Since they opened The Girl + The Bull in BF Parañaque in 2013, restaurateurs Thea de Rivera and Gab Bustos have proven to the local food scene that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Serving up comfort food favorites like their buttermilk fried chicken and their signature Faux Twix, The Girl + The Bull gained interest for its food and its young, passionate owners. Their sophomore attempt, Makati izakaya 12/10, was met with equally positive reviews — lauded for its unusual take on Japanese cuisine and how it displayed Gab and Thea’s range. They didn’t just do good comfort food; they did good food, period.
So when The Girl + The Bull moved to their new home in Makati, its original trappings moved with it. It certainly had its fair share of fans, but Gab and Thea were beginning to feel the need for a reinvention. They didn’t know what they wanted exactly, but they knew what they didn’t want. They knew they needed a change.
“When we opened The Girl + The Bull here, there was pressure to maintain what it was,” Thea says. “But when we were starting here parang, ‘Hmm, it just doesn’t feel like us anymore.’ People were reacting, ‘Why aren’t you marketing as much?’ Well, it was hard for us to push something that wasn’t us.”
The love for comforting, hearty meals remained, but because of the time they had spent building 12/10, they were beginning to develop a stronger affinity for Japanese cuisine. “For me, I had to look din (and ask), ‘Who am I?’ While the goal was to differentiate 12/10 from The Girl + The Bull, it was essential to see how they’re connected to each other,” says Gab. “It’s made by the same set of hands.”
panese food, but Gab also wanted to create a connection to Korean cuisine, something that was close to his heart. “It’s really Japanese cooking that I wanted to master, pero siguro for me, Korean is something I’ve always wanted to play with. I grew up with Korean food. My best friend, who passed away, is Korean. So I grew up with his mom’s cooking. Ever since we started doing food, I was really thinking, ‘Hey, I wanna do something Korean for sure. For him. Tony was his name. For Tony, I wanted to do something Korean talaga.”
After weeks of reinvention (they couldn’t let their staff be out of work too long), the end result of their efforts is a menu with strong Japanese influence, served Korean banchan style. Meant to be ordered in one set, The Girl + The Bull’s barchan set includes bowls of kimchi, baby corn, blanched spinach, and shiitake mushrooms, among others. With it are two mains: mackerel with kombu buttermilk and herbs, as well as fried chicken with ginger, honey, burnt onions. And of course, no hearty meal is complete without two bowls of rice, one of which heavily features kimchi.
Thea explains that the beauty of banchan isn’t that they’re not just appetizers — they’re accompaniment to the entire meal. “Each banchan is a different flavor profile,” she says. “If you want something spicy, you go for the red kimchi. If you want to add texture to your main, you have anchovies. If you want a bit of sweetness, we have the ube chips.”
Along with their food, Gab and Thea wanted a change in ambience too. They recommissioned Serious Studio to come up with a new logo, which graces their front door, and got mural artist Jappy Agoncillo to paint a huge mural on their wall. They also teamed up with Habitual Brew Bar, who serves specialty drinks on the second floor.
Reinventions are a brave thing; they can make or break a brand. The Girl + The Bull may not have needed to change, but change it did, and it seems that it has been for the better. With bold new dishes, a fresh take on food service, and a bold new look, restaurateurs Gab Bustos and Thea de Rivera once again prove that when they do food, they do it really well.
The Girl + The Bull is located at Grand Midori, Bolanos Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City. Follow them on Instagram @thegirlandthebull.