Thursday, November 10, 2022

Culinary Journeys and Classic Continental Cuisine with Scandinavian Flair at Aquavit Pub & Grill

The famed culinary duo of Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines are back rocking the culinary scene of Makati's Poblacion. The much anticipated collaboration brings a taste of fresh and clean Scandinavian flavors to the strip, adding to the eclectic and vibrant diversity and tasty gastronomic offerings of the neighborhood...

When two celebrated chefs collaborate, you can expect great things to happen as Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines shake up Poblacion's local culinary landscape with their newest dining concept at Aquavit Pub & Grill. Inspired by classic European and continental cuisine infused with Scandinavian flair, Aquavit Pub & Grill also showcases the culinary journeys of two amazing chefs retold and shared with each lavish dish. Read on for a tasty peek at the famed Makati neighborhood's newest dining destination...

Rocking the Poblacion Scene

Named after the traditional Scandinavian distilled spirit loosely translated as "water of life," Aquavit Pub & Grill offers European cuisine from the north reflecting Nordic flavors. Long known for its countless dining options, Poblacion welcomes another unique concept to its roster of tasty and flavorful finds. It's easy to spot Aquavit Pub & Grill along Kalayaan Avenue with its colorful facade decked with flags and spacious al fresco areas. 

Step inside and the familiar vibe of the old Danish Connection resonates bringing back nostalgic memories of the familiar haunt but make no mistake, this is a refreshingly new concept updated with the cumulative experiences of Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines. Aquavit Pub & Grill's spacious design features three areas... 

...with its impressive and beautifully restored 25 year old bar with its deep and dark wood tones contrasting with the bright green hues of the cozy Gastropub section welcoming guests and diners. Throughout the gastropub, large screens installed in strategic spots feature sports from around the world and just in time too for the upcoming World Cup. Casual, homey and laid back, the Gastropub section transitions to a more private and exclusive space...

A few more steps inside Aquavit Pub & Grill takes you to the elegant reservations-only private Dining Room draped by natural light from the panoramic glass windows. Pristine white linens and ornate table settings offer yet another layer to your Aquavit Pub & Grill experience. At night, the luxurious Dining Room is transformed making it the ideal spot along Kalayaan Avenue for intimate dinners and gatherings. 

Pick a table and you'll soon find out it's the perfect setting for the lavish dishes prepared by Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines from their extensive menu of European and continental classics with that distinctive Scandinavian touch. 

Outside, wooden benches offer a more casual setting adding even more seating options at Aquavit Pub & Grill. Enjoy a few rounds paired with the hearty gastropub fare by Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines while immersed in the cool Bohemian character of the eclectic Makati neighborhood. 

A few steps at Aquavit Pub & Grill are all it takes to experience the smooth and harmonious weave of gastropub and fine dining elements all in one place. And it's the equally unique personalities of the chefs behind Aquavit Pub & Grill that drives Poblacion's newest dining concept...

A New Chapter in Epic Culinary Journeys 

In addition to the specialty dishes, it's the personalities behind the establishment that adds to the character of any new dining concept. More so in the age of social media, with culinary personalities defining one's experience setting it apart from other establishments. Aquavit Pub & Grill reflects the seamless blend of classic European culinary styles of Chefs Robert Lilja (for more on Chef Robert Lilja, see my previous post, "Simply Classic Cuisine" by Chef Robert Lilja for Disciples Escoffier at Makati Garden Club from early last year) and Tom Hines (more on Chef Tom Hines on my post, From East to West: Chef Tom Hines Brings the World's Finest Ingredients to Your Plate at Kobe Jones from 2021). With a shared philosophy on enduring European flavors, Chefs Robert and Tom present traditional dishes along with innovative spins at Aquavit Pub & Grill

For those from my generation, many will remember Danish Connection decades back helmed by Chef Robert Lilja. In a serendipitous twist to an epic culinary journey, Chef Robert Lilja returns to his roots in the same familiar spot along Kalayaan Avenue with Aquavit Pub & Grill. In addition to Danish Connection, Chef Robert's stints in the local restaurant scene include Restaurant Savoy, Maria Luisa's Garden Room at Makati Garden Club and Baker Brothers in Taguig. The impressive resumé and experiences provided Chef Robert key insights on local diners and European cuisine in Manila's evolving culinary landscape. In full circle, Chef Robert Lilja proudly shares his Scandinavian heritage with renewed creativity and passion at Aquavit Pub & Grill. Chef Robert even brought his original team to work with Chef Tom, making this collaboration a homecoming of sorts.   

A Refreshing Tipple and Tasty Bites

That day, Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines kicked off our Aquavit Pub & Grill experience with a soothing glass of Basil Lemonade to open up the palate...

...followed by the day's freshest catch with the Oysters Rockefeller (P 580) with tarragon and Swiss cheese with an alluring mist from the dry ice in the flamboyant style of Chef Tom Hines

The succulent oysters deliver fresh and clean notes with just a hint of sweetness teasing the palate with a briny richness followed by the subtle bittersweet licorice hints of tarragon smoothened by the indulgent sharp and creamy notes of Swiss cheese. 

The parade of fresh flavors at Aquavit Pub & Grill continues with the Baked Burgundy Scallops (P 480) in garlic butter, torched before serving for that finishing touch. Fresh seafood is a recurring theme in the lore and tradition of Scandinavian cuisine with its bountiful harvests from the cold pristine waters around the northern region. And this tradition is well represented with the masterfully executed seafood offerings at Aquavit Pub & Grill.  

The delicately charred outer layer brings subtle smoky hints to complement the natural briny sweetness of the Baked Burgundy Scallops and garlic butter for tasty and appetizing bites. 

The Gastropub menu at Aquavit Pub & Grill features a wide range of tasty options from Bangers & Mash to Schweizer Schnitzel, Shepherd's Pie and Fish 'n Chips, Swedish Meatballs and Lamb Shanks in tiffin-curry style served with rice and Fisherman's Pie and Chicken Madras Curry

No experience at Aquavit Pub & Grill is complete without a refreshing shot of Aquavit. Chef Robert Lilja shares his own proprietary blend, Aquavit Number Two made with homemade vodka and Turkish spices for a soothingly sharp, sweet, licorice-like and refreshing shot to get you in the groove. Raise the shot glass followed by a loud "Skal" in true Nordic tradition and go bottoms up.  

As we moved to the private Dining Room of Aquavit Pub & Grill, Chef Robert Lilja then presented his extensive Portuguese wine selection... be paired with the sumptuous dishes from the menu. The shift in setting offers diners yet another experience in the multi-faceted sections of Aquavit Pub & Grill making it the perfect stage for any occasion. 

Your fine dining experience at Aquavit Pub & Grill's Dining Room starts with the Skagen Shrimp Cocktail served in a martini glass filled with fresh and succulent shrimps lined with garden-fresh and crisp arugula and garnished with slices of tomatoes and a lemon wedge. 

The medley of fresh shrimps and vegetables with its fresh snap and briny sweetness are rounded out by the silky smooth dressing for rich and indulgent notes tempered by the vibrant acidic sharpness of tomatoes and lemon. With the freshest premium ingredients delivering real flavors, keeping it simple works all the time. And Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines have mastered elegance in simplicity with their wide array of classic dishes. Named after a famous resort town in Denmark, the Skagen Shrimp Cocktail is the perfect start to your Scandinavian feast at Aquavit Pub & Grill. Also on the menu is the Skagen Shrimp Toast, one of Chef Robert's signature dishes and a part of his culinary repertoire for the last thirty years.  

An impressive start, but there's so much more to discover and experience at Aquavit Pub & Grill. With a long list of tempting starters in the menu, Aquavit Pub & Grill preps your palate with a seemingly endless and continuous array of small bites. Chef Robert Lilja served even more starters to tease the palate... the Homemade Curry with Herring served with rye bread...

..and Mustard Herring topped with fresh dill, both tasty seafood starters with that creamy and delectable texture. The freshness of the herring straight off from the cold waters of the north punches through followed by the bold hints of mustard and curry of both dishes. The curry and mustard variants each pair well with the herring and picking just one will depend on your preference. I've always enjoyed the sharp hints of mustard, and the Mustard Herring tops my personal pick. But if you prefer curry, the Homemade Curry Herring is the one for you. I've always gauged an establishment's menu with the bread they serve, and Aquavit Pub & Grill flexes their kitchen prowess with the nutty and tasty rye bread. 

The Scandinavian Style Roast Beef Sandwich (P 680) is another savory option at Aquavit Pub & Grill with a generous mound of fork-tender and butter-like melt-in-your-mouth beef served with a side of salad. The open-faced sandwich draped in flavorful remoulade sauce delivers a fresh burst of savory richness with each bite for a satisfying meal in itself.  

Diners can also indulge in more hearty and tasty bites at Aquavit Pub & Grill with their selection of rustic and traditional paté offerings. The Danish Country Pork Paté (P 380) brings bold savory notes with chunks of pork for a grainy finish complemented by the rich and deep nutty flavors of the rye bread... 

...while the silky smooth Chicken Liver Parfait Paté (P 480) drapes the palate with its equally indulgent and buttery richness. Each starter is masterfully executed in the classic elegant European styles of Chefs Robert and Tom. At Aquavit Pub & Grill, diners can experience probably the smoothest, creamiest paté offerings in the metro. 

For the main courses, Chef Robert served up a savory trifecta of meat dishes making Aquavit Pub & Grill one of the top spots to satisfy all your carnivorous cravings in Poblacion... the Mixed Grilled Meat (P 2,100) with Tenderloin Steak, Lamb Chops and Lamb Sausages topped with hand-cut fries and a variety of sauces. It's an impressive sampler for a true carnivore all in one plate.

The US Tenderloin draped in a pepper gravy delivers that beefy punch you love while the Lamb Chops brings its own flavors into play with its savory richness. The Lamb Sausages seals the deal to complete the feast. 

More steak? The aptly named Elephant Ear Steak (P 2,200) features a large slab of tender US Angus Minute Steak slathered in Béarnaise Sauce and Garlic Butter served with hand-cut fries and a side of salad for another satisfying dish at Aquavit Pub & Grill. The rich beefy flavors of the tender steak are enhanced by the equally lavish notes of the Béarnaise Sauce and Garlic Butter for pure and unrestrained beefy goodness. The fries and salad complete the dish. 

Then, Chef Robert gets creative with the next steak dish. The Bistro Steak with Gazpacho Salsa (P 1,900) is a 200g US Tenderloin steak stuffed with creamy blue cheese for another elegant and innovative spin on a classic steak dinner. Each slice reveals a juicy pink center with its blue cheese stuffing adding contrasting flavors and textures with each big bite. And it's a flavorful combo that works, with another big bite soon on its way. 

The fresh and mildly tart Gazpacho Sauce cuts through the beefy richness of the US Tenderloin for that balanced finish. Each of the main courses makes the cut for my personal picks at Aquavit Pub & Grill, and clearly there's a new spot in Poblacion when it comes to savory meat and steak dishes.  

Other meat dishes on the menu at Aquavit Pub & Grill include the traditional Steak Frites (P 1,900), Giant Ribeye Steak (P 4,900) that's perfect for sharing and the Roasted Rack of Lamb (P 1,800). Seafood? The Dining Room at Aquavit Pub & Grill has the Seafood Bouillabaise, Prawns Tiffin Curry and Red Snapper & Clams Casserole for your fresh catch of the day cravings. 

For dessert, the Dining Room at Aquavit Pub & Grill offers the perfect sweet ending with indulgent Crepe Mango Jubilee (P 480), Crepe Suzette L'Orange (P 480), Crepe Zitron (P 380), Toblerone Cake (P 480) and Salted Caramel Cake (P 480).

Another round of wine...

...and a shot of Aquavit completes my day at Aquavit Pub & Grill making an already perfect day even better. 

But there's always room for one last cocktail for the road at Aquavit Pub & Grill. The Amaretto Sour (P 300) with its refreshingly crisp, sweet and tart notes is just what you need to end your feast on a high note. 

Masterfully handcrafted by Aquavit Pub & Grill's mixologists, the classic Amaretto Sour is just one of many soothing libations offered at the bar. Aquavit Pub & Grill boasts of an impressive selection of cocktails from the timeless Old Fashioned (P 300) and Negroni (P 320) to Aperol Spritz (P 320), Classic Margarita (P 280) and Daiquiri (P 280) and even specialty concoctions like the Original Pubster (P 320) with vodka as the base mixed with herbs and fresh juices, Project 14-56 (P 320) made with rum and pineapple, Blended Fairy (P 350) with whisky and absinthe, the Last Gimlet (P 350) and Karsk (P 340) with Aquavit and coffee liqueur.    

One more sip and memories of the old Danish Connection crop up in a sudden stream taking you back in time. In a sense, your own memories and experiences have also come full circle in a serendipitous manner. And yes, you'll find the popular Cheese Fondue in the menu of Aquavit Pub & Grill made famous by Chef Robert years back at Danish Connection. There's something comfortingly familiar yet refreshingly different the minute you enter Aquavit Pub & Grill injecting new life to Poblacion. Just like a shot of the fabled "water of life" the new concept is named after. 

Whether you dine at the Gastropub, Dining Room or al fresco area, Aquavit Pub & Grill sets the stage for a memorable dining experience. Inside Aquavit Pub & Grill, you'll find some of the quirky touches adding an element of fun to your experience. 

If you're planning a special weekend lunch with family or friends, Aquavit Pub & Grill offers a lavish and sumptuous Sunday Roast Lunch with Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Soup of the Day, Aquavit Caesar Salad, Two Beers or One Glass of Premium Wine for P 1,500+ per personAquavit Pub & Grill also offers Special Lunch Sets with your choice of Soup, Salad and Main Course starting at the regular rate of P 740+ per person or if you come at the right time, the promotional rate of P 590+ per person (visit their FB Page at for more information and details). 

Chef Robert Lilja is finally home, back where he started decades back. And together with Chef Tom Hines, the culinary duo is all set to embark on a new chapter in their epic culinary journeys at Aquavit Pub & Grill in Poblacion. 

Scandinavia in Poblacion? You bet. For Chefs Robert Lilja and Tom Hines, Aquavit Pub & Grill is more than just a culinary collaboration. It's a continuing story in their respective journeys, adding a new chapter in the storied pages of Makati's Poblacion. And it's now open to create new and colorful chapters in your own stories.  

Aquavit Pub & Grill is located at 8471 Kalayaan Avenue, Poblacion, Makati. You can call 0917 877 7892 for inquiries or visit their IG Feed and FB Page at for more updates.

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