The Outback at Swagman; Carmelino’s

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I don’t know how I ended up eating in two unassuming restaurants last week, but I’m very glad anyway that I did.

The Outback Café in DOT-accredited Swagman RPL Hotel Manila should be one of the best and most authentic Australian cuisine specialty restaurants in town. It’s not first-class at all. Located on A. Flores Street at Ermita, the place feels rather like a pub in a foreign country. Very cozy. Subtle lighting. Great location. When I went there, I saw a nice little poster of Steve Irwin (who must be a hero in his country), a huge crocodile replica beside the versatile bar, two big-screen TVs playing The Australian Open, and a two-member band playing the requests of a thick, expat-filled crowd. There’s also free Wi-Fi Internet access for those who have to send E-mails while knifing away at the fabulous steaks.

Not that they serve dishes exclusively from Australia; if you prefer your breakfast, lunch, or dinner the Filipino or American way, then the extremely courteous waitresses would be happy to serve you. Whatever you order, ask for the traditional HP brown sauce – I don’t know why it’s not popular here in the Philippines, but it’s fruiter than A1 – and, of course, for a bottle of your favorite wine.

The other surprise treat I got was a Friday afternoon snack at Carmelino’s Grill, one of those hidden joints near the domestic airport. Less crowded than, say, Razon’s or Dreamhaus in Taft Avenue, the café is a perfect place to say your goodbyes to friends and family leaving on a jet plane. Or to have a cup of brewed before checking in at the airport. Or to just have a one-of-a-kind breakfast. I’m not familiar enough with the menu, but they do have a delectable array of fruit shakes and a variety of Filipino merienda choices.

Which new unadvertised places have you been to lately?

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