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31 Years of Delectable Meals

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Pasyal Team

Posted on January 20, 2021

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A second-generation restaurateur shares how it was like growing up with—and in— her family's restaurant, Chateau 1771.

BY ANGELICA GUTIERREZ

IMAGES COURTESY OF CHATEAU 1771

Growing up, I always thought of Chateau 1771 as a second home. The first of my father’s restaurants, it opened the same year I was born—both my baptismal reception and first big birthday party were held there.

At the time, Chateau 1771 was a quaint French bistro that echoed the old world charm of my grandmother’s inn, Malate Pensionne, which stood on the same property. Back in the late 1980s, Malate was a bohemian playground teeming with bars, clubs, and restaurants. With its cozy, dimly lit interiors and large windows overlooking my grandfather’s garden, Chateau’s romantic ambience made it a favorite among couples.

But I remember it best as the place where we’d have Sunday lunches with my dad’s side of the family. I loved playing in the garden and sitting behind the bar, pushing buttons on the cash register, twirling cocktail umbrellas while my relatives caught up with each other, or staring at the moody impressionist paintings lining the walls.

In fact, one simply cannot cover the history of Chateau 1771 without mentioning Onib Olmedo’s paintings. The renowned artist loved hanging out on Malate Pensionne’s veranda to sketch portraits of students and backpackers in his signature dark, brooding colors. He struck up a friendship with my dad, who was helping my grandmother manage the inn.

When my father told him about his plans to open the restaurant, Onib gamely designed a logo and menu jacket for him, and began painting portraits of the waiters and guests as well. In exchange for free meals, he would pay my father back in paintings. He liked to call the restaurant his “permanent exhibit,” and to this day his works of art continue to adorn the walls of Chateau 1771.

Onib Olmedo Painting used for the cover of Chateau 1771's first menu

Onib Olmedo and Allan Cosio at Chateau 1771 in Malate

As time passed, Chef Vicky expanded on Chateau’s menu and began playing with Italian, Swiss, and even Asian flavors. This gave birth to our signature No Borders Cuisine—innovations on European and Asian dishes prepared using French techniques, and adapted to suit the Filipino palate. It was during this period of experimentation that she came up with one of Chateau’s most popular and enduring signature dishes, Lemon Chicken. Her twist on the Chinese classic involved adding white wine and honey to the sauce, then cooking and plating it the French way. Simple yet satisfying, our guests keep coming back for more—even those who have since moved abroad!

Over the years, people have always asked how Chateau 1771 managed to thrive for more than three decades. Apart from consistently good food and service, I’d put it down to my father’s ability to move with the times. When the Asian Development Bank moved its offices from Manila to Ortigas, he saw the opportunity for the area to become a major business district. Thus, Chateau was one of the first restaurants to open in El Pueblo.

Luckily for me, its new location was just a stone’s throw away from my school. One of my happiest memories of Chateau Ortigas is when I trudged through its doors after a particularly bad day at school, only to be welcomed by the sight of Chef Vicky seated at a table laden with new dishes. She and her sous chef invited me to help them with their taste-testing, and I feasted with gusto. By the time my mom passed by to pick me up, I was full and happy. It was at Ortigas that Chef Vicky came up with two more Chateau classics: her famous Coffee Pie and comforting Pasta Chorizo, both of which remain favorites among our loyal guests to this day.

As Ortigas grew into a bustling commercial district, Chateau 1771 became popular among businessmen, who considered it their “lucky place” for closing deals. Chateau also maintained its reputation as a date place—over the years, it saw its fair share of first dates, proposals, and anniversary celebrations. Once, my dad and I turned on the TV and were astonished to see Sarah Geronimo sitting at Chateau 1771’s window booth, waiting to tell John Lloyd’s character that he’d been stood up by his girlfriend in the hit rom-com A Very Special Love.

As I graduated from high school, it seems that Chateau “graduated” from its Pasig location as well. In 2007, Ayala Malls invited my father to move the restaurant to the new Greenbelt 5. By that time he already had a good relationship with the mall because of Sentro 1771—the country’s first modern Filipino restaurant—which had opened at Greenbelt 3 in 2002. Ayala gave my dad first pick among their restaurant spaces, and he chose a beautiful spot right on the corner of Greenbelt 5’s fountain area and Greenbelt Park.

Chateau 1771's Greenbelt 5 branch held a lot of memories not only for guests, but for the restaurant staff as well.

Chateau Greenbelt 5’s opening day was certainly one for the books. It was November 29, 2007—the day Antonio Trillanes staged a coup d’etat and occupied the Peninsula Manila. Chef Vicky and rest of the staff were preparing for lunch service, with a wine orientation seminar scheduled in the afternoon. By the time they learned about the coup, the roads were blocked and there were police everywhere. The staff were afraid to go home, so Chef Vicky decided they would shelter in place at Chateau. The wine trainer said he could still come, and so they pushed through with the seminar!

While Trillanes and his comrades engaged in a tense stand-off with soldiers at the Peninsula, Chateau’s kitchen and dining staff were learning about terroir and describing wine as “lasang paksiw.” By the time Trillanes was being escorted from the hotel, the waiters and cooks were packing up, warm, red, and happy. All in all, it was a good way to sit out a coup.

The new Chateau’s interiors took advantage of its picturesque location with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the lush greenery. Its entrance was flanked by ornate wrought iron gates from my father’s childhood home, and a large painting of the old Chateau Malate by Onib Olmedo and Alan Cosio had pride of place along one wall. The floors were adorned with colorful mosaic tiles. I loved spending quiet afternoons seated by one of the windows, savoring a rich, piping hot bowl of French onion soup while watching the passersby.

The beautifully iconic entrance to Chateau 1771's Greenbelt 5 branch, an import from the owner's childhood home

With its spacious and elegant interiors, Chateau quickly became a popular venue for parties and corporate events. Once, I walked into the restaurant and was surprised to hear the soundtrack of Downton Abbey playing from the speakers. It turned out that a seven year-old girl was having a Downton Abbey-themed birthday party!

But for me, one of the biggest perks of Chateau’s new location was that [the local channel] ETC often booked our private room as a holding area for celebrities before events and concerts at Greenbelt. In 2010, I practically melted when my friends and I got a photo with Darren Criss in Chateau’s function room, and he told me he enjoyed his meal. I’ll also never forget the time one of my favorite bands, Tegan and Sara, dined at Chateau before their meet-and-greet event at the fountain area just outside.

From the author's personal memorabilia—Darren Criss visiting Chateau 1771 in 2010

Then, in 2018, Ayala Malls offered my father a new opportunity: a space at the soon-to-built One Bonifacio High Street Mall. He saw a lot of potential in this location—a luxury residence called the Suites would be built right on top of the mall, and the Philippine Stock Exchange was right next door, with Shangri-La at the Fort just across the park. A lot of business were moving their offices to BGC as well.

The entrance to the restaurant's One Bonifacio High location.

As usual Ayala gave my father first dibs, and he chose a quiet, secluded space at the terraces overlooking Bonifacio High Street Park. In March 2019, Chateau 1771 opened at its current location, with modern French interiors designed to match the cosmopolitan vibe of BGC. In comparison with its predecessors, the latest incarnation of Chateau offered a more intimate dining experience, with cozy, private nooks and frosted glass partitions.

Chateau 1771 al fresco area in One Bonifacio High has been a place of comfort and safety for guests since the pre-pandemic era (pictured).

With the new location came new dishes, including my favorite Caja de Hierro: marbled beef belly and dried shiitake mushrooms braised in the oven for hours in a stainless steel box. The result is rich, fork-tender beef that practically melts in your mouth.

Then, about year after Chateau moved to BGC, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Philippine shores. At the time, my father’s first thought was for the safety of his employees. Since one of my sisters is a doctor, he asked her to give all the head office department heads and restaurant managers a briefing on COVID-19 safety and what doctors knew about the virus so far. That same day, upon her recommendation he instructed all the head office teams who could work from home to pack up and start working remotely.

We were also one of the first restaurant groups to close, even before ECQ was imposed on Metro Manila. After a sleepless night, my father sent an announcement to the entire company that he was doing a voluntary lockdown of all the restaurants. He explained that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if one of his employees died because he didn’t act to prevent it. As the staff prepared to lock up the restaurants, Chef Vicky gave them kitchen ingredients to take home to their families.

Of course, none of us could have anticipated that the government-imposed lockdown would last for months. Still, my father did not re-open the restaurants until May, since he wanted to make sure we were fully equipped to operate safely and that the staff were fully trained on safety protocols. While we were still closed my father continued to pay our employees their salaries without obligating them to use their leaves, then gave 50 percent financial assistance when paying full salaries was no longer viable.

In preparation for re-opening, he gave our quality assurance officer the role of dedicated safety officer, and invited the safety engineer of The Medical City to inspect our restaurant set-up and safety procedures. Upon the engineer’s advice, we bought UV air purifiers, sterilizers, and germ zappers. We spared no expense in procuring medical-grade equipment—the exact same brand being used at The Medical City. My father shared the safety engineer’s advice with fellow restaurant owners as well.

The restaurant's anti-viral equipment are the same as those used in top hospitals in the city.

Before opening, he made sure a company shuttle service was set up so that our employees who didn’t have their own vehicles could avoid using public transport. While this forced us to limit our operating hours since our employees live all over the metro, their safety was our top priority.

We also converted our servers into in-house delivery riders, and trained them in contactless delivery. Chef Vicky has streamlined our menu and embraced the concept of pop-up kitchens, with Sentro 1771 items available for dine-in at Chateau 1771. Luckily, Chateau is perfect for outdoor dining, with an enormous al fresco area. The ample space makes it easy to place tables a suitable distance apart, and the cool breezes and view of the park below make it a very pleasant place for people to dine with peace of mind.

We’ve always prided ourselves on the cleanliness of our restaurants—according to my father, even our bathrooms should be clean enough to eat in. We doubled down on this during the pandemic, with a dedicated staff member assigned to sanitize all high-contact surfaces every 30 minutes.

Chateau 1771 continues to be a home for its patrons, with strict safety measures in place.

It’s been a tough time for restaurants everywhere, but after over 30 years in the business, we’re determined to survive for the sake of our employees and loyal guests who have remained with us throughout the years. Our signature brand of service remains the same—impeccable, quiet, and unobtrusive, yet warm and attentive. In spite of the challenges in sourcing supplies, our dedication to preparing dishes from scratch as much as possible, with the best and freshest ingredients, remains unchanged.

We still enjoy going above and beyond for our guests—while our menu has been streamlined, if a long-time customer tells us they’ve been craving a certain dish, we try to accommodate them if the ingredients are available.

As I’ve said, Chateau 1771 has always felt like an extension of home to me. I hope our guests can feel the same way, with our restaurant as a place where they can safely relax and enjoy a memorable meal with their loved ones.

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