I’ve traveled to a lot of places and eaten at many establishments…but none have rivaled my visit to Van Gogh is Bipolar. Dining here is not so much about the food as it is the experience. And believe me when I say it is truly a one-of-a-kind spot that will set the benchmark for all other dining experiences you’ll ever have.
I first heard of the place after a friend posted a picture of herself within its chic and kitschy settings. It looked really cool, and the name piqued my interest.
Google told me the resto-cum-healing-space is run by Jetro Rafael, an artist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The restaurant is a culmination of his healing process; sort of an astute culinary therapy.
Tucked at a quiet end of the hipster-abode of Maginhawa Street, the place can be easy to miss, since it’s located within a courtyard accessible only through a (rather hidden) archway. Once through, there’s more hide and seek for the door, which sports a glass mirror on the front, just like a closet.
Stepping through and into the most outlandish (but in a positive way!) cafe I’ve ever seen in my life, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. The ceiling was covered in giant and colourful abstract paintings, while one side of the wall housed wooden counters filled with interesting clutter and paraphernalia. Christmas lights cast a magical yellow glow that was cosy and intimate.
The overall effect was haphazard and chaotic in a quaint, charming way.
The space isn’t very big, but it should seat at least 20.
At VGIB, emphasis is placed on self-healing rituals – letting go of the stresses of everyday life and just immersing yourself in the good. This is reflected in everything, from the food and drinks to the ‘rituals’ you can perform. Once you’re seated, staff will hand you a beautiful guidebook with hand-drawn doodles, detailing instructions (!) on how to fully enjoy your experience.
Various memorabilia you can fiddle and take pictures with.
The section where I sat at had a red theme, with mirrors framed in gold, a chandelier-styled lamp, tall swiveling chairs and tables with clear glass tops slitted in with notes, coins and maps. The walls, done in red, white and black, were completely covered in writings, doodles and scribbles by previous guests. Spent some time reading the life stories and moments left behind by strangers, and yet feeling a strange closeness to them.
I think the restaurant’s interior accurately describes the chaotic state of mind that many people with mental illness suffer from – but it also gives a message of hope and healing. There is beauty and magic underneath all that disorder and chaos.
Sometimes we show different faces to the world, and it gets tiring and stressful. VGIB is a place where you can actually enjoy putting on masks (and hats, for that matter!). Escape into a fantasy world of being a British gentleman with a top hat, go crazy with a rainbow-coloured afro wig, or be a ship/plane captain, even if it’s just for the night.
PS also great for Instagram photos lol.
Why have a standard teapot when you can have many? Pick your favourite from the teapot counter in the middle of the room – porcelain, china, clay, metal – in a variety of colours and designs.
Then choose from a range of organic teas, each with a different property. There’s soothing, calming, happy/chill and more. Plastered on the wall is a helpful explanation of the enhancing effects, done in a colourful chart.
There’s also a station with bottles of clear solution, used to help cleanse the palate and prepare you for the upcoming meal. You dip a dropper into the liquid and drip it into your mouth xD
At VGIB, there are no set ‘menus’. Instead, there are ‘experiences’ – usually consisting of an appetiser, soup, a main course and dessert. The ingredients are organic and picked for their healing/calming/stress-relieving or happiness-inducing properties. This is, according to their website, what helped the owner feel better where conventional medicines didn’t work after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Virginia Woolf – Vegetable soup with strips of cabbage and carrots. A little on the salty side but decent. The dishes are named after notable personalities with bipolar disorder.
Appetiser of Axel Rose Shot – egg yolk, maple syrup, chilli flakes, cane vinegar, Jagermeister and iodized seat salt. Sound like an odd concoction? No doubt, but it was also interesting and the first time I’ve ever tried something like that. The way to drink it is one shot, while toasting your table mate in a foreign language.
A staff member prepping the dish. She also gave our table the ‘toast’ word, which was in Zimbabwean.
While looking for the toilet, I stumbled on the ‘dark room‘, a space where guests are encouraged to let go of their negative energies by writing or scribbling them in glow-in-the-dark ink. The small area was papered over with posters, writings, and a skeleton model. Despite the dark subject matter, it feels somehow… cathartic. Sometimes we have to let go of our anger and sadness in order to feel better. That’s one of the reasons why I like writing.
Main: chicken penne pasta in a creamy brown sauce, served with dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple and bananas. Generous portion of pasta was cooked al-dente. The sweet and savoury combination worked surprisingly well.
Lamb with black rice, served with fresh greens, bananas, carrots and pineapple. Unlike regular white rice, which usually sticks together in a clump, the black rice’s individual grains were separated very clearly. The lamb, which was marinated well, tender and juicy had me gnawing it down to the bone.
For dessert, a minty shot of absinthe with chocolate as a chaser. It was my first time trying it, and I was surprised to find it felt like liquid fire going down my throat, before cheerfully settling in my belly and sending waves of warm pleasure to my fingertips. Maybe this alcohol thing isn’t so bad after all. :D The chocolate was dark, rich and studded with crunchy nuts.
All in all, we spent over three hours at VGIB – but I hardly noticed the time because the entire experience was all about healing the body, mind and soul. I’d come back again in a heartbeat if I’m ever in Manila.
VAN GOGH IS BIPOLAR
Hours: 11-3PM, 6pm-11PM (Weds-Sats), dinner only (Sun-Mon), closed on Tuesdays