Your First Look at Atelier Vivanda Manila by Michelin-Starred Chef Akrame Benallal

It is the dream of every serious foodie to dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant, or to experience dinner service under the helm of a world-renowned chef, such as the likes of Ferran Adria of the elusive and now-closed El Bulli in Spain. I first heard about El Bulli in The Amateur Gourmet, in which the writer chronicled his most memorable meal ever: a 31-course dinner that was a cross between a grand molecular gastronomy show and .. well, a meal. Indeed, everyone wishes he could’ve visited the restaurant before it closed down, and that includes Khristine Gabriel, co-owner of the newcomer Atelier Vivanda Manila.

For Khristine, a self-confessed die-hard foodie, dining at Restaurant Akrame in Paris last year was the closest thing to experiencing El Bulli. French-born Algerian Chef Akrame Benallal, who has earned 2 Michelin stars, worked inside the El Bulli kitchen before establishing his own fine dining restaurant, and a few years after, opened Atelier Vivanda Paris, a more casual bistro specializing in meats.

When the chef himself accosted Khristine and Grace Lee during that fateful dinner, it seemed as if the stars had aligned themselves—the chef was looking for a place to set up his new venture, and a lamp lit inside the ladies’ heads. When Chef Akrame’s friend, Chef Alain Ducasse, told him that Manila is turning into a global culinary destination, Chef Akrame wasted no time.

Chef Akrame’s two concepts later invaded Hong Kong and took it by storm, and now it’s ready to stir up things in Manila. Atelier Vivanda Manila will open its doors to the public on February 2; the question here is, are you ready for some of the best meats—and potatoes—you will ever taste in your life?

We had the privilege of being one of the first people to try Atelier Vivanda prior to its formal opening, and as apologetic as Khristine was with all the clutter due to loads of supplies still coming in, I couldn’t help but instantly adore the restaurant. Atelier Vivanda boasts of floor-to-ceiling windows that fill the space with so much light which makes eating more enticing; the crooked staircase is funky and stylish and leads to the loft level, which can accommodate more diners, probably 30.

The design exudes the feel of a butchery with all the concrete, leather, and metal elements, and fittingly, a majestic Berkel meat slicer stands at the center—practically commanding guests to order something produced out of it, like Atelier’s famed smoked beef. Sitting nearby is the BRVT Cheese Bar from which seasonal French cheeses are available; the bar; and the open kitchen, the perfect vantage point to watch the chefs grill your steaks.

The young Executive Chef, Jonathan Petit, in action.
Another one of Chef Akrame's proteges is Chef Sebastian Formal, the kitchen director.
We were eagerly awaiting our meats, but like a preview that spells out whatever awesomeness to come next, in came the Soft-Boiled Egg with Cottage Cheese and Mayonnaise. The dish was creamy and velvety with some texture from the fresh mushrooms and candied pine nuts. Grated egg yolk brightened up the plate. A perfect starter for our steaks.

A selection of French cheeses was also servedeach one with a distinct softness and taste. Among the three laid out on the first photo below, the Saint-Nectaire was the one I was most familiar with. It had an incredibly subtle flavor and a somewhat pasty consistency, unlike the other two which are somewhat sharper and harder. My favorite was the Fourme D'Ambert (second photo), which was a little less sharp than ordinary blue cheese.

Atelier Vivanda brings steaks and potatoes front and center, and presents them in the most minimalist—yet sumptuous—way possible. Take for instance the Black Angus Rib Eye—a hunk of beef seasoned simply with salt. Rather than distracting diners with fancy sauces, the steak lies plain and beautiful on a plate—char lines, pinkish middles, and all.

The steak is juicy and flavorful as it is, but gets lifted tenfold with Chef Akrame’s insanely good pepper-infused olive oil, an object I sooo wanted to toss casually into my bag! The meat is very tender, but eating it becomes even more pleasant with Atelier’s handcrafted steak knives.

The Holstein Beef, on the other hand, is a kilo of bone-in rib eye that has been dry-aged for 50 days. It has a deeper flavor than the Angus, is fattier, and is likewise perfect with the pepper oil. My thought at first bite was to order some rice, but doing so felt like a crime—a blasphemy to this divine thing. Have it cooked rare, and request the fatty sides to be fried to crisp perfection, just like what my friends did.

Potatoes come out glorified at Atelier Vivanda—rendered beyond the usual mash, chips, or fries. The Pomme Dauphines are croquette-like things that are ten times better than croquettes. The crisp outsides ensconce creamy and cheesy potato balls that go from good to fabulous with a douse of Chef Akrame’s homemade berry-infused ketchup. These balls are so addicting you’d want to eat more than one just carton—good thing ordering a steak set gives you unlimited servings!

The Pomme Darphines resembles a rosti—a bar of shredded potatoes seasoned with onions and chives, with a layer of Brie. Yet another beautiful creation made of potato—again, pass the ketchup please.

Naturally, diners would come to Atelier Vivanda for the steaks but the desserts are not to be ignored. The Crème Brulee is creamy and comforting, with silky custard nestling vanilla bean specks and a crown of crunchy caramel.

But the one I loved more was the Custard Pie: mildly sweet, it had a delightfully flaky crust and came with a scoop of citronella ice cream. I’ve mentioned before that the types of desserts I love are the ones which are not too sweet and those that are a little acidic—Atelier Vivanda’s Custard Pie marries the two seamlessly.

With the arrival of Atelier Vivanda, we are definitely looking at a more exciting Manila food scene, and I have no doubts that hardcore foodies are dying to try it. With the restaurant's unadorned dishes that put main ingredients under the spotlight, gorgeous ambience, and inspired staff, people will surely come in flocks and will invariably find out that they lined up for the steak but went out loving more than that.

And we have Khristine, who never got to try El Bulli just like us, to thank for.

Atelier Vivanda Manila
UA8 Forbes Town Center, Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Budget: PhP2,500 and up

Have you tried Atelier Vivanda in Hong Kong or Paris? Have you dined in a restaurant owned by a Michelin-starred chef? How was your experience?

My meal was sponsored by Atelier Vivanda Manila. All opinions, however, are my own.

Special thanks to Manila Eat Up (Instagram: @manilaeatup).

If you like my posts and would love regular updates on travel photos, food finds, restaurant reviews, dance articles, and drunken tales, follow Pepe Samson on Facebook!

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