You really can’t get any fresher than this. The scallops that chef Raphael Ongchiong baked in their own shells were fished right outside the restaurant, in the waters of Panglao island. The crust was made out of sea urchin that was pureed with butter and drizzled with breadcrumbs to give it a crunchy texture. In fact, all the seafood in this gorgeous spread of 17 pintxos (small bar snacks), tapas and paellas were locally sourced including the chupitos (baby octopus) and shrimps.
From sea to table, that’s how Amorita opened its new tapas bar called Tomar (“to drink” in Spanish). There was sangria and wine, there was flamenco, Spanish songs, and then there were the heavenly pintxos.
In a way that the seaside cliff resort Amorita (the word means “small love”) does everything, Tomar is classy in its physical space, ambience and food. It fuses traditional Spanish fare with Boholano creativity; it mixes furnishings of wood, steel and leather, resulting in a stylish restaurant.
With all the guests raving about the food, chef Raphael smiles and says, “That’s funny because I have never been to Spain.” Trained in the classical French technique, he did research by eating in Spanish restaurants in Manila, buying books and online sleuthing.
You can say he had tough taste testers: the young couple who own Amorita — CEO Nikki Cauton III and his wife, CFO Ria Cauton. Of all their travels, it’s Spain that keeps drawing them back, and in no small part because of the food.
Nikki says that when they were brainstorming on what new restaurant to add to Amorita’s poolside Saffron restaurant, they knew right away that they didn’t want the usual Japanese or Chinese restaurant that most hotels offer.
“Like me when I travel, I usually go on a food tour more than any other activity abroad. My wife Ria and I have done food tours in Madrid and Prague. That sense of vacation can be captured through a tapas and pintxos bar and such food goes well with wine or beer. A tapas bar is a good complement to a vacation because you want to celebrate and enjoy yourself, so we want to bring in that sense of festivity to Amorita.”
The menu was conceptualized by Nikki, Ria and chef Raphael. The first thing they considered — as they did when doing Saffron’s menu — was what was locally available in Bohol. Seafood was on top of the list with the freshest fish, scallops, shrimps and octopus coming from the clearest waters.
“That’s our philosophy whenever we do something. We find what’s abundant and endemic in Bohol and then we do the project around it. What’s great is that the local produce and ingredients of Bohol very much complement Spanish food,” says Nikki, adding that Tomar wasn’t intended just for hotel guests or tourists, but also for Boholanos who want to enjoy a different kind of evening once in a while. “The chef and I are good friends and we’ve traveled a lot looking at Thailand and Bali to benchmark. We try to compete with the players outside the country, too.”
Tomar is a great addition to Saffron, which serves some of the most innovative Filipino dishes I’ve tasted like binagoongan with manga, crispy sinigang, sisig quesadilla and more. We enjoyed a late lunch at Saffron after a morning of diving in Balicasag island, where we had encounters with sea turtles and colorful schools of fish in the marine sanctuary.
And for drinks, we had Peanut Kisses shake. Yes, those little mounds of delight — not just in a shake but as a shake. It’s like combining candy, peanuts, ice cream and the entire island of Bohol in a glass, and then blending it with ice cream. It’s brilliant!
Thinking out of the box is the Cautons’ secret to making Amorita one of the best-loved luxury resorts in the country. Nikki and Ria were only in their 20s and married for five months when they started the resort and neither of them is Boholano (Nikki’s from Ilocos and Ria’s from Pampanga). Falling in love with the province and its lifestyle of biking to the mountains on weekends, snorkeling and diving in the open waters was easy and quick for the couple.
“When we started in 2007, our goal was just to keep Amorita afloat. We were doing everything, I was driving the car, serving the food, but our standard from the start was very high. Then people realized that this property in Bohol was something unique — that this level of service could be had for a reasonable price and what a surprise that it was a local brand.”
What was 1.2 hectares before with 14 villas and 20 deluxe rooms is now 5.6 hectares with 14 villas that are being renovated until October and 82 suites. Amorita is one of the brands under One-Of Collection, which prides itself on distinctive hotels and resorts in prime locations such as Coron (The Funny Lion resort), Dumaguete (Sta. Monica Beach Club) and Bohol (Momo Beach Club).
Nikki says that they may do one or two more high-end resorts like Amorita. To which we raise our Peanut Kisses shake and say, “Cheers and big love to local!”