Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant: Behind the Food
Back in the groovy ‘70s, what started out as a modest coffee shop along Gen. Malvar Street in Malate, Manila would eventually become a local icon after years in the business. From serving tasty sandwiches and at the same time selling art materials too, Admiral Manila was a humble beginning of the soon-to-be outstanding and illustrious Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant that is now headquartered at the historic walled city of Intramuros.
Admiral Manila was primarily founded to augment the family’s income, and maybe out of necessity or perhaps divine decree, to also become an opportunity to share great dishes and then later be at the forefront of showcasing two perennial classics of the Filipino heritage, culture and cuisine.
Without any culinary background, Mrs. Barbara Gordon-Delos Reyes, who is a graduate of Theater Arts from the University of the Philippines, braved the challenges of the food industry. With both of her mother and mother-in-law’s mentoring as well as support, she was able to learn the basics and later on master the art of Filipino cooking.
“My mom won’t eat the food if it is not really good. For her, no matter how simple a food can be, it must be really good. The food must be a delight to people,” she mentioned. And then goes on to say that her mother-in-law, who made the sandwiches for the coffee shop back then, was a superb cook too.
Admiral Manila blossomed. It became affiliated with Admiral Enterprises of Olongapo City which served the US Naval Base in Zambales. It was also conscripted as a food concessionaire in several big companies like Filinvest and the Philippine Airlines to mention a few.
A decade after, Mrs. Delos Reyes together with some business partners established the Makati Skyline restaurant in Legaspi Village, Makati. Later on, she decided to operate her own catering and cafeteria management under Barbara’s Food and Catering Services, Inc.
The Unexpected Beginnings
Who would have thought that seeking a place that is something unique for Amelia’s debut in the early ‘90s would prelude to what is now Barbara’s? From a shabby, unused portion of Plaza San Luis along Gen. Luna Street in Intramuros, Barbara’s has rekindled the glorious past of 18th-century Filipino colonial architecture and transformed a wing of the plaza into a haven for food lovers and heritage conservationists alike as well as a venue for culture and the arts.
“We were looking for a place when I was 17. I wanted a debut that was not the usual. I want mine different. And we stumbled upon this place,” Amelia mentioned, who received a Grand Diplome in Culinary Arts and Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in London, and is Mrs. Barbara’s daughter.
They rented the current Sala Filipina Ballroom for the occasion. One of the guests was impressed by how the party was held. It then opened the door to greater heights and opportunities for their food business. Barbara’s was conceptualized a month afterwards.
Just like other businesses of whatever form, the resto has had to bear some birth pains at first. It wasn’t smooth sailing in the first few months of operation since the place was relatively unknown. But the blessings never ceased to pour. Barbara’s is next to the San Agustin Church, which is a popular wedding venue for some of the more affluent families in the city. They started to focus on catering to wedding receptions, baptisms and debuts.
Years after when Amelia went back home from London, Barbara’s opened its lunch buffet at a very reasonable price to serve nearby offices and establishments. The news about the delicious food, the old-world ambiance and the reasonability of its prices spread through word of mouth.
The streets of Intramuros were opened to tourists when then Secretary Dick Gordon headed the Department of Tourism. Restaurants were encouraged to open tapas bars in front of their establishments to create a festive mood. It was one of the shining moments of Barbara’s for people to know more about the restaurant and its offerings.
Delighting the Diners with Kultura Night
Amidst the success of Barbara’s, Mrs. Delos Reyes wanted to include something extra, something unique, something distinctly Filipino, something that would showcase the Pinoy heritage and artistry. Inspired and influenced by the way the family shows hospitality to visitors aside from the food that they serve, the Kultura Night is born.
A 45-minute enthrallment of Kundiman and Filipino folk songs and dances would delight the guests at their dinner buffet. The Folklorico Filipino Dance Company with their elegant and graceful movements performs several cultural dances of the entire archipelago — from the Singkil of Mindanao, the Tinikling of the Visayas to the Pandango Sa Ilaw of Luzon among others — while the Abesar Rondalla plays live string music. Diners are then invited to join the dancers and learn the basics of Tinikling before the show ends. For around 10 years now, Kultura Night never fails to amaze people across the globe, from dignitaries, consuls, balikbayans and even up to the King and Queen of Spain.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Department of Tourism has accredited Barbara’s for what it contributes, which is imbuing true Filipino identity through the palate and the mind.
If there would be one vision that Barbara’s has, it must be that the restaurant will become a beacon for Philippine tourism and a destination not just for the delicious food that they serve, but also as a place where locals and foreigners alike can experience a true and enriching Filipino experience firsthand.