For those who looking for authentic Spanish cuisine, there is only one restaurant that’s been the home of traditional Spanish cooking in the Philippines since the 1950’s– Alba Restaurante Español.
Founded by Señor Anastacio de Alba, the same man behind the famous Spanish restaurants, Patio de Alba, La Mancha, and Casa Colas, he opened the kitchen doors of Alba in 1952, receiving nothing but praises from some of the country’s top names in the food industry.
I’ve been to Alba several times but only for press events and even if I’ve tried some of their dishes, I honestly I didn’t find it really special. So, I’ve always wondered how they’ve lasted for more than six decades despite all the new restaurants and their “different takes” on the cuisine.
But that was until I finally tried their famous buffet at their new branch at Estancia Mall.
It was also then that I realized, in between bites of the crispy skin from cochinilo, and spoonfuls of paella valenciana that it wasn’t just the recipe that makes Alba special—it’s the passion and the history passed on from Señor Anastacio de Alba to his son, Chef Miguel.
The story of Alba Restaurante Espanol started when Senor Anastacio de Alba set foot in the Philippines in February 1952 to train the cooks of Casino Espanol. He fell in love with the country and opened Alba Cocina Espanola, a 5-table modest eatery at Isaac Peral (now UN Avenue) and later transferred to a bigger location near Luneta in Florida Street (now known as Ma. Orosa). Affluent Filipino patrons (lawyers, politicians, businessmen cabinet members) and tourists from the USA, Europe, and Asia frequented the restaurant. News spread that even Spain’s Prince Juan Carlos and wife Sofia dined at Alba when they visited the Philippines.
Its how Chef Miguel and his staff treat diners not as customers but as special guests to their “casa.” Maybe that’s why everyone who attended their grand opening seemed like one big family.
The man from Avila, a trip down memory lane
The phenomenal popularity of his restaurant encouraged Don Alba to expand. Nine years later, he opened two more fine dining venues offering his exquisite Spanish cooking: Alba Restaurant and Supper Club (along Dewey Boulevard) and Taberna Gitana (in Quezon City). A few years later, the Alba chain of restaurants was born to include La Parilla and Patio Flamenco, both in Roxas Boulevard; Jardin de Alba in Greenhills, Alba Patio de Makati, now also known as Alba Restaurante Espanol. He also added a unique and opulent nightspot called Las Cuevas, and finally one that he considered one of his greatest prides, La Mancha.
“Papa came to the country to do one thing: to understand the Filipino palate and please it by introducing traditional Spanish comfort food,” Chef Miguel de Alba, President of Alba International Incorporated and General Manager of Alba Restaurante Español said.
Reunirse, from the Spanish root word “reunir” which means to meet, assemble and get together.”
It’s also one of the things you see when you enter Alba’s new 170-seater Restaurant located at the 2nd floor, North Wing of Estancia Mall.
Chef Miguel explains, “This branch is envisioned to be a bigger and more celebration-centric venue for families and friends in the nearby residences and corporate offices within the Capitol Commons township,” he added.
If “Reunirse” means to gather, then Alba’s feast of flavors—steeped in tradition for over 65 years—is the perfect celebration of life in one meal.
Enter its doors and be greeted by a bigger (tapas) bar adorned with beautiful Mediterranean-patterned tiles. This corner is for young corporate groups who want to unwind and spend happy hours with liquors and tapas.
A deli bar, also by entrance, is for those who want to bring home Alba’s delicious chorizo, other Spanish cold cuts and the newly-introduced chorizo burger patties and frozen, ready-to-heat dishes. Beside it is a dessert bar/coffee corner where mallgoers can have a cup of coffee with Alba’s famous postres like Canonigo and Tarta de Santa Teresa.
Walk further inside and the spacious function rooms, named after Spanish cities, beckon. Alicante, with modern blue couches combined with red-colored chairs can seat up to 60 guests. Further to the left is Andalusia, another function room for 30 persons. Inside, a heritage wall that feature memorabilia of its founder, Senor Anastacio de Alba, tugs at the heartstrings.
At Segovia, Alba’s main dining room that can accommodate up to 50 guests, one cannot miss the larger-than-life sepia photograph of Don Alba, serving his friends and guests in one of his restaurants. Painted on the wall is a Spanish quote by Don Alba “Todo lo que yo deseo desde el momento que llegan que le sirvan con esmero,” that means “All that I desire from the moment you arrive is to serve you with care” which is the heart of the restaurant’s philosophy.
The ambiance of the restaurant showcases Spanish influences with modern accents for a more contemporary yet cozy feel. Side by side with charming Spanish chandeliers are modern drop lights that lend a more modish, upbeat vibe.
Painted paelleras (depicting a matador, a classic winery and a Flamenco dancer) provide a colorful facet to stone walls. These paelleras were painted by Maya, daughter of Chef Miguel and wife Cachelle. A mural of the castle of Segovia, a neighboring city of Avila, the hometown of Don Alba, serves as a backdrop of the kitchen-island-type buffet table, just above the posters, as if drawing guests into the sweet heart of Spain right here in Manila.
Home of traditional Spanish cooking
The mere mention of Alba Restaurant conjures up images of Spanish chorizos and cured meats, its Carnes: the stewed ox tongue, Lengua Sevillana; stewed ox tripe, Callos a la Madrilena; beef stew, Caldereta de Vaca and its centerpiece Cochinillo Asado, oven-roasted suckling pig.
Alba is also famous for its authentic Paellas such as the house specialty, Paella Valenciana that has everything on it…. chicken, pork, chorizo, seafood, and vegetables. Other popular choices are Paella Negra (with squid ink and shrimps), Paella Marinara (seafood), Paella de Bacalao (dried salted cod fish and potatoes) and Paella de Verduras for those who prefer vegetables.
A visit to the restaurant also means partaking of Tapas Calientes and Tapas Frias, bite-sized appetizers that are big on flavor. There are about 55 choices of tapas such as chorizos, jamon, gambas, champignon, Pamplona, mortadela, salchichon, mahi-mahi, and Pa amb tomaquet, among others.
One cannot truly say they relished a savory meal without having one of Alba’s decadent desserts such as delectably fluffy meringue cake, Canonigo and another bestseller, Tarta de Santa Teresa, a cream-filled sponge cake with almonds and yema balls.
And if you can’t decide what to order, Alba offers lunch daily at all its branches. Dinner buffet is available daily for Morato, Prism and Estancia branches.
Keeping the legacy alive
It comes as no surprise that despite other Spanish concepts that abound in the country, Alba’s staying power remains unmatched.
“Competition keeps us on our toes but we have always been clear about the direction of Alba. We serve traditional Spanish comfort food. This is what we do best. Nothing much has changed through the years. We still follow the same recipes that my father has created. We may tweak the presentation here and there but the taste, the flavor and the quality of food remain the same. Most of all, it’s about putting our heart into everything we do and the relationships we build with people. We just want our guests to leave the restaurant happy. Everything is customer-centered; there is no other way,” Chef Miguel said.
To know more Alba, check out its website at alba.com.ph. You can find Alba on Instagram at albarestaurante_ph and on Facebook at alba.restaurante.espanol. For inquiries, here’s a list of the branches and contact info below. 38 Polaris St. Bel-Air, Makati City 1209 Metro Manila, Philippines.
38 Polaris St. Bel-Air, Makati City 1209 Metro Manila, Philippines +63 2 896 6950 or 51 Restaurant capacity: G/F seats 70 pax, 2/F seats 40 pax
Tomas Morato cor. Scout Lozano, Quezon City +632 925 1912, +632 928 7129, +632 901 3431 Restaurant capacity: 100 pax, Outdoor seats 20 pax
Westgate Center, Filinvest, Muntilupa City +632 771 2178 or 79 Restaurant capacity: G/F seats 50 pax, 2/F seats 30 pax, Outdoor seats 20 pax
4th Level, Prism Plaza TwoEcom Center Building Bayshore Avenue cor Harbor Drive Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City +632 808 2326, +632 808 8210 Restaurant capacity: 150 pax, Outdoor seats 30 pax
Level 2, Estancia Mall Capitol Commons, Meralco Avenue, Pasig City +632 2534953, +632 2538272 Restaurant capacity: 170 pax