It catches your attention from the entrance alone—its telltale wooden front with slats that give you a peek of the opulent space within, and the signage of its moniker right above the open doorway. Except this time, you’re not in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Bangkok, or Vancouver. Modern Chinese dining spot Mott 32 has landed in the Philippines, specifically in Cebu’s NUSTAR Resort and Casino.
It won’t be long before their first PH outpost officially opens to the public in early September, joining the NUSTAR restaurant roster and marking another global branch of the establishment with origins in Hong Kong. To feed your curiosity, we got a sneak peek of the upcoming restaurant—as well as some of the star eats and sips they’ll be having on their lineup.
Opening one of their latest branches in Cebu versus other parts of the world, or of the Philippines, was largely due to “opportunity… [and] definitely because we love Cebu. I love Cebu,” Xuan Mu, co-founder of Maximal Concepts (a.k.a. the folks behind Mott 32), shares in an exchange during the media launch on August 27. “[And] it was good timing. [It] matches well, and [Nustar] is a beautiful location [and] beautiful property.”
Style is as much of a distinguishing trait as stellar flavors at Mott 32, with interiors done in collaboration with famed interior designer Joyce Wang. The visuals immediately rouse the senses with how it melds traditional Chinese and contemporary Western sensibilities—think umber wooden walls, floors, and ceilings; intricate chandeliers alongside plush velvet couches for lounging on; hanging lanterns; and splashes of greenery.
What's especially worth feasting your eyes on (and snapping photos of, yay for your IG game) is the seaside view outside, visible from inside the restaurant via the giant glass window right behind the long backmost table. It's even better viewed from their al-fresco balcony—right by which is a vast view of the ocean, the clear sky, and some of Cebu’s towering buildings.
Heading the Cebu branch's kitchen is Chef Tam Wai Sang, who has a special spot in their repertoire for Cantonese cooking, and was trained by no less than Mott 32’s Group Chinese Executive Chef Lee Man Sing. Patterned after their global lineup, the local menu is a balancing act between moving forward and paying ode to tradition—primarily Cantonese tradition, with Beijing and Szechuan influences here and there. “We actually try to stick to traditional cooking techniques,” Xuan Mu also shares. “We don’t want to be a fusion restaurant.” Rather, they update certain elements where appropriate—including the ingredients they use. Though Mu explains that most ingredients are from Hong Kong, they go for higher-quality counterparts where applicable—among these arenas being their meats.
The use of Iberico pork, for one, makes for an especially juicy Barbecued Pluma Iberico Pork, Yellow Mountain Honey that’s so dang succulent it hardly requires chewing. It’s impressive how the meat manages to taste clean, allowing the natural flavor of the pork to shine through, with just a tinge of natural sweetness from the honey sourced from Anhui’s Yellow Mountain. And the glossy, charred outer surface? Pure chef's-kiss worthy stuff.
The said variety of porcine also goes into the Soft Quail Egg, Iberico Pork, Black Truffle Siu Mai—which goes for an understated presentation, but delivers a soft, juicy bite made aromatic with black truffle. And as you reach the center you’re met with the hidden treasure: a soft-boiled quail egg with a golden, molten yolk.
Good ol’ xiao long bao gets taken the feistier direction in the Scallop, Prawn, Hot and Sour Shanghainese Soup Dumplings. Bite into its ruby dumpling wrapper and you’ll be met with a piquant yet soothing soup within, redolent with the flavors of the sea. And even the simplest-sounding of the lot—the Chicken, Taro, Prawn Croquette—is an excellent rendition of the classic dim sum, with a light and crisp crust that easily makes way to a fluffy taro interior and savory chicken-prawn center.
The star of the show at any Mott 32, however, comes in the form of the famous Apple Wood Roasted 42 Days Peking Duck—a signature dish of duck (flown in from abroad, we’re told) aged for 42 days then roasted in a special oven, rendering the meat moist and the skin crisp and glistening. In true Peking-duck fashion, it arrives as a whole bird with its glistening skin and is carved tableside; they serve slices of the breast, leg, and skin with accompaniments of sliced cucumbers, leeks, hoisin sauce, brown sugar, and thin Chinese pancakes. We’re instructed to dip slices of the plain skin into the brown sugar—we all know how explosive the sum can be when fatty and sweet worlds come together—while we assemble little “wraps” with the duck breast and leg slices, veg, hoisin, and pancakes.
The Signature Smoked Black Cod is another stunner, arriving as stacked nuggets with a deep caramel hue. Forming the base is black cod, the white fish that’s simultaneously firm yet velvety on the tongue, with a natural richness that takes well to all kinds of flavors. In this case, the fish is coated in a light batter, deep-fried to a crisp, and tossed in a deeply savory, subtly sweet sauce that’s lent smoky depth from being smoked with applewood.
On the beefier side of things is the Crispy Triple Cooked US Black Angus Short Rib—a signature dish where chunks of Black Angus short rib are first pan-seared for a light crust, braised to supreme tenderness, and baked for a lightly crisp exterior. The result? A taste-and-texture triumph that packs an deeply savory punch, and a welcome dose of heat from an abundance of chopped chilis that you can opt to steer clear from… or bite down, if you dare. Don't say we didn't warn you.
A smattering of Aussie Wagyu bits also amps up the Sauteed Haricot Beans, Diced Australian Wagyu—their take on the classic dry-fried green beans, with haricot vert bearing a vibrant green hue, tender bite, and blistered skin characteristic of the cooking method. Simple as it sounds on paper, trust us, you’ll be chowing this down bean after bean after bean. Make it a meal with a bowl (or two) of the Crabmeat Fried Rice, Flying Fish Roe, topped with bright orange roe for pops of brininess against the sweet-umami profile of the crab.
By day, there’s plenty of natural light to go around and illuminate the space. But by the time the evening sets in, Mott 32 Cebu takes on a more brooding character where you can order a cocktail (let’s be real, make it two cocktails) from the bar and settle down with your poison(s) of choice. Their line of libations are similarly Chinese-leaning, as with the other aspects of the restaurant, but are also as inventive as they come.
Go for a stimulating sip with the Hanami, a rye whisky-gin-umeshu spiked libation with the zingy combo of yuzu, shiso, ginger beer, and chrysanthemum. Meanwhile, the Forbidden Rose features the fruity-fragrant tandem of rose and lychee (similar to Pierre Herme’s famous Isaphan macarons), along with vanilla-tinged Pisco, passionfruit, chili, and lemon joining in the fun. More deceptive—and brilliantly so—is the Hong Kong Iced Tea. It starts light and floral with jasmine tea and blackcurrant, much like any fruit tea... that is, until the Blanco tequila and Lillet Blanc kick in. We say ya might as well enjoy the ride while you're at it.
Mott 32's Philippine debut a defining moment for Cebu and for the rest of the country, what with the significance of the brand and how it breathes its distinct East-meets-West color onto the local dining scene. Mott 32—named after the first Chinese grocery store in New York that opened in 1891—has been multi-awarded since first opening in Hong Kong in 2014, and to this day their distinct way of executing Chinese classics from different regions remains some of the best of its kind.
We Manila folk will have to save our Mott 32 hankerings for our out-of-town flights come Christmas and other long breaks once they open—but hey, we’ll take any excuse to head out to the Queen City of the South. For the exclusive preview of the first Mott 32 in the Philippines, Cebu Pacific partnered up with Robinsons Land Corporation to fly us media folk in to try the acclaimed restaurant chain's signatures. And if you're planning a trip yourself, note that Cebu Pacific currently flies 15 times daily from Manila to Cebu with guaranteed low fares to help keep domestic travel alive—with ample safety measures in mind, of course.
This story originally appeared on Spot.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.
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