“I don’t want to sound cheesy, but he’s like an angel to me,” says celebrity chef Bruce Lim of businessman Tonyboy Cojuangco, who just opened a chic restaurant two weeks ago in Makati—with Lim at the helm of the kitchen. Cojuangco even named the restaurant after the chef: Bruce Lim’s Rustique Kitchen.
Lim, who says he’s been shying away from the spotlight after closing three restaurants he conceptualized (Chef’s Table in Bonifacio Global City, Hyphy’s at Robinsons Galleria and Chef’s Lab at Burgos Circle also in BGC), didn’t expect to be given another break.
He met Cojuangco early this year through Angel Aquino, a colleague of Cojuangco’s long-time partner Gretchen Barretto. At that time, Lim had gotten into food manufacturing, supplying food items to convenience stores and coffee shops after vowing to stay away from restaurants.
But one phone call from Cojuangco instantly changed his mind: “He simply said, ‘This is Tony. Let’s talk.’”
Lim felt intimidated and wondered why the businessman wanted to meet him. He had heard of him but had never met the guy. But he says he found Cojuangco to be very down to earth and “the most approachable person I’ve seen in my life.”
They talked about revamping Lim’s old French restaurant (La Regalade) and transforming its menu into more casual comfort food with a Filipino twist, Lim recalls.
The first meeting happened four months ago. Lim signed up soon after.
“It was pretty fast, but Tonyboy gives me a free hand to do whatever I need to do for Rustique,” he says.
Lim has learned substantial lessons from his earlier restaurant stints. This time he promises Rustique will be more fun and imaginative, and will not duplicate his past ventures.
“Chef’s Table had wrong timing,” he rues. “Then I opened two more restaurants that I didn’t realize I couldn’t focus on. I spread myself way too thin. From that experience, I learned to have patience, to take things very slow. It was heartbreaking. Again, it’s a school of hard knocks. Experience is a good teacher—with very expensive tuition.”
Rustique features traditional Filipino and international specialties. The menu includes such Pinoy comfort food as Sizzling Oxtail Kare-kare, Tortang Talong, Humba-style Pork Belly, and desserts like signature Buko Pie and Quezong Puti Cheesecake.
The international favorites include Tuna and Salmon Tartare, French Onion Soup and Crab Bisque with Soft Shell Crab, plus classic dishes given a nice local flavor like Ilocos Corn Chowder, Sauteed French Beans with danggit and Duck Confit with kalabasa cream sauce.
“There’s no way I can compete against everyone else’s home cooking,” says the American-born Lim. “That’s why I want it more continental, from Asian flavors to American taste. Also, those who have known and followed me know I do things kind of crazy. I don’t really follow rules, but I really go for continental food. It’s the easiest way to understand my food. I want a fine dining feel in a very casual setting.”
During the launch, guests were treated to a generous sampling of Lim’s signature dishes, including Tuna and Salmon Tartare (sashimi-grade tuna sliced in and topped with diced fresh salmon salad), Good Ole Burger (grilled beef patty topped with Swiss cheese in homemade buns and french fries) and Tortang Talong (grilled eggplant topped with sautéed pork and eggs fused with salted eggs).
Then came Crab Bisque, a brandy-enriched soup served with a slice of brioche. The main entrées were Oxtail Kare-Kare, oxtail stew simmered in peanut sauce served with steamed rice and tripe salad on the side; and Fish Market, a playful combination of dried fish and fresh lapu-lapu baked in lemongrasss marinara.
The signature Buko Pie, warm and served in a goblet, capped the feast.
Fun with food
Lim says that, soon, Rustique will also showcase a Slab Menu, in which everything is one kilo of meat, from salmon and tomahawk steak to beef ribs and pork confit. There will also be a lot of pairing of cocktails and mocktails with selected food.
“We will also have tokneneng (orange fried egg) on the menu,” Lim says. “You will see things you haven’t seen in restaurants before, only on the streets. It’s easy to do prime food like foie gras, US prime rib or wagyu. But to make food affordable is very difficult. I really want to have fun with food and make diners enjoy them as well.”
Lim says he will always be grateful to Cojuangco: “Tonyboy’s encouragement brought me back out again, and I have begun to play with food again. In a way, he was a godsend to me.”
Bruce Lim’s Rustique Kitchen is at G/F Leelin Building 2, Pasay Road, Makati City. Open weekdays lunch and dinner; Saturdays dinner only; and closed on Sundays.