We love to play hide and seek back when we were kids, a sentiment probably shared by everybody. A sense of discovery is inherent in all of us. We can’t resist uncovering what’s hidden. And in the highlands of Cebu, overlooking the city and usually hidden by fog as the sun goes down in the evening, is a food haven that is meant to be sought out. It’s the Lantaw Native Restaurant in Busay, Cebu.
Finding this place is a bit tricky. And fun. The search and the journey, as we tirelessly say in this blog, is half of the travel fun. Other than a private car, a taxi is the only convenient means of public transport to and from this place. More importantly, telling the taxi driver to bring you to a restaurant called “lantaw,” without any other detail, may land you in Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant.
Not that you’d be shortchanged when it comes to food. Lantaw Native Restaurant and Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant serve equally good food, reasonably priced if we may add. They have the same owners. They are both found in the province of Cebu. Other than these similarities, however, both restaurants are geographically worlds apart.
The key is a single word — floating. The original restaurant, Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant, is found in an island connected to Cebu City by two bridges. It’s found in the island of Mactan (yes, that where the airport is found), in the town of Cordova. It’s a beachfront restaurant that sits on top of the water, pretty much like the older Sutokil, except that it’s more upscale. Business must be good because the Lantaw group opened the Lantaw Native Restaurant this year. This one is found in the main island of Cebu, kilometers from the city proper, with a heavenly view of the entire city and the neighboring islands.
Cebu used to be less complicated in terms of culinary choices. Only a few years back, there were a few options which made it more simple to decide where to eat. Sometimes, only sometimes, it’s strangely simpler if life presents us with a few choices. There’s no difficulty in going through the process of enumerating the restaurants, choosing the best one, and then going through the agony after realizing that there’s some place much better. There’s now a profusion of restaurants all serving mouth-watering food in Cebu. For starters, there’s the Cebu signatures Sutokil and Cebu lechon, which now includes the Zubuchon. There’s the giant burger and humongous baby back ribs of Casa Verde in Ayala-Cebu.
The good thing about Cebu, as compared to Metro Manila, is that the trip to any particular food destination won’t take hours, traffic and everything considered. The journey to Lantaw Native Restaurant in Busay takes only around 20 minutes, through the general direction of Marco Polo Hotel and the well-known Tops area. There’s a chance, though, that it will be totally different a few years from now, if Cebu doesn’t learn from the horrible traffic situation of Metro Manila.
Common wisdom dictates that only a few hungry souls would brave the climb up the narrow, very steep roads to this secluded destination. A newly-minted driver could not possibly survive the sharp u-turn up the inclined pathway inside the restaurant premises. And the challenge doesn’t end in arriving at the parking area. There’s a good 15 meters of inclined walkway leading to the open restaurant floor. How we wished that the cut-up front portion of a Pinoy jeepney, used as a counter area at the restaurant entrance, could serve its original purpose by ferrying physically-challenged guests up the ramp.
But common wisdom doesn’t apply here. From the looks of it, partly based on the reminder we got that we should either make a reservation or go early, there’s a big segment of the traveling crowd that ends up here. Sure, there are equally good restaurants within the city that serve Filipino cuisine, just like what is served at Lantaw Native Restaurant. The food, while delicious and very reasonably-priced, is a secondary reason why we sought out this place. But we can safely assume that most of the guests come here for the view. Or the ambiance.
Lantaw, in the Visayan dialect, means “to view” or “to gaze.” A perfect name for this establishment. Lantaw Native Restaurant is tucked on a green hillside, with a majestic view of Cebu City (we wouldn’t be surprised if they install telescopes here, just like at the Edge Coaster at the towering Crown Regency Hotel). The view gets better at night as the city lights come alive and flicker through the mist.
Studies have shown that ambiance and the presentation have a positive impact on how we perceive the taste of food. It’s comfortable fine dining at Lantaw Native Restaurant. Seriously high-end presentation in a surprisingly friendly atmosphere. The baked scallops, in all its golden glory, as well as the lechon kawali and the calamares, are thoughtfully arranged in huge elongated serving platters. Yet the tinolang manok served in fresh whole buko, coupled with the beverage served in a mayonnaise glass that we would ordinarily throw away, adds a common touch and a reminder that this restaurant serves authentic Filipino food. The high ceiling covered with banig completes the package.
Lantaw is a destination by itself, a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is a secluded place to enjoy good food in the middle, well, technically at the top, of the city. It is a place serving authentic Filipino food with a twist. It is waiting to be discovered. Go on. Search for it.