Editor’s note: The article below is Art in Site’s take on a delightful culinary experience and exquisite time spent with Marcia and Neil Adams in Tagaytay.
Our journey took us from Tanauan, Batangas via Talisay, passing little towns, and climbing the winding stretch of country road that led us to the once sparsely populated town of Tagaytay.
It used to be one could stand on any grassy hill and view miles of uninterrupted panoramic splendor of Taal Lake. Fireflies were companions on mild summer nights and the whistling winds a natural sleeping aid when the weather turned cool. In the midst of Taal Lake is the small but deadly volcano known to reduce surrounding villages along its coast into ashes.
Village life was quiet except for weekend invasions of city slickers looking for respite from bustling Manila. Local residents in cahoots with nuns, were always on the lookout for students from a school for wayward girls, who would sneak up the steep and curvy driveway to the main road for a bit of freedom.
Schoolgirls determined to splurge hard earned allowance on longed-for assorted flavored ice cream served in buko (coconut) shells, braved the chilly, gusty winds, hugging their flimsy sweaters tight. It was quite a trek to reach Taal Lodge — the only game in town— but well worth the effort.
Fast forward from the once idyllic town of Tagaytay to the present day: awkward hotels looming large; bed and breakfast inns; weekend traffic jams; an eye-sore casino with a tacky crown (Viva Las Vegas style); restaurants, stalls offering sweet fruits, colorful flowers, furniture and organically grown produce compete for tourists’ attention along the single thoroughfare leading in and out of town.
The former school on a ridge overlooking Taal volcano, is now a retreat run by the same religious order. It offers rustic huts with a view of the lake for visiting tourists on a budget.
One takes the good with the bad. The town remains a must visit for any tourist and many out of the way places are well worth looking into. You just have to know where to look.
Our destination was a house away from the busy main street, not within view of the lake. Fortunately, we knew the way, as there was no sign out front. Word of mouth is priceless marketing and we had received gushing reports about Marcia Adams’ establishment.
The house partially hidden behind a wall was covered with exotic foliage. A tall gentleman greeted us at the door said his wife was at market and would be back shortly. He led us down a garden path overrun with an abundance of uncommon shrubs, hanging vines and herbs happily situated in between rare plants.
Mild-mannered Neil Adams, a former sound engineer, is a transplant from Great Britain. Neil’s credentials included assisting in the design of the sound system of one of the Apple Studios (not the famed Beatles’ Abbey Road). Regardless, he had to be a mellow kind of guy dealing with rock idols the likes of George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Peter Townshend, to name a few.
Neil gave us a tour of the grounds: more garden scene, the rustic restaurant with wide windows surrounding the front area and the alcove in the back that looked out onto a vast green field. The private residence was off limits that day due to the creative mess the Adams children were into without a cleaning lady to pick up after them.
When asked about the design of the place, Neil explained: “The house and the restaurant was all Marcia’s idea. She had this picture in her head, so she consulted with a contractor, and this place was built with recycled materials from old homes and buildings that were torn down.”
We were marveling at the ingenuity and serene makeup of the land when the lady of the house arrived from market, apologizing for not being there to greet us. One would presume that with a name like Marcia Adams, she would have originated from Great Britain like her husband, but Marcia was Filipina all the way.
Marcia Adams took over the tour and entranced us with her earthiness and simplistic view of how she sees things flow. She spelled it out for us while showing off her garden of rare plants.
“I use the terrain, I don’t fight it,” Marcia said. “I watch where the rain flows and plant in a particular spot to avoid erosion of the earth. I’m sad when caterpillars eat the leaves of my plants, but I allow it — I want butterflies.”
“It’s in the way I let my garden grow; I take the time to dig and feel the earth when I plant or gather vegetables and herbs,” she said. “And later in the kitchen, I blend nature’s blessings with other ingredients, and the result (especially when I’m into it) is a meal I know will please my customers.”
Marcia has some holistic advice for the culinary experts. “I think chefs should plant and really feel the earth — embrace the feel and taste of herbs, vegetable or fruit you will use for cooking.”
After the tour of the garden, Marcia retreated to the kitchen to prepare for the luncheon. Neil appeared with a still-warm loaf of homemade bread, usually reserved for family and friends, to mollify the now sharp appetite of the guests, leaving his wife to work her magic in the kitchen.
The bread was served with out-of-this-world guava jam with aged parmigiano-reggiano (hard granular cheese), onion-apple chutney with cheddar cheese and Gruyere cheese — a meal in itself, but we were informed that was just for starters. We paced ourselves reluctantly.
While we waited for Marcia to astound us — entranced by the aroma from her kitchen — we talked story, to coin an Hawaiian expression.
Neil regaled us with his rock and roll ‘heavies’ encounters. “I was perched on a tall ladder in the control room of Ramport Studios owned by the Who. I had a Pentax Spotmatic II with a 28mm lens, and also a Mamiya Press camera on a tripod below: 8 exposures of 3-1/2 X 2-1/4 on a 120 roll film.
“I was photographing the Helios console we had just installed in the control room. However, there was this long-haired fellow below me who was getting in the way of my camera. I didn’t realize (seeing him only from above) that it was Peter Townshend and I actually asked him to move out of the way!”
A kitchen trivia bit with embellishment about British cuisine was thrown in.
It used to be in the continent of Europe — excluding the British Empire for centuries — witches with culinary powers graced the kitchens of many a household. Various stories have been told about the kitchen witch; one of the tales of the earthy lady was the ability to make or break a meal with the use of spices and herbs, thereby determining the outcome of a union between male and female during courtship.
Marcia tapped on the glass window between the kitchen and the dining area, motioning to her husband to clear the table. We relinquished our not quite finished plates to Neil.
Reeling is a good description of the ‘heavy hitter’ we saw coming out of Marcia’s kitchen. It wasn’t just one main course; it turned out to be one delectable platter after another.
The following is straight from Marcia Adam’s menu:
Aegean Salad – a feast of flavors and textures with grilled pears, mixed greens, cottage cheese and roasted pistachios, served with an herbal, tangy dressing.
Ai Funghi – pasta with mixed fresh mushrooms, basil and garlic (vegetarian).
Chicken Kebabs – marinated in cumin and yoghurt (served with couscous or organic rice).
and . . .
Moussaka – layered grilled eggplants with minced lamb.
Gourmet Kamote –savory sweet potato in Dijon mustard with Kalamata olive dressing.
Octopus Stew – was not on the menu. Marcia is still experimenting with the flavor — very tasty dish.
After feasting sumptuously in the main dining area, the kitchen staff took over and Neil and Marcia joined us in the alcove in the back of the restaurant.
“There’s still dessert,” Neil said. We groaned. Our bloated bodies were fit to be rolled out of Marcia and Neil’s place — but resistance was futile.
Samplers of some of the desserts on the menu with espresso coffee were laid out on the table. If you have a problem with sugar, by all means, stay away, if you can, from the array of grilled orange with vanilla ice cream, panna cotta with lemon jelly, semolina mango mousse and fried bananas with dark chocolate dip.
“The taste and aroma of the food should be the same,” Marcia said over espresso coffee and dessert. ”I can tell by the smell of the food if it’s good. I’m sensitive to the different layers of flavors and identify with them, but I have yet to master those two elements vital to my cooking.”
Who were we to argue?
The visit ended too soon. We promised to return and visit the new friends we made and to check out the bed and breakfast inn Marcia and Neil were constructing on the grounds.
AIS’ humble take of Marcia Adams: The luncheon was likened to Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate and Eat Drink Man Woman rolled into one, but better. We weren’t part of an audience drooling at the exquisite gastronomic experience on screen. We were fortunate to partake of a delectable spread courtesy of a woman in the guise of Mother Earth.
It’s best to go during the middle of the week or call and ask Marcia or Neil when there are no guests expected. Take a drive to Marcia Adam’s and savor her delectable offerings, spend the afternoon reading or writing in the alcove at the back of the restaurant. Imagine you’re sipping a cup of espresso in a rustic farmhouse looking at endless fields of young grapes in the Tuscan Valley or Provence because it feels like it.
It is highly recommended to call ahead (+ 63 2 917 801 1456 - text message only, please), and make reservations before you go, see, and most of all, don’t rush, but soak in the feel-good atmosphere at Marcia Adams, really taste her food and come away with another culinary experience for that discriminating palate.
The only real disappointment we had was when the visit came to an end.
Need we add more?