Art and Amped-Up Spanish-Filipino Bites Merge at This Stunning Restaurant in Pasay

Dining at Rafael's is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the taste buds.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant
Unit B2 A Garden Wing, 2/F Resorts World Manila, Newport Mall, Pasay City
Contact: 8373-5105, 0966-470-5355, or 0918-920-6128
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rafaelsrwph
Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Monday to Sunday)

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto ILLUSTRATION Warren Espejo

(SPOT.ph) At first glance, you might be intimidated by this restaurant concept—after all, it’s located in a posh casino complex, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that give you a glimpse of its artsy interiors reminiscent of a mini museum. But once you step inside Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, you’ll feel that its creative and tasteful ambiance could be warm and cozy, too.

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Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant,
Rafael's Tapas Bar & Restaurant is on the second floor of Newport mall. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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Pay this visually striking Filipino + Spanish restaurant a visit when in Pasay:

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scanning the room to appreciate the art—from the industrial installations and unique chandeliers, to the eye-catching commissioned paintings, and every imaginative thing in between. The neutral gray walls serve as an ideal background for it all. You wouldn’t know whether to appreciate each and every art form or order food first!

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant,
Entering their premises is like stepping into another world. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant,
Within the restaurant you'll find paintings, chandeliers, and other art installations. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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It’s quite a revelation that this is the first restaurant venture of owner Henjie Carmona, who named the place after his late father who was passionate about food. “I grew up from a family who really loves eating,” shares this entrepreneur-slash-art aficionado who added that the dishes served here are inspired by his dad’s cooking. Think food that’s “elevated, but still something familiar.”

Here in Rafael’s, Carmona was able to fuse together his two passions—art and food—and it’s apparent from the design interiors down to the food presentation. “I always want to be different.” Safe to say there are no other tapas bars like this.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant,
We can't think of any other tapas bar that comes close. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant
Attention is given even down to the smallest details. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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Three months after officially opening last December 2019, the pandemic happened, but the establishment continued to serve up Spanish-inspired dishes for delivery. Now, it’s once again open for dine-in and will even have an alfresco area soon. If private dining is your thing, there’s an upstairs VIP room (with a literal golden toilet to boot!) that you can reserve for an intimate dinner party, business luncheon, or any other special occasion.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant
You can also book private rooms for intimate dinner parties. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

For now, feast with your eyes and taste buds with its well-curated menu that has a variety of tapas, mains, cocktails, and more. If you want to start with the small plates, the usual suspects are there but expect certain twists to them. The Callos (P340), for instance, has the rich stewed ox tripe base you’re probably familiar with, but with added chunks of tasty house-made longganisa. Meanwhile their version of Gambas (P450) not only has fresh prawns and roasted garlic, but also homemade longganisa and pesto. Then there’s the Chipirones con Harissa (P380), which has baby squid swimming in a peppery-smoky sauce made with harissa compound butter, and comes beautifully garnished with kale leaves and quinoa.

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Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, callos
Rafael's homemade longganisa makes for a welcome addition to their version of Callos... 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, gambas
...and Gambas. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, chipirones con harissa
Baby squid is accompanied by a peppery-smoky sauce in the Chipirones con Harissa. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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The Rib Eye Salpicao (P900) deserves notable mention because it turns this ordinary beef bar chow into something extraordinary. You’ll want to savor every beefy morsel of the Angus prime cut that’s cooked in buttery black garlic and truffle au jus and served with fried oyster mushrooms. Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds. It has that umami-rich taste—the kind that you’d want to linger in your mouth.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, ribeye salpicao
We can't get enough of the Rib Eye Salpicao. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

You’ll also find Filipino flavors in some menu items that might just remind you of your lola’s or mom’s home cooking. The Bicolano’s Wings (P220) is at once unexpected yet familiar. Think chicken lollipop that’s plated on a bed of spicy coconut milk sauce, complete with garnish. It’s like eating fried chicken with a hot and creamy dip—definitely a good appetizer to waken your taste buds.

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Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, bicolano wings
The Bicolano Wings brings to mind chicken lollipop crossed with chicken ginataan—and it works. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

Another dish that features local flavors is the Vegetable and Seafood Fritter (P220), the restaurant’s version of okoy that’s made with fresh shrimp, squid, sweet potato, and carrots. It’s cooked in a light egg batter so it stays crisp—and it’s perfect dipped in the creamy sauce served on the side.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, vegetable and seafood fritter
The Vegetable and Seafood Fritter is their take on classic okoy
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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In case you want to skip the starters and head straight to the mains, there are dishes that are good for sharing—or not, we won’t judge! One bite of the Twice-Cooked Pork Belly Adobo (P750) and you won’t think twice about keeping it all to yourself. This honey au jus adobo is cooked in its own juices, which maintains its tender and succulent texture. Each slice has a balanced ratio of lean meat and fat, not to mention the crisp skin, which is arguably the best part. You can’t eat it without rice and this has a good serving of the Filipino staple carb. Pro tip: it’s probably best to share the calories so you can sample the other food finds as well.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, twice cooked pork belly adobo
The Twice-Cooked Pork Belly Adobo has a balanced ratio of lean meat and fat.
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

Yet another must-try is the Wagyu Brisket Caldereta (P1,200); it doesn’t look like your typical caldereta, but the flavors are there without a doubt. In place of the stew hodgepodge is a pretty plate of blackened roasted Wagyu brisket doused in gravy-like sauce. On one side of the plate is a smooth carrot purée; on the other is garlic and potato purée; and surrounding it are fried oval pieces which are actually breaded olives. It’s an interesting take on this typical beef viand.

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Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, wagyu brisket caldereta
Beef caldereta is reimagined as a snazzy course in the Wagyu Brisket Caldereta.  
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

The food in Rafael’s evokes a sense of nostalgia, a reminder of the food you grew up with but done in a different way. Yet another example is the Petronila’s Chicken (P475), the restaurant’s version of chicken inasal, which is named after Carmona’s mother. The flavors of the brown sugar brined chicken roast are spot on and pair well with the pineapple rice.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, petronila's chicken
The deeply savory-sweet Petronila's Chicken is named after Carmona’s mother.  
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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In case you’re in the mood to splurge, the Blackened Angus Ribeye (P2,900) is for you. It’s top-quality steak served with a corn and zucchini succotash and chimichurri sauce on the side. Try to get a little bit of everything in one bite to experience the explosion of flavors, but hold back a little on the chimichurri if you’re not a fan of its piquant garlic taste.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, blackened angus ribeye
In the Blackened Angus Ribeye, the tender beef is accompanied by  a corn and zucchini succotash and chimichurri.  
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

There are non-meat options as well if you prefer a lighter bite. A standout dish is the Mustard and Peanut Crusted Salmon (P750), where the salmon fillet is simply seasoned and cooked with Dijon mustard and crushed peanuts and then served on a heap of rice. Seafood lovers would love how this flaky fish is cooked just right without any overpowering flavors. You can still taste the salmon and only get hints of the strong mustard flavor.

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Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, mustard and peanut crusted salmon
The flavor of the fish shines through in the Mustard and Peanut Crusted Salmon. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto

Yet another seafood option—this time, in pizza form—is the Garlic and Shrimp Pizza (P799). This pie has a chewy crust that provides a good vehicle for the classic toppings of roasted garlic, shrimp, and mozzarella cheese. It’s pretty traditional and you just can’t go wrong with this combo. What sets it apart is that it’s served with both aioli and harissa dips on the side in case you want to add oomph to your pizza.

Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, garlic and shrimp pizza
For the Garlic and Shrimp Pizza, be sure to dip into or drizzle over the aioli and harissa sauces on the side for the best experience. 
PHOTO BY Hans Fausto
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There’s a big chance you’ll linger for after-dinner drinks since the vibe kind of calls for it—it’s a tapas bar, after all. You don’t want to go home without sipping on your libation of choice. They’ve got the timeless ones like the Old Fashioned and also their signature cocktails like the Rafael’s Smash. Sangria and wine are ever-present, of course. In the end, you’ll leave Rafael’s Tapas Bar not just with a full tummy, but with happy memories of your dining experience as well.

Photos by Hans Fausto

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