The lush green surroundings make finding it like stumbling upon a cozy little bistro in the heart of Mary’s secret garden.

Located at The Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavilion in Rizal Park, Lush Life Garden Bistro is a haven for those with refined tastes. Opened in December 2000, the bistro is an eclectic mix of the various influences of the owners, Maricel Ibañez, Jess Valencia, Marty Mabanta, Lina Romasanta of Gourmet’s Café, and Apo Hiking Society’s Jim Paredes.

From an old function room, Lush Life’s interiors were turned into a blend of light and modern architecture and old-world charm to cater to different kinds of tastes. “Our place is small and limited, but multi-purpose,” says Jeremy Francisco, Lush Life’s manager. “We do baptism and wedding receptions, debut parties, seminars, and other functions here.”

Several paintings also grace the walls, but there is nothing flashy, to keep the place in a “solemn jazzy” mood.

The bistro offers Mediterranean cuisine with a generous Asian fusion. Their specialties include pesto, Margherita (traditionally tomatoes, basil, and olive oil on pizza, but served with pasta at Lush Life), bacon cheeseburger, and garlic roast chicken. “Our dishes are very simple, sa sauce lang siguro nagkakatalo,” Francisco says.

One interesting dish would be the longganisa and kesong puti pizza. Served with a thin crust, the pie looks ordinary enough, until one tastes the unmistakable flavor of longganisa. The cheese could easily be mistaken for mozzarella, but is actually the local kesong puti. “It’s what really reeled the customers in, even when we started,” Francisco beams.

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Francisco also recommended the grilled pork chop with plum sauce. “It’s really thick, 200 grams heavy, and juicy, unlike other pork chops, dried and gamey,” he said. Occasionally, they add a thing or two to the menu, but there have been no drastic changes since Lush Life started.

“Whatever we add to the menu, the diners keep coming back for the same thing,” Francisco said. “Hindi nagbabago ang taste nila.”

Foreigners also frequent the place for a quick meal. “They really seem to like our chicken asparagus and clubhouse sandwiches,” Francisco says with a chuckle. “And our fresh fruit juices, they seem to love it.”

However, the bistro is for more mature customers. On Friday and Saturday nights, a live band plays pure mainstream jazz. “You can sing along with the band if you want. The other customers don’t seem to mind whether your voice is good or not,” Francisco says.

Taste-wise, the bistro cannot always please the Filipino palate. Because of the Mediterranean influence, the dishes are seasoned less, unlike most Filipino viands. The dishes are often bland, catering to a more Western taste.

With its target diners in mind, the restaurant’s prices seem a bit steep for students. “But we often have student diners who are out on dates,” Francisco says with a grin.

Lush Life is not the place to go for ordinary lunches or dinners, but is ideal for special occasions. “We have first-class food for less,” Francisco says. F.C. Garcia

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