Thea de Rivera and Gab Bustos wanted to make a second branch of their popular comfort food spot, The Girl + The Bull. But when they found a location on Guijo Street, Makati, they realized the space deserved something more in tune with the street's busy lifestyle.
On a rainy Thursday night, just down the street from neighborhood music bar Saguijo, a friend and I paid a visit to 12/10, a non-traditional izakaya in a petite grayish building, the numerals printed in diminutive sans serif letters on the side.
The kind of place with poured concrete everything and murals on the walls, it could've been a gallery in a past life. Small and with well-spaced Shaker-style furniture, it flickered with the light of small candles on top of the tables - adding up to a homey feel that brought a sense of casualness to the otherwise fancy plates we were soon about to devour.
12/10 has mastered the art of plating. (Mackerel, Php210)
Of the four small plates we ordered (they recommend two per person), the mackerel was the first to make us stop and stare. Surrounded by thin strips of pink-bordered white radishes, the finely sliced pieces looked like friendly sharks, swimming and glistening in a Technicolor ocean of green coriander oil and red-orange sriracha bubbles keeping it afloat. It was almost magical.
Tip: Start light then transition into the heavier eats. (Wagyu, Php850)
Another favorite was the chicken glazed in Korean gochujang (spicy bean paste) sauce with a charred eggplant puree. The servers, young, clean-shaven and well-spoken, explained that we were to squeeze the lemon on top of the chicken, and then slide it on the puree before taking a bite. The chicken was the bright red color of gochujang sauce, the puree dark violet, and the plate yellow-green. I thought it was like eating a Warhol painting.
Thea de Rivera, 23, a charming, teal-haired girl who owns the restaurant with boyfriend Gab Bustos, 23, explained that both of them have artistic backgrounds. She had taken a Communication and Information Design track in Ateneo, while Gab, a boy next door type (if the boy next door got tattoos), started Information Design in Ateneo, then shifted to Fine Arts in U.P.
“Gab always tells people that, whatever he wanted to do with his paintings, he realized he could do with food,” she said.
A self-taught chef, Gab thinks of cooking like any other creative process.
“One of the things I’ve always taken with me was: Among the six “tastes” - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, peppery, umami - a dish should always have at least three,” he said. “It was something I could always relate to because I also used to practice music, which allowed me to relate the different flavors to different notes.”
It helped that he pored over cookbooks like Relae by Christian Puglisi and Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson, propped up on the shelves by the bar. These two tomes are famous not only for the recipes they demonstrate, but for the beautiful way in which the finished products are plated - a current trend that has picked up steam in recent years, with the rise of #foodporn.
A blog called “The Art of Plating” covers anything and everything about plating, from what science says the most preferred style is (centered), to which composition techniques need to be retired (i.e. inedible things like stones and logs). The trend has even crossed over to Instagram, with two of my favorite accounts, @mundane_matters and @harleysfood_art using food to create pieces of art. (A loaf of bread made to look like a toaster, anyone?)
Of course, all of this would have been for naught if the taste of the food was forgettable. And 12/10 didn't disappoint. The mackerel melted in our mouths, and the spicy bean paste, sesame seeds and the charred but dialled down eggplant, mixed with the crispy skin in the chicken dish created a balance. I sometimes dream about it at night.
7635 Guijo Street, Makati City
In the mood to dine amid artists? Check out these 2 other restaurants:
1. Van Gogh Is Bipolar
Created by famously bipolar artist, Jetro Rafael, after discovering that changing his diet (he calls it the “Cuckoo Diet”) can keep him in a better mood and get him on the road to recovery more steadily.
2. Bale Dutung
Claude Tayag, the chef behind this culinary destination in Pampanga, has dabbled in several artistic fields such as writing, sculpting and photography before he turned to cooking. Now, Bale Dutung is a staple in every gastronomic bucket list, not least for its sisig and kare-kare.
Photographs by Yayay de Castro