As a certified “Tito” of Manila, I have trouble communicating with millennials, and they with me. I was understandably excited at rumors that The Girl and the Bull had opened in Makati, but then people told me, no, it was closed.
The one in BF? No, the one in Makati. Its Facebook page was unhelpful, filled with artsy pictures of movie stills and the like, digitally filtered to resemble old, moody photographs, but not much mention of whether they were open or closed. So, finally, I called up the restaurant to make a reservation.
“Oh, we’re closed right now for renovation,” said the person who answered, giggling hysterically for some reason.
“When will you be open again?”
“I don’t know!” she said, ending in peals of laughter.
Professional and mature
In the second week of May, I began to see photos on social media of people slurping up delicious bites of banchan, and I was able to successfully make a reservation over the cell phone number provided. (It doesn’t give out a landline number.)
The next step was to find the place. It has a nice, well-executed website, again with lovely images that could have been in Kinfolk magazine, and some interesting text about the origin of its name, but no contact number or address. The site leads you to its Facebook page, which does have its contact number, but still no address. (The FB page directs you to its website.) Thank goodness for Zomato.
But from the moment we walked into the door, the service was professional and mature. We chose a table across from the large pink mural that stretched upwards to the second floor of the high-ceilinged space, and were informed that it has changed its menu recently, going into a more Korean direction.
Korean food is having its moment in the United States right now, with second-generation Korean chefs among the most creative, pushing boundaries to forge a New Korean cuisine.
Back in the homeland, South Korea has three entries in the Asia’s 50 Best restaurant list this year—including the groundbreaking Jungsik, which has opened a branch in New York to wide acclaim.
I would even go so far as to say that the food at The Girl and the Bull takes its inspiration from New Hansik more than traditional Korean restaurants, of which there are a lot in Manila, and even more in Baguio and Subic—although this probably means that sourcing Korean ingredients in the Philippines is much easier.
Exploration and caprice
But the food at The Girl and the Bull is emphatically not Korean food, nor is it even New Korean food. It’s chef Gab Bustos’ own take on Korean food, in the way that Nicco Santos’ whimsical creations at Hey Handsome have no ambition to represent authentic Asian dishes from any particular country.
I’m not trying to make too much of the restaurateurs’ youth, but more of the penchant for exploration and caprice in someone young than in someone older and set in their ways. I used to say that one of the straitjackets of the restaurant business is that you have to pick a lane, and cook the same kind of food day in and day out, and not depend on what color of underwear you happen to have put on that morning.
The Girl and the Bull is testament to how much the industry has changed: It has reinvented itself countless times, and every iteration brings new customers in to sample the young chef’s new creations.
Most of the menu consists of banchan, the small plates that have been described as the Korean equivalent of tapas, and then five main dishes. Banchan aren’t tapas, nor are they like the peanuts or pickles that arrive at a Chinese restaurant for you to munch on while the rest of the guests arrive.
They range from the perfunctory to the elaborate, and continue to sit at the table while the mains are served. The flavors of the meal are created by mixing and matching the banchan with the main courses and with the rice and soup.
To help out unsophisticated heathen like us, there is an option for a tasting menu for two with a whole variety of banchan plates, and then three main courses. Unlike our experience at 12/10, its previous restaurant where we ate through the entire menu and had to go home and have a second dinner, this option gets you very, very full.
Portions are generous, the flavors inventive and interesting, and everything is cooked with honesty and a certain purity of principle. Particular standouts were two pieces of grilled teenage corn (bigger than baby corn but smaller than adult), egg yolks nestled in upturned shiitake mushrooms, salmon eggs on a bed of creamy scrambled eggs, among others.
The mains were steak, Korean fried chicken, and something else I don’t remember. See, here’s the problem. I thought I took a picture of the menu, but it turns out it was the drinks list.
So, I got in touch with the e-mail address given to me over the phone. A few days went by, and there was no reply. I tried sending a message through its Facebook page. It’s true, millennials are hard to communicate with.
But when it comes down to the things that matter, they do pull through. —CONTRIBUTED
The Girl and the Bull, Grand Midori Building, Bolanos St. Legazpi Village, Makati City. Call 09260380965.