3 Restaurants We Want Back in McKinley Hill

While others ask themselves existential questions like “am I happy?” or “why am I here?”, I do a little musing on my own, dig deep, and try to answer this: why are all my favorite restaurants in McKinley Hill closing down?

I’ve been working in McKinley Hill for more than four years now, and I’ve witnessed how the foodie scene grew. Back in 2010, the Venice Piazza was the only food hub there. Restaurants came and went and soon more establishments popped out in other areas: the stalls (Dell’s Kitchen, Sinangag Express, Siomai House, etc.) in Two World Square, serving yummy, affordable fare; Woodridge Residences, which houses Mazza Shawarma, Pan de Manila and JT’s Inasal; and the upscale Tuscany, the longest strip of cafes, bars, and restaurants in McKinley, home to some of my favorites like L.E.S. Bagels, Main Street, and Wursty Wursty. Four years ago, we had no choice but to eat in Piazza; now, we’re practically allergic to it.

But Piazza is at the center of it all. It’s accessible to most of the offices, and so lunchtimes can be quite a headache. The power of Piazza is that if you’re having a hard time deciding what to eat, it can easily give you the two most automatic choices: McDonald’s or KFC.

However, my attachment to Venice Piazza is not dictated by my affinity to Shake Shake Fries. My fondness is because of the fact that it was home to three of my favorite restaurants—three awesome spots which—to my effing disappointment—closed down. These places used to be my default choice, and they were so amazing that I never even had to drag my friends over nor use blackmail and coercion. Empire, Old Vine, and Spring, I MISS YOU. This article is my tribute to all three of you.

1. Empire

The Empire 50/50
Even before the breakfast craze hit Bonifacio Global City, Empire has been serving bad-ass breakfast food in the heart of McKinley Hill. Where else could you find humongous French toasts for only PhP150, and a superb rendition of the Eggs Benedict for something a bit over PhP200? Two years back, you could only buy these from Empire!
Shrimp Salad Sandwich

Now every breakfast place you know is dishing out its version of the Eggs Benny, substituting ingredients, replacing the bread, spicing up the sauce, then charge you almost PhP400. Eggs Bennies around are so fucking overpriced, that a fellow foodie labeled it “Social Climber Food”. (No offense to the die-hard Eggs Benny fans, it's not you, it's the pricing.)

Aside from breakfast food, Empire serves—oh wait, used to serve—continental plates as well, like Blackened Fish, Salmon Gravlax, and their gourmet burger, the Empire 50/50. Oh damn, now I’m craving for their food.
Blackened Fish
Why did it have to close down? Was it because of its low pricing? Did it intimidate passersby with its chic ambience? Was it because of the location? I don’t think so, it was right in the middle of Piazza. If they had foreseen that their concept would boom a year after, would they have stayed?
Corned Beef and Potato Hash
In times like these when a tiny bacon sandwich can cost you PhP400, how I wish Empire is still around.

There wasn’t a dish in Old Vine Grille that I didn’t like.

Back then, when we were in the mood for a juicy steak, delicious pasta, or a lovely salad, we would automatically go to Old Vine. The restaurant specialized in European cuisine, and the dishes were excellent, from the soups, to the mains, and down to dessert.

Marinated Salmon Carpaccio
These were some of my favorites: the Stir-Fried Seafood Paella, with copious servings of smoked salmon, fish fillet, squid, and shrimp; the Salpicao Fried Rice; and the Salmon Carpaccio.

Stir-Fried Seafood Paella
They used to offer Executive Lunch Sets as well, which we availed almost every day! How could we say no to a perfectly-cooked garoupa fillet in a delicious lemon-butter sauce, paired with some risotto? Or a USDA Prime steak, grilled to perfection, with a side of tangy penne pasta? I loved everything they brought to the table!
Pan-fried Garoupa Fillet in Lemon-Butter Sauce
Then one day, I saw the walls being repainted—from brown to white. Immediately, I called the server (who became my friend after like, a hundred meals there) and asked him what was going on. He said that Old Vine was going to be replaced by Uncle Cheffy.
Steak and Pasta Combo

The waiter silenced me with a gesture towards the next table, from which the resto owner was enjoying her salad.

No less than a week later, the paint job was complete and Uncle Cheffy’s sign was up. The servers told me that the Old Vine chef would stay on, and that it would be possible for me to order off-the-menu items—that is, Old Vine’s dishes—provided that the ingredients were available. However, another week after, their statement changed and I was told that I couldn’t order from Old Vine’s menu anymore.

From then on, I never set foot on that area in Venice Piazza ever again.

Spring had the shortest life span among all three—a little over 1 year only—and I found that hard to believe. Why would you not patronize a restaurant serving clean and inventive Chinese food—something very familiar to the Pinoy palate—and offered at very affordable prices? I am asking this now because on quite a number of occasions, the only people dining there were me and my friends. The rest of the place was empty.

Were diners so stupid as to stick to fried chickens and burgers rather than to eat a real meal? Or wait, was I the only one who found their food delicious? Were the waiters inept? Some of them were, yes. Was service awful? I could count about two instances of that. Was Spring’s space to small? Was it too pink? Or was that spot cursed? After all, it was the same space occupied by Empire. Are all restaurants renting that stall doomed to go bankrupt?

Formosa Lumpia
I miss their very meaty siomai, and their healthy lumpia, and their Chili Crab Kapao. Most of all, I miss their noodles. The sweet Maki Mi. The Tomato Beef Noodle Soup, which was simply too awesome for words. Now that it’s gone, where would I get my Chinese food fix in McKinley?

Tomato Beef Noodle Soup
Maki Mi

(PS: Is it true that Spring is opening soon in SM Jazz in Makati?)

BONUS: Harry’s Bar

From this Italian restaurant, I got a taste of one of the best salmon cream pasta ever! I only dined here twice, and I must admit that their food and cocktails were too pricey. They were awesome though. I wonder if it reopened somewhere else, under a different name. If you have any insider info, let me know.

      Reviewed restaurants in McKinley Hill:


Did you ever get to try these 3 restaurants in McKinley Hill? Did you love them or hate them?

pepe samson

About Pepe Samson

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