FILIPINO HOSPITALITY and entertainment isn’t all about bahay kubos and barrio fiestas, as this reporter saw with amazement at a launch earlier this week of Casa Ibarra at the Mall of Asia complex, the fifth property of the Ibarra’s Party Venues group.

For one thing, a stunning artwork by Filipino-French artist Olivia d’Aboville rendered in dyed Philippine silk from Palawan greets a visitor as one enters, and capiz-lined walls and doors continue to please the eyes.

Guests at the preview were taken on a tour around the property, which has three function rooms. Two are located downstairs, the Alegria and Hermosa rooms, which when combined can seat up to 280 people. Staircases for grand entrances are located in all of the function rooms. The Sala de Amor, for example, seats 350 guests, and its grand staircase, lined with onyx, lights up with every step.

Guests were also given a visual treat with the party setups: for example, the combined function rooms downstairs boasted a “Cinderella” theme, with cherry blossoms all around, even showered on the tops of dainty parasols hung from the ceiling. The Sala de Amor, meanwhile, boasted a grand wedding setup with golden candelabras and grand floral arches which complimented the six chandeliers boasting of 20,000 capiz shells each. Other arrangements were also placed on the tables, for guests to be able to decide on a theme: pearls and feathers for “Gatsby,” a crystal candelabra for “Winter,” red foliage for “Autumn,” and feathers and Oscar statuettes for “Oscar Night.” Prices range for the party packages range from P133,000 to P560,000 net.

And of course, the food — why bother with a party if your guests aren’t to be fed? Casa Ibarra’s corporate chef went all out, presenting roast pork and roast beef shank, an arroz à la Valenciana, and several canapes inspired by Filipino dishes: think quesong puti (white cheese) in pastry cups topped with quail eggs, or else pork sisig (chopped sizzling pork face) in cheese cups. Dessert was something more special: a white chocolate mousse was served in a blown sugar shell shaped and colored like a tantalizing green apple.

Ibarra’s Party Venues & Catering Executive Vice-President Jeanete Lim Macasieb knew what she was getting into when she set up the first branch in Ermita: her family is also behind the City Garden Hotel Group in the Philippines. “This is more intimate for me, rather than the hotel,” she said.

Today Ibarra’s has five properties — on Quezon Ave. and Timog Ave. in Quezon City; in Ermita, Manila; in Pasay City; and in Tagaytay, Cavite — with a sixth coming soon in Nuvali, Laguna.

Ibarra’s boasts that they were the first one-stop shop for bridal venues: from the food to the videographer (excluding the wedding dresses of course). “We were the first to launch that,” Ms. Macasieb said. “I’m claiming it.”

Her initial target market when building the first Ibarra party venue was for the working bride-to-be who has planned her wedding her whole life. “We have no time to take care of all the cheche-bureche (the fuss).” Of course now, they’ve expanded their customers to include eager debutantes and lucky children blessed with 350 guests at their birthday parties.

Asked about the name, she immediately connected it to Crisostomo Ibarra of Noli me Tangere fame. The young Ibarra was a Filipino expatriate in Europe who, having come back to the Philippines was feted almost everywhere he went. “Si Ibarra kasi, parang sosyalin (Ibarra was chic),”she said. “Ayoko namang si Sisa (I didn’t want it to be named after Sisa [the madwoman in the novel]).”

Capiz shells, Philippine silk, and a Filipino name: while other event venues like to lean towards Western themes, it’s refreshing to see one that is proud of its identity. When asked about the impetus to push for Pinoy, Ms. Macasieb simply said: “Filipino tayo eh (We are Filipino).”

Casa Ibarra is located in Lot 17, Coral Way CBP1, MOA Complex, Pasay City. — Joseph L. Garcia