For thirteen years, I have passed by Jose Laurel Street from home to school and back. Little did I know that taking a turn towards the rather sequestered San Rafael Street will I find an awe-inspiring home built in 1937 – not until today at least.
It was a usual lazy Sunday night when all we wanted was to have a simple dinner at a nearby restaurant so we can retire to our evening television later on. Out of a random suggestion and googling, we ended up in an ancestral home hiding within the quiet neighborhood of San Miguel Manila. A signboard that says “La Cocina de Tita Moning”, open gates and lights gave us the confidence to drive in even though no one was in sight. After confirming with the lone security guard further down the driveway that they will be able to accommodate a party of four without reservations, we parked the car right beside the patio.
Pillars decked with tivoli lights held a roof over the stoned patio where we chose our meal for the evening from the menu. After 30 minutes of snacking on the complimentary queso de bola toasts and lemongrass iced-tea, we were led inside by Amber – one of the tour guides. Apparently, dining here includes a tour of The Legarda Mansion.
From the exteriors, any Filipino will feel nostalgic of their grandparents’ homes. A short flight of stairs led us inside the wooden home. The first room we entered has a heavenly scent for any bookworm. The library is a huge showcase of tea-stained books and classic couches where the family took time to read and sip from glasses of liquor. The next room right across the library is an amazing display of archaic photography paraphernalia – none of which are digital. Opening another door within this room leads to the clinic of the Don of this house – Dr. Alejandro Legarda Sr. A startling preserved human skeleton stands alongside an old x-ray machine and other medical equipment.
A Zalameda painting that costs millions of pesos hang at the foot of the stairs which brought us to the living room. The room had more paintings by other infamous Filipino artists Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and Juan Luna. Other frames featured family portraits and lovely memories kept alive in this home. Amber then led us into a room filled with all sorts of bulky radio boxes which she said were used as Skype when the Legarda children studied abroad away from their parents. A collection of papier maches were preserved in good condition – all handcrafted by no other than Ramona Legarda or Tita Moning herself. The last room was a chic display of the girls’ ballet shoes, lacey dresses and mirrors that kept them pretty.
As today is the Feast of the Three Kings – and marks the last day of the Philippine Christmas season, an adorned tree welcomed us into the dining area. Covered in red, the table was topped with fine dinnerware complete with scattered petals of red, white and pink roses at the foot of a fragile Italian centerpiece from the 1920s. Salad came after the bread, and all the other courses were served as if we were hosted by Tita Moning in a party back in the 1930s. All vegetables and herbs were home-grown as proven by the unparalleled freshness in each bite. After capping the fine meal off with the scrumptious bread and butter pudding, we rang the golden bell on the edge of our table and paid for the bill.
As a little note of thanks to the kind staff with simple dreams listed in a brochure on our table, we signed their guestbook and drove back home after spending three, unexpectedly memorable, hours in the Legarda Mansion.