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F&B REPORT: How do you turn a former summer house into Tagaytay’s hottest new al fresco restaurant?

My Country House Tagaytay has green spaces, a treasure trove of heritage dishes, and wandering chickens that make it a welcome hub for all

By Eric Salta | May 11, 2023

 

The premise is simple: Turn this former private summer house into a crowd-pleasing al fresco restaurant that celebrates flavors reminiscent of Sunday lunches with the family.


The home—somewhere around 15 to 20 years old—belonged to a family who, after experiencing the food next door at Farmer’s Table in 2022, reached out to the Wisniewskis (founders of the Raintree Hospitality Group) to offer their Tagaytay rest house for any project they have in mind.

“As soon as I saw the video of the home, I said ‘done,’” recalls Martin Wisniewski. “This is a dream project for us.”


This is what restaurant renovations are like


When you look at My Country House Tagaytay, it’s easy to conclude that this new best-kept secret in the holiday town transitioned into this dreamy state seamlessly. But in reality, getting there was tough. You see, converting and scaling up a 6,000 square meter private home in Tagaytay into an outdoor dining destination is complicated.


“Just turning a house itself into a restaurant is probably the hardest,” confesses Wisniewski.

The restaurant is virtually devoid of walls

To put into perspective, the former owner’s man cave in the back of the bar had to be transformed into the kitchen to be able to churn out the vast range of dishes on offer. Drainage and fire suppression systems had to be installed as well as proper ventilation, exhausts, water tanks, and even a new electricity meter.


“It’s quite difficult. We were supposed to actually open in January 2023 but it took a little while. Every time we open something up, we found something. It’s like those home renovation shows, ‘Oh they found something,’” Wisniewski laughs.


But his business acumen and experience came in handy, refusing to let the architectural challenges take over the cuisine and cocktails they had in mind. And fortunately, Farmer’s Table, literally right next door, served as a blueprint for how the team tackled the faithful renovation.

Say hi to the three resident American Silkie chickens Tina, Ike, and Gonzo

Comparisons to Farmer’s Table are inevitable. But where the older sibling is characterized by its pleasant quirkiness and local produce, My Country House Tagaytay evokes a huge tropical lanai partitioned into pockets of relaxing retreats—the main dining area where a bar and a retail space reside, a more private terrace just off the bar, two future function rooms, an expansive garden that can host events, and a central dining area underneath the lush canopy of trees. Overall, this is intimate by Tagaytay’s standards.


Comparisons to Farmer’s Table are inevitable. But where the older sibling is characterized by its pleasant quirkiness and local produce, My Country House Tagaytay evokes a huge tropical lanai partitioned into pockets of relaxing retreats.


Most of the beauty of the country house comes from harnessing Tagaytay’s strong suits—the weather, the proximity to the capital, the nature. But the rustic setting and regular sightings of their resident American Silkie chickens Tina, Ike, and Gonzo—adorable in their furriness and size—aren’t the only draws.


Going to great lengths with heritage and heirloom food


Raintree Hospitality Group has been consistent in delivering concepts that pique the palates of Filipinos and their latest outpost is no different.


Executive chef Arnold Gozon

Executive chef Arnold Gozon—whose vast experience includes working at Makati Shangri-La’s coffee shop and banquet, pioneering Circles Event Cafe, and then spending time at Manila Pavilion Hotel and Casino—dips into heritage and heirloom cuisine to bolster the familial narrative at play.


Together with Martin and his mother Annabella and even Raintree corporate chef Kalel Chan, the extensive menu shows the robust results of their collaboration. “When we develop menus, we really talk to everyone. We try to go to as many market segments in our organization as possible,” says Wisniewski.


The Sunday Pochero is a highlight that practically parades itself as their answer to bulalo. Thanks to its tender beef shank and oxtail, chorizo, chicken, chickpeas, carrots, plantains, cabbage, and choy sum all cooked and served in a rich bone broth, the pochero prides itself on being the perfect portrayal of the restaurant’s personality.

Steak to Share (21-day, dry-aged bone-in US Angus ribeye)

Burrata and Beets (roasted sweet beets, fresh dalandan bits, fresh dill and mint, cucumbers, and roasted pistachios)

Chef’s Famous Melting Salmon with Asian herb relish, and red and white miso

What makes it different though is the array of condiments coming from how the beloved dish is enjoyed: a tomato sofrito, a charred eggplant salad relish from Gozon’s Visayan upbringing, and squash compote from the Wisniewskis.


“Iba ang pochero ng north sa Visayas,” says Gozon about their pochero. “Meron siyang konting international taste kasi ’yung pinakastock niya ay consommé.”



Another heirloom dish from the Wisniewskis is the Lengua Estofado, which has braised ox tongue (cut into cubes to resemble salpicao instead of the traditional thick slices) and served with wild mushrooms, Spanish chorizo, and green olives in a rich sauce that, according to Gozon, is mixed with foie gras. The dish was inspired by the Wisniewskis’ late grandmother Honorata Fajardo, who was also a successful restaurateur.


Other stirring moments make up the menu such as a seafood paella that wouldn’t look out of place on any Sunday lunch; the Steak to Share, a bone-in US Angus Ribeye dry-aged for 21 days; and a country chicken relleno that elevates chicken galantina with a boneless half chicken stuffed with local sausages, seasoned ground pork, olives, pimento, and various herbs and spices. Trust us, it’s like a taste of Christmas every day.


Al fresco dining powers My Country House Tagaytay


Billed as a brother to Farmer’s Table, perhaps it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see My Country House Tagaytay replicate its sibling’s success given that, while different in many respects, the two are cut from the same cloth.


“We were very surprised with the outcome of Farmer’s Table and reception we got from customers,” explains Wisniewski. “We didn’t expect it to do as well as it did to be honest because we’re not really on the ridge. We’re kind of in the outskirts of Tagaytay. ‘How will people find us?’ But people did, and it also helped that we were sort of at those alert levels at the time when people in Manila, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, and Alabang [were looking for places to] go out of town at the time. So we sort of lucked out.”

My Country House Tagaytay can accommodate 130 people in its sprawling grounds

“We want people to feel at home when they visit, spend time, walk around, explore and just enjoy being together,” says Martin Wisniewski

Though you can hardly chalk it all up to luck. Wisniewski realized that COVID-19 changed the way people would hang out. “It sort of pushed the Philippines into an outdoor [dining mindset] because not everybody did that whole thing. Also, a lot more people these days live in condos rather than houses. So they might not have that tita who has a nice house but you can experience that here.”


You’ve got to hand it to Wisniewski for going in this direction again as it’s clearly a trek worth taking even just to soak in your metaphorical tita’s home.


My Country House is located at #115 Pulong Sagingan Street, Brgy. Maitim, 2nd West, Tagaytay City. The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. To reserve, call or message 0917-875-1154 on Viber) or 0960-456-6873. For regular updates, follow My Country House on Facebook and Instagram.


Featured article from F&B Report Magazine and INQUIRER. View main article here.

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