Well, it only took 160 days since the pandemic outbreak, but I finally went out for purely leisure reasons for the first time today.
It is kind of hard to turn down lunch at Hai Shin Lou, not when there’s peppercorn squid at stake.
(And also an actual meal in which I don’t have to do the dishes, let’s be real.)
Throughout the quarantine period, I’ve been doing the sensible thing and staying home as much as possible, not that I had much reason to go out if you don’t count my rapidly dwindling mental health. Milk tea deliveries and video calls became the norm, and suddenly five months have passed and we’re halfway through the year already.
Yet life goes on, and with the number of cases gradually going down and the downgrade from enhanced community quarantine to general community quarantine, businesses have slowly gone back on track—albeit, admittedly, with new measures to adapt to a situation that we still shouldn’t be complacent about, emphasis mine.
And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious how ‘the new normal’ would play out in the industry that is my sandbox. So I dipped my toes into the pool that is the great outdoors in medias pandemus. With caution.
First Stop: Marco Polo Plaza Cebu
There was never any doubt the hotel—one of my favorite places in the city—would take biosafety measures seriously. It was merely a question of what it would actually be like.
Even before you enter the premises, you’re asked to fill up the Customer Health Declaration Form using BirdsEye, a centralized contract tracing system entrusted by the Hotel Resort Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC). Then all you have to do when you get there is let the staff scan the QR code and take your temperature.
As of press time, only face masks are mandatory at all times but feel free to sport face/eye shields and other personal protective equipment for your peace of mind.
Sanitizers and foot baths are also readily available at every entry point, while surfaces in public spaces and restrooms are rigorously disinfected every two hours.
Social distancing is a given. To help implement this, floor markers have been installed at the check-in area, in restrooms, and in elevators. In dining spaces, table seating arrangements have already been optimized.
Dining is allowed, though only by prior reservation. Paperless menus are accessible via QR code (a.k.a. your new best friend), while laminated ones are available if you don’t have a gadget on you—these are also disinfected frequently.
For a full list of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu’s Biosecurity Protocols, including for stay-in guests, you can read it here.
Of the hotel’s restaurants, Lobby Lounge, El Viento, and Hai Shin Lou are now open for social-distanced dine-in. Joanna and I started off our visit with coffee and pastries at the Lobby Lounge, accompanied by Marco Polo Plaza Cebu’s Communications Manager and our good friend Manna. We sat on three different couches to maintain distance and each had an ensaimada, which is gargantuan and usually shared with other people, but not for today or for the foreseeable future.
This was the moment, I think, when it hit me just how different things are now. We couldn’t even hug each other hello, much more share something we used to with nary a thought about possibly spreading bacteria. It became a recurring theme straight to lunch at Hai Shin Lou, where we were offered our own individual steam baskets of assorted dim sum instead of the usual orders having their own basket.
The rest of lunch was served family-style, with dedicated serving spoons and forks for each plate, but man—that assorted dim sum basket really hit me right in the feels.
But there’s little reason to actually complain. For one:
Secondly, a major advantage of Hai Shin Lou is the sheer number of private rooms, so you can have intimate gatherings with minimal to no exposure to other diners. Following a strict protocol of 50% capacity only, a private room can accommodate between 4-6 people, while the maximum allowed number for gatherings is 36, subject to terms and conditions.
It felt very safe to take off our masks (face masks holders can be provided upon request) and enjoy our amazing Cantonese spread especially selected by GM Brian Connelly. Our chairs were spread out, with the lazy Susan easily transporting our food from one person to another. The servers were also in face shields the whole time.
Not quite the reunion with friends I was imagining, but it’s a start for now and it can only get better from here, although perhaps not immediately.
Personally, I would still recommend staying at home as much as possible these days. But Marco Polo Plaza Cebu makes a great and safe place for when you need to get out of your house once in a while—all while you also act responsibly and comply with their protocols.
- El Viento Restaurant & Pool Bar currently has a Dine & Dip Promo so you can cool off on hot days. For only Php 800 per guest, enjoy access to the swimming pool and Php 650 worth of food and drinks.
- The Lobby Lounge still carries all your favorite Marco Polo pastries, from the famous Malicious Cookies to the award-winning ensaimada. It’s also 40% off on select cakes and pastries past 7:00 p.m., valid until September 2020 only.
- If you still want to stay home but enjoy amazing Chinese, your best bet is Hai Shin Lou‘s new rice meal sets, which come in eight varieties: sweet and sour pork rice, chicken straw mushroom rice, barbecue pork asado rice, braised fish fillet bean curd rice, Yang Chow fried rice with egg, deep-fried fish fillet with sweet corn sauce rice, stir-fried boneless chicken with rice, and roasted pork belly rice. Prices range between Php 220 to Php 250 per order, and it’s a huge serving so you can be assured of a very satisfying meal.
- I miss Café Marco and BLU Bar & Grill. Yes, this is important.