Marco Polo Plaza whips up treats

Marco Polo Plaza whips up treats
By Walter Ang
September 16, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Cebu City's Marco Polo Plaza hosted a week-long Swiss Alpine Food Festival at its Café Marco buffet restaurant. Frankfurters, bratwursts, schubligs and, of course, cheeses like emmenthal, gouda, gruyere, and tilsit were added to the restaurant's usual array of Asian and Western sections.

The Swiss festival is part of Café Marco's "Culinary Journeys" program that highlights particular cuisines at certain times of the year. The festivities culminated in a celebration of Swiss National Day via an al fresco buffet party at the hotel's Garden Terrace hosted by hotel general manager Johannes "Hans" Hauri.

Hauri, who is Swiss himself, started the annual party with the traditional ringing of a Swiss cow bell and jokingly introduced the audience to a cow replica that was standing guard onstage. He welcomed the Swiss nationals in attendance, which made up almost half of the 200-strong headcount.

Hotel executive chef Luke Gagnon (formerly affiliated with Excelsior Hong Kong and Shangri-La Shenzhen China) and his staff prepared iconic Swiss offerings like roesti (potato cakes), Oswald-style cheese quiche, spaetzle (noodles) and the very popular raclette (cheese and potatoes).

Veal, pork, beef tongue, and, yes, fleischkaese (meatloaf), prepared in Swiss methods, were also featured. Swiss chocolate cakes, apple streudels, chocolate fondue, engadine nut cake and zuger kirsch torte (cherry brandy cake) were just some of the treats at the dessert station.

The food festival is just one of the many culinary-centric undertakings that the hotel comes up with throughout the year to keep itself top-of-mind with its patrons. The hotel boasts of different dining venues for different inclinations.

Aside from its Café Marco buffet restaurant, the hotel has El Viento Restaurant and Bar beside its mango-shaped pool. El Viento specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and serves pizzas from an outdoor wood-fired brick oven.

Guests who prefer to relax indoors can stay at the Lobby Lounge and order wines and tapas while enjoying nightly live entertainment that range from acoustic, classical, Latin jazz, to rhythm and blues.

The hotel is located in the Nivel Hills district and many guests take advantage of the panoramic views of the Mactan Channel and the neighboring islands. Hauri noted that the hotel's penthouse dining venues are popular with both locals and tourists for the commanding vistas it provides.

The Continental Club Lounge at the hotel's penthouse offers complimentary refreshments and cocktails throughout the day for the exclusive use of guests staying on the hotel's upper floors. For everyone else, the penthouse also houses the hotel's Blu Bar and Grill, which offers Continenal cuisine and cocktails al fresco.

To entice guests to come and enjoy these different venues, "We make sure that something is always happening at Marco Polo so that the town always comes up here," Hauri said. "Our lights are always on. We have the biggest fireworks in the city on New Year's Eve and on Valentine's Day."

The hotel has also made sure that guests are greeted by staff in smart-looking attire. Food attendants wear uniforms designed by Philip Rodriquez while front desk staff wear Junjun Escario.

The man behind all the action is Hauri, a seasoned hotelier who has worked in the hospitality industry in Asia for the past 25 years. He was general manager of The Hilton, The Peninsula and Shangri-la and has been with Marco Polo Plaza since the chain resurrected the former Cebu Plaza Hotel in 2006.

In the renovation process, Hauri was cognizant of Cebuanos' shared history with the hotel. "This is where people had debuts, wedding receptions and different celebrations," he said. "You can't just take all those memories from them."

To keep long-time guests and to attract new ones, the staff freshened up the hotel's 329 guest rooms (which includes 20 suites), upgraded the inner workings of the 24-storey structure and established new venues within the hotel for Cebuanos and visitors to gather. Their efforts have earned them a Deluxe Class Hotel accreditation by the Philippine Department of Tourism.

The surface improvements go hand-in-hand with a conscious effort to deliver "authentic Asian hospitality experience and a warm welcome" to its all its visitors, noted Hauri.

This specialized hospitality extends to new tour packages that the hotel has created to introduce Cebu to visitors. The hotel can take guests on private tours to a guitar factory, dried mango factory and a rattan furniture showroom and workshop. Long-standing landmarks can also be visited, like Colon Street (the oldest street in the Philippines), Yap Santiago's Spanish-inspired ancestral home in Parian and the Cathedral Museum (home of a 1521 wood-carved Sto. Niño).

"A sidetrip to Casa Gorordo, Magellan's Cross, Fort San Pedro and Gullas Museum completes the experience," Hauri says. The hotel also offers a southern trail tour which leads to culturally-rich towns like Carcar, known for its shoe factory, Balay na Tisa (an ancestral home), St. Catherine's Monastery and Argao Cathedral.

"What we have sums up as an elegant urban resort hotel," he said. "We are all very excited to serve guests and extend hospitality that is distinctly Filipino."

Call (032) 253-1111.

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