Poblacion's U Hotel looks to stand out with art, food

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2018 09:37 AM

MANILA -- This weekend, another pop-up event featuring entrepreneurs from Boracay will be held, this time at Makati’s hip Poblacion district. 

Dubbed “Boracay Art + Food,” the three-day event, which runs from August 10-12, brings together Nonie’s, a restaurant at Hue Hotel Boracay known for its Filipino-inspired healthy food; German-Filipino siblings Melanie and Andrew Gritzka del Villar who create unique upcycled mixed-media art pieces; and Pinay Boracay, which makes “Gwapamela” shampoo bars made by the Boracay Women Producers Cooperative from the gumamela flower. 

Nonie’s recently gave select writers a preview of what to expect at this weekend’s pop-up event, including a refreshingly balanced ceviche using the catch of the day.

Nonie's ceviche uses the catch of the day. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

The event will be held at the fairly new U Hotel, which opened just last April and bills itself as an "art hotel." With its mix of food and art, the three-day pop-up is just the kind of event that U Hotel wants to be known for.

Carter Yu, who owns U Hotel with his brother Alex, said they want to bring the vibe of Poblacion into the hotel. Since the area is known for its quaint restaurants and bars, hip galleries and cultural events, U Hotel hopes to develop a reputation for food and art, as well.

“We want to be a place to inspire people,” Yu told ABS-CBN News.

U Hotel reflects the artsy vibe of Poblacion. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

The hotel has already hosted a fund-raising exhibit, which ran for three weeks. “It was for a cause and we let them display at the lobby,” Yu said, adding that some of the hotel guests even bought artworks.

BOURDAIN TRIBUTE

As for food, Yu noted that Poblacion already has many restaurants. And while U Hotel has received positive reviews for its menu that features Chinese-Filipino home cooking, it isn’t too keen on competing with the neighboring eateries. 

The Lobby Lounge serve comfort food like Just Noodles, Chicken Curry, Heritage Chicken Pork Adobo and its version of Pares using tendon. 

Instead, it wants to hold special events like a recent one-off dinner held at the hotel’s Lobby Lounge that was conceptualized as a culinary tribute to Anthony Bourdain featuring dishes by chef consultant Decker Gokioco.

“My inspiration for the menu is food that I want to feed Anthony Bourdain,” Gokioco told ABS-CBN News. “I feel that we crave the same sinful food. I also included kulma, the closest to my heart, because he didn’t get the chance to visit Mindanao.”

Here are some of the dishes Gokioco served at the dinner:

Laing sa Chicharon is a perfect Pinoy 'small bite' again with the nice play on textures and the laing deliberately not too spicy. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

The Mussel Croquettes displayed great textural contrast with the crunchy coat and the creamy mussel meat to perk up the taste buds for the other dishes to come. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Fernando's Charsiu Sando is Gokioco's tribute to his father, who made the recipe for this Japanese barbecue. For the dinner, he served the charsiu in a cocktail sandwich. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

The Pork Ear Salad has thinly sliced pork ears, which were simmered for four hours and infused with black vinegar and garnished with thinly sliced cucumber. But it's Gokioco's bottled Amah's Chili Sauce that had guests raving. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

This Soft-Shell Crab Benedict with Crabfat Hollandaise should be perfect for breakfast. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Gokioco's version of sisig, which he dubbed Bypass Sisig, uses chicharon bulaklak and chicken skin. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

The Beef Shortribs Kulma with Roasted Bone Marrow gains heat from the papadum. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Mommy's Pork Chop is Chinoy home cooking at its best. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Guests couldn't get enough of Gokioco's Chocnut Smores made into a lumpia. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

The play of hot and cold, and cruncy and soft, is the idea behind this Sizzling Cheeseroll ala Mode with banana chips. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

U Hotel hopes the dinner will be the first of many such events. 

“We’d like to have this again if the demand arises,” Gokioco said as he thanked the hotel for giving chefs like him the space to show off their talent. 

COMMISSIONED MURALS

Running a hotel isn’t entirely new to the Yus. The family used to run the Baguio Park Hotel, which was damaged by the 1990 earthquake. “Ever since my father wanted to rebuild,” Yu said. 

It may have taken longer than expected but the Yus finally have a hotel again – and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Poblacion is experiencing a tourist boom as it welcomed several new hotels in the past couple of years, many of them, like U Hotel, offering affordable room rates.

Murals add an artsy touch to the hotel's rooms. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Based on the rates on travel site Expedia, one can book a room at U Hotel this weekend for as low as P1,825 a night. “We want to give value,” Yu said. But instead of just giving guests a basic room with plain white walls, “pinturahan mo na ng maganda.”

Each guest room at the eight-storey U Hotel is unique with commissioned murals painted over the bed. The wood headboard also comes etched with different quotes. 

U Hotel commissioned one artist for each of the seven guest floors to create the paintings in the rooms. For instance, Anina Rubio painted fish and flowers, while Kris Abrigo opted for ethnic patterns. “We gave them a blank wall. ‘This is your wall, this is your space.’ Kung ano ang ipe-paint mo, bahala ka. Nung nakita naming ‘yung mga artwork, patapos na,” Yu said.

MILLENNIAL TRAVELERS

Yu categorizes U Hotel as “budget with class” (he insists, “we’re not a hostel; we don’t sell by the bed, but by rooms”) and this pretty much describes the new millennial traveler, which puts more premium on experience.

U Hotel's lobby exudes a hipster aesthetic. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

“I think in the past five years, you’ve seen this shift in people. Like if I have P10,000, how do I spend it? Do I book two nights at a five-star hotel at ‘yun na ‘yon? Or do I stay in a unique place, go around the area, know the neighborhood, go to the small places to eat?” Yu said.

“Many people have realized that a hotel is just a place to sleep since they are out exploring buong araw. Kung ganun ‘yung journey ng mga tao, at what point do they really value your hotel? We decided that beds are number one. One of our strong points talaga is the bed.”

He also pointed to the homey Lobby Lounge, where hotel guests can enjoy free-flowing coffee and water. “These are things that guests can actually save on,” he said.

The Lobby Lounge also serves old-school ice buko among other treats. Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

But Yu acknowledged that hotels like U work best in neighborhoods like Poblacion. “It’s the vibe of the community, very hipster, very artsy,” he said. 

The same can be said of Malate in Manila, which is being eyed as the location for the second U Hotel. 

“Malate, unang gimikan na ‘yan, the art scene ng Manila,” he said. “Malate is probably next... probably 90%.”