My distressed black shirt and sensible shoes, which seemed perfectly reasonable when I got dressed this morning, would have made better sense last year, if we were still on Aguirre, but The Girl + The Bull has been in their new and improved Legazpi Village location for a month now, and while casual fell seamlessly into their previous artsy-folksy milieu, I now feel a bit underdressed amid their creamy walls and high ceiling.
Their coffee is supplied by Habitual Coffee.
It’s been a year since Thea de Rivera and Gab Bustos, the eponymous girl and bull, shut the doors on their original restaurant and two since they wowed with their forward yet personal approach to cooking. Dishes have come and gone and only three from the old menu managed to stay put: cult items, like the fried chicken, chocolate Faux Twix, and mushroom toast (introduced during The Girl + The Bull’s temporary tenure at its sister restaurant, 12/10)—the obsolescence of either would have incited a protest from loyal fans.
Mushrooms on toast, ponzu, sour cream, dill
Fried chicken, brioche french toast, balsamic maple
As The Girl + The Bull’s team busy themselves with the impending dinner service, I poke around the new two-storey space, taking in the carefully carved designs on the ceiling, the marbled marigold tables, the charcoal-gray countertop. Just like the original restaurant, paintings line the walls, a mix of animal portraits, surreal illustrations, and—my personal favorite—a blown-up photo of a melting butter slice by Everywhere We Shoot. Thea, Gab, and Gab’s mom collaborated on the restaurant’s aesthetic, and you can easily trace influences from the Aguirre location. “At first, we even added that rope, the one that hung from our old long table, but we took it out because it didn’t really work with this setting,” he says.
Listening to Gab talk is interesting. Just a year ago, he kept to himself in the kitchen and let his partner do the entertaining; now he’s generously narrating their experiences, while Thea sits quietly at one of the tables. In many ways, this is the same place that we fell in love with two years ago, its rough edges smoothened as the pair progressed as restaurateurs. In 2014, The Girl + The Bull was an outlet for a 21-year-old’s excess creative energy, but now it is an actual restaurant, chef-driven but still customer-oriented. Think of it as a person who's outgrown his loose T-shirt to get into something crisper and collared. He says, “In terms of service, the glasses, the flatware, we’ve really improved, I think.”
River prawn roll, herbs, pink peppercorns
Sourdough to start
He points at his famous fried chicken, whose presentation has been rearranged to include a basket and a separate plate for the stunning brioche French toast (now a thicker singular slice instead of the previous duo). “Before it was just, wala lang, everything was tossed in there.” Back then, every dish that came out of the kitchen looked like it should be in a gallery, but now form comes with function and every detail—from the large grains of salt, dots of pink peppercorn, shreds of dill—serves a purpose in the overall flavor. It is impossible to talk about The Girl + The Bull without mentioning Thea’s hair, often considered a symbol of the restaurant’s dynamic style. In the last years, she changed it from electric blue to sea green, but now it is an understated jet black. They may have become less showy, but their style has proven to be much more meaningful.
For example, they’ve also cultivated an advocacy for local produce. Their rice is from GK, which brings Gab a sense of pride. This openhanded approach, however, is only one of the steps they’ve taken with this more profound understanding and appreciation for good food. At the last Madrid Fusion, Gab befriended bread pro Richie Manapat who’s set up his own tiny baking paradise in a hidden room upstairs. Richie’s skills helped push the restaurant’s many bread-dependent dishes to a higher level of composition. His revision of the brioche French toast alone should be motivation enough for them to start cooking brunch.
Richie Manapat and his masterpiece
The compost loaf with homemade butter
Strawberry glazed donut, basil, sichuan pepper
Richie designed breads tailor-fit for Gab’s flavors: a chewy cuttlefish-ink baguette to hold the plump cuts of herb- and peppercorn-crusted shrimp (a new creation that takes off from the now-defunct scallop and squid-ink bun); a crusty slice of sourdough that sets the stage for a bright assembly of assorted mushrooms, dill, and ponzu; a nutty compost loaf made from the trimmings of other loaves of bread. He shows us a pink donut, which he made with the stiffer starter dough that works best with sweeter profiles. At face value, it looks like the kind of snack that would tide Homer Simpson over, but it’s not as sweet as anything we imagine he would enjoy. The bright pink hue comes naturally from strawberries and, instead of sprinkles, it’s embellished with Sichuan peppers.
Gab knew right away that they were moving to this budding neighborhood even before they shut the doors on Aguirre, but it took them a year to create this more polished look. “I wanted to maintain that level of familiar food, but we also had to push it forward.” When they first opened, Gab, Thea, and their team all bore the verve of youth and now, barely in their mid-20s, and they already carry the discipline of seasoned entrepreneurs. We can only do two things: relish the ever-improving buttermilk fried chicken and be excited for what’s next.
The Girl + The Bull is at Grand Midori, Bolanos Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City; tel. no. 0905-572-2556.