*Published in the Life & Travel section of Manila Standard Today
Most people associate Antipolo with the cathedral and the patron saint for travel. Others associate it with the watering holes that line Sumulong Highway, mostly because they offer a spectacular panoramic view of Metro Manila especially at night. Undeniably, these two have put a sleepy residential suburban town in the local tourism map.
But Antipolo holds other attractions. How many know that inside the Meralco Management and Leadership Development Center compound, for instance, is an aviary with macaws, peacocks, storks and pigeons so exotic that one would think they can only be found in the wilds? How many have heard of Inday Nelly’s mystical caves? How many have visited the centuries-old Bosoboso church? And just how many have sampled the incomparable food of Vieux Chalet?
Vieux Chalet does not advertise on newspapers, TV or the radio. With its relatively remote location, one wonders how people find it. Well, as my fellow food blogger Anton Diaz believes, there are places that become popular by sheer word of mouth. And I admit it. I’m a walking advertisement for Vieux Chalet. I’ve been a customer for over 20 years and, to this day, Vieux Chalet is still a wonderland for me.
It was my friend Lisa Araneta, then a fellow student of the University of Philippines College of Law, who first introduced me to Vieux Chalet. She was so good at discovering new restaurants because her family is in the dining business — they own Alfredo’s Steak House along Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City. One lazy morning in the mid-1980s, one of those days when playing truant in school seemed like an irrepressible idea, Lisa started raving about this restaurant high up in Antipolo. On a whim, a group of us decided to go for lunch. Just lunch, we said, and we would be back in time for the afternoon classes. We drove to Vieux Chalet and ordered pizza, Swiss rosti and beer. The cooler air, the trees, the slow and relaxed surroundings got under our skins and, before we knew it, the sun was sinking on the horizon.
As the lights from the city far below starting blinking into life one by one, returning to the city just then seemed like the worst idea. We sat there — transfixed — under the trees, gazing at the lights and silhouettes of Metro Manila. It was a magnificent sight. It wasn’t as though we hadn’t seen the view before. We were habitues of the nipa huts along Sumulong Highway where we had feasted on the view many times before. But, unlike Sumulong Highway where the passing vehicles marred the magic of the panorama of lights, in Vieux Chalet, we could gaze endlessly at the view in peace and quiet. It was almost a meditative moment. I was hooked. It was to be the first of many visits to Vieux Chalet. Even after graduation when most of us were already working, we managed to set aside occasional evenings to dine there.
Vieux Chalet was established 22 years ago by Swiss expat Tony Hassig and his Filipina wife, Susan. The restaurant was built adjacent to their house. The menu boasted of home-cured hams and bacon, homemade cheeses, and dishes cooked with homegrown herbs. If thatï¿½s not impressive enough, the pasta and pizza crust were handmade. The quality of the food, the meticulous preparation and the friendly, but never intrusive, hospitality of the owners — all these have remained unchanged.
The place itself has remained pretty much the same. The only marked difference is the St. Moritz. Back in the eighties, there was a huge garden on the lower portion of the property. It was from this garden, under the trees and amid tropical blooms, that we gazed at the lights of Metro Manila. Today, the garden has given way to a swimming pool and guest house, collectively known as the St. Moritz, which can be rented by the day. The main dining area is now limited to the veranda of the main house.
It wasn’t until we moved to Antipolo in 2001 that I had a chance to bring my husband and children to Vieux Chalet. Just like I got hooked on the place all those years ago, so did they. I’ve already lost count of the number of times that I was there with my family — for graduations, birthdays, our wedding anniversary and, sometimes, just when we felt like going there. My daughters just adore the pasta and the pizza and my younger daughter, Alex, loves the cappuccino and the five-grain bread.
Many of those visits ended up as entries in my Web logs. Susan Hassig saw them, left a little thank you note and suggested that our group from the UP College of Law hold a reunion there. When the opportunity came up, we did. Oh, it was a marvelous evening. There were four of us plus a friend’s husband. Susan sat with us for a while and it was the first time I learned that her husband Tony passed away 10 years ago. She now runs Vieux Chalet by herself with her very able staff. Our meal began with pumpkin soup and lightly toasted whole wheat bread served with butter and liver pate. Then we had: salad, a plate of sausages, fettuccine alfredo, pizza, Swiss rosti and osso buco. For dessert, there was chocolate cake and carrot cake with the unforgettable cappuccino.
A little over P4,000 for all of that, plus a bottle of red wine, was worth every centavo.
I meant to write this article after that evening but, unfortunately, the flu kept me in bed for a week and the writing had to be postponed. Two weeks after that dinner, I was back in Vieux Chalet — this time, with fellow bloggers Anton Diaz (who came with his wife Rachel, son Aidan and brother Rommel) and Abe Olandres. Anton was doing a documentary about bloggers and wanted an interview with me. Anton had been to Vieux Chalet before and had posted an entry in his Web log so I don’t think it was surprising to find ourselves agreeing to do the interview over lunch at Vieux Chalet.
Susan Hassig was so pleased at finally meeting the other blogger who had been raving about Vieux Chalet. She had now met us both and she wanted to treat us for lunch. I did wonder for a moment there if I wouldn’t be compromising my objectivity but then this article is not about one lunch — this is about more than 20 years of delightful lunches, lazy afternoons and magical evenings at Vieux Chalet.
We sipped lemongrass cooler as we waited for the food. When lunch was finally served, well, what can I say?
The food was so good there were moments when I forgot that we were there to do an interview. We had wheat bread and liver pate; a vegetable salad with ham and slivers of ripe mangoes; fish fillets in cream and white wine served with herbed rice; pasta (the pasta with olive oil and smoked fish was simply magnificent — and they do smoke their own fish); uber tender lamb served with rosti; osso buco served with risotto; and, for dessert, slices of apple fried in butter and served with custard, the proper name for which I cannot pronounce, much less spell.
Sounds like some kind of wonderful? Yeah, it was. And more. Because Vieux Chalet is more than about food. It is a total dining experience. Bring the family for lunch or have a romantic dinner at night. Just take the Taktak Road and follow the road signs that lead to Vieux Chalet. Whichever time of the day you choose, the food is swell, the view is majestic, the setting is quaint and the ambience is simply soothing to the spirit.