Van Gogh is Bipolar, Maginhawa, Manila

I’m lucky.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Various memorabilia you can fiddle and take pictures with.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A staff member prepping the dish. She also gave our table the ‘toast’ word, which was in Zimbabwean.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 😀 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

154 Maginhawa, Diliman, Lungsod Quezon, Kalakhang Maynila, Philippines

Hours: 11-3PM, 6pm-11PM (Weds-Sats), dinner only (Sun-Mon), closed on Tuesdays

vangoghisbipolar.com

 

 

Red Beanbag, Publika KL

Publika is probably the most hipster shopping mall I know of – revolving around the concept of an open art gallery and housing lots of vintagey shops and chic cafes. Every month they feature works from artists both local and abroad, so it’s not surprising to see art pieces, paintings or stuff decorating the mall. It’s also a great place to go hunting for one-of-a-kind pieces, whether it’s fashion or home deco. I’d come here often if it wasn’t so bloody far away from my house.

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Coincidentally, I was there for an assignment last week – so for lunch, I headed on to one of the aforementioned cafes – Red Beanbag. I’ve been hearing rave reviews about the place but never really got to try it. It’s not inside the main shopping mall, but just opposite the entrance – you have to do a bit of legwork to find the place among the many interconnecting blocks in the area.

The place was packed with the lunch crowd. Managed to find a seat outside. The design is cozy, with wood accents and lots of red and black – lending it a classy yet cosy feel.

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For drinks, I had a strawberry smoothie, which was very sweet and syrupy. Not bad, but might be off putting for people who can’t stand sticky sweet stuff. It had a fizzy aftertaste to balance out the sweetness.

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Although it was lunch time, I was craving for breakfast, so I ordered the RBB Big Breakfast Fry-Up – one of their signature dishes. The meal comes with two eggs (poached, overeasy, sunny side up or scrambled), beef/chicken sausage, beef/turkey bacon, stir fried assorted mushrooms, beans and two slices of bread with butter.

THIS. WAS. REALLY. GOOD. It remindED me of the all-day breakfasts that I used to have in English restaurant-pubs as a student in the UK – hearty, delicious and oh-so-satisfying. The eggs were perfectly cooked on the outside and oozed beautiful golden goodness when cut open, while the hashbrowns were so addictive; crispy on the outside and well done on the inside, not overcooked or drenched in oil. The beef bacon was streaky with just the right amount of lean and fat. The bread slices were thick and chewy because they used some type of yoghurt in it, but I liked the texture. The mushrooms were presumably tossed in olive oil with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but juicy and good all the same. The beans were beans, and the sausages were okay – but overall, it was a very good plate of breakfast. *pats stomach*

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Nope. Not insanely guilty for a cheat day well spent. But I guess I won’t be able to eat anything nice this whole week.

Other than that, they also serve various Western cuisine. Reviews have also said that the coffee here is excellent – so maybe I’ll give it a try next time.

The Red Beanbag,

Lot A4-1-8, Solaris Dutamas, Publika, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur

Open daily from 10AM – 6PM

+6 03 6211 5116

Travelogue Penang: More Sightseeing in Georgetown – Murals

Graffiti or ‘street art’ used to be looked down upon as mere vandalism in Malaysia, but in recent years, thanks to talented street artists and good promotion, street art has become a strong tourist attraction. Penang, in particular, has embraced this and made it a big selling point. Tourist maps pinpoint the locations of all the murals you can find around Georgetown.

Although it’s a little sad that it took a foreign- born talent to popularise it (even though Malaysia has so many talented artists), we have to thank Lithuanian-born street artist, Ernest Zacharevic, for kicking off the trend at Georgetown Festival 2012, an art fest to celebrate heritage, culture and all-things indie.

His works, which include the very popular ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ have become a must-snap photo when wandering the streets of the city.

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Ah Quee? on Ah Quee Street depicts the famous and wealthy Chinese merchant Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, who also built iconic historical buildings such as the Peranakan Mansion.There is also a random minion.

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Some of the artworks were not drawn but welded from iron rods, giving them a 3D appearance. Most tell stories of the rich heritage and culture of Penang island.

“Procession”  shows the Grand Float Procession held in 1926 to celebrate the birthday of Tua Pek Kong (A Taoist deity, widely worshiped by Chinese communities in Penang). As it was the Year of the Tiger, effigies of the tiger was carried through the streets.

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The Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple, or Poh Hock Seah, is a clan temple of the Hokkien people who trace their origins to Southern Fujian Province in China and was constructed in 1850. Since Penang’s population is largely Hokkien (which is also a commonly spoken dialect here), this temple would be significant during festivals and holy days.

Coincidentally, there was an exhibition by Obscura Festival, ‘Trading to Extinction” by Patrick Brown, which captured some disturbing and powerful imagery of illegal animal trading and poaching, in the temple’s courtyard.

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A quick break from mural hunting. We stopped by at a corner shop near Armenian Street. Wanted to have cendol, but it was already 4pm and they ran out D: We had ais kacang instead, which was perfect for a hot day. To those who haven’t had it before, it’s basically shaved ice topped condiments such as grass jelly, sago balls, sweet kidney beans, chopped peanuts and drizzled over with syrup, condensed milk and gula melaka (palm sugar). Sounds refreshing? You bet it is.

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Some pretty good fried snacks of crispy popiah, stuffed with grated radish and carrots.

More of Georgetown to come!