wine Beurre Blanc and leeks
Chicken a la Kiev
Melting chocolate with fruits and ice cream
Queso de bola spread
Before or after dinner, guests can take a tour around the house and discover the history, passions, interests and heirlooms of the Legardas. I was amazed that each and every room was preserved so impeccably – from the medical library of Dr. Legarda and his four children who also became doctors; his house clinic eerily equipped with x-ray machine and a real skeleton; his vintage camera and ham radio showrooms; and the dressing room of his two ballerina daughters.
It was truly a memorable experience, having my first and last old world dining experience at La Cocina. It was like re-living and saying goodbye to one of Manila’s most genteel eras. I just hope that whoever acquires the mansion will still continue to preserve it, not destroy and build some new building or structure on it. I hope I’m not too naive to think that even in real life, there could still be a happy ending.
La Cocina de Tita Moning
San Rafael St., San Miguel
Tel. No.: 734-2141