MANILA, Philippines - We had always wondered about Peachy Roces Prieto, a friend we had lost touch with. She lived in Paris for a while, and in Baguio where she operated a restaurant called Café Amapola. The place was famous for its food, of course, but its arty ambience was also a major attraction.
Well, two months ago, we did an interview with her husband Briccio Santos, the new head of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). He mentioned in passing that his wife had acquired an old house in Malacañan. It belonged to the Roces family and Peachy has turned it into a dining place called Casa Roces. The place now houses a café called Kape Chino and an art gallery called Galeria Roces. Not long after, we attended a dinner party for the Italian Film Festival officials at Casa Roces. So we finally got to see dear Peachy. Her hair has turned silver gray and she's now a few pounds heavier. But she's amazingly lovely as ever.
Casa Roces is an old house fronting the Palace at corner J.P. Laurel and Aguado in Manila's San Miguel district. We were determined to see Casa Roces again and we asked Singapore-based architect Manolet Garcia to accompany us for lunch one Sunday. When we arrived, diners were chattering away while enjoying the food at Kape Chino on the ground level. The official food concessionaire, Cravings, has a selection of delicious Filipino, Spanish and Basque cuisine all of which are priced reasonably.
Peachy has turned over operations to her daughter Bianca Prieto Santos, whose cousin Tono Versoza is in charge of Galeria Roces on the second floor. Bianca says it was Architect Tina Bonoan and designer Al Caronan who came up with the concept for Casa Roces. It took nine months to refurbish the place. The original house, which was designed during the Art-Deco era, had its central focus on the grand staircase with senorita steps. Bianca says, "We refurbished it in line with the Commonwealth Era, to match our neighbor, which is the Malacañan Palace."
We like the comfortable casual and homey look of the place. It is not a fine dining place. There is no dress code (just dress decently). "Like every home, it is never truly finished, and it continues to be a loving work in progress," says Bianca. "As such, the place is constantly evolving, especially when we discover nice accents, plants and artworks. We envision Casa Roces as a vibrant venue infused with culture and heritage."
Much of the materials and accessories in the house are original, particularly the machuca tiles and flooring. The bulk of the work came in the form of electrical rewiring and plumbing. Likewise, the bedrooms on the second floor were turned into private function rooms. Concrete walls were replaced with glass walls to bring in natural light.
"The location, view, design, history and content are the aspects that set Casa Roces apart," continues Bianca, pointing out that its perimeter dining rooms look out directly at Malacañan Palace. "Family members share treasures such as photographs, artworks and awards that highlight various events in Philippine history. The restaurant is a throwback in time, combining modern day amenities to give diners comfort, and the lounge appeal during their visit to Casa Roces."
We toured the place and the architect in Manolet had to peek into every nook and cranny in admiration of the work of refurbishing. Our personal interest was in the little touches that bought us back to our first job as a journalist at The Manila Times on Florentino Torres. Pictures and illustrations of Don Chino Roces decorated the walls of Kape Chino; Manila Times repros were found all around. And of course the old Newsboy metal statue on Florentino Torres has now found its finally permanent home.
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