Call it a food faux pas or whatnot but my first time at Half Saints finally happened. But only because living in the southern city of Bacoor makes it a tad difficult to trek all the way up north to Diliman in Quezon City.
Nevertheless, I arrived on a bipolar Tuesday afternoon alongside the Nolisoli team to ultimately pop my cherry. The collective highlight of which was brought about by chef and co-owner Christine Roque’s new brunch and cocktail menu—whether you want to savor them all together is entirely up to you—but clearly she also had other plans.
“We’ll serve all the brunch dishes and cocktails but we’d like you to try the classics, too,” Roque encourages. In my head, I was like “Do I really need to? At this rate, I’ll be sampling three different menus at the same time.”
Rifling through the Half Saints menu of starters and specials, Roque’s introduction to the restaurant was the perfect welcome for a newbie.
Totaling 12 dishes across two categories (bread and pastries and a specials), the brunch menu exhibits well-loved items done askew that utilize ingredients to their maximum potency.
The two classics I tried—the rich arroz con pollo and the powerhouse appetizer chicharron teriyaki—lent a deceptive complexity in flavors despite the familiarity in form. These, I think, display Roque and partner Jo Arciaga’s aptitude in the kitchen. They keep the foundation effortless amid the subtle shifts in taste, and they aren’t forced at all.
Dragged to brunch
It’s this same formula they wield in their balanced and delightful brunch menu. Totaling 12 dishes across two categories (bread and pastries and a specials), the brunch menu exhibits well-loved items done askew that utilize ingredients to their maximum potency.
Roque and Arciaga made sure these house-made items are well worth waking up for. The Earl Grey Cream Croissant for example is a grown-up take on the flaky viennoiserie pastry, infusing dried butterfly pea flower into the pastry before filling it with an Earl Grey tea cream. The result is an earthy and floral bite.
Creating an homage to one of the most ubiquitous Filipino ingredients right now, their ube overload babka is brave in its abundance of real ube intertwined in knots of sweet and savory bread and served with a white chocolate ube jam that captures and captivates despite the seemingly overwhelming flavors.
Meanwhile, the pain au chocolat possesses equal beauty in its production as a decadent chocolate choice to rattle you to your core, which, let’s face it, is a positive thing for those who like their brunches turbocharged.
That said, the main attraction is the specials. Unlike the breads and pastries’ safe leanings, its counterpoint crackles with complexity, calm, and chaos. As well as energy with every bite. The taste direction is clearly anchored on a depiction of a glittering brunch.
New York-style pastrami on sourdough? A house-cured salmon in salt and dill? A cinnamon apple bread pudding with vanilla semifreddo and sesame tuille? A pie of the week that’s featured in their Tokyo branch? This is a thoughtful brunch built on texture, density, and gusto.
“The most innovative here and not for the faint of heart is the eggs and mole,” Roque says. “Just poached eggs and cheese on a bed of mole and then you can have it with sourdough.”
The cocktails of the moment are in Half Saints
Moving on to the cocktails menu, Roque seems to have crafted a drinking experience inspired by celestial bliss with names like Twilight, Red Sky, and Moonset. “These are all chef-driven since we don’t have a bartender or a mixologist.”
It was a struggle for a cocktail novice, yes, but Roque didn’t cower in the face of something completely different from what she is used to. A thorough analysis of techniques, ingredients, and spirits—from the shaking to the stirring to the dilution to the ice—and a little injection of fun finally allowed her to embrace the art and deliver exciting concoctions.
“We’re inspired by the movement of the universe, the sun, the planets, and the weather.” Fallin’ for instance will have anyone falling for its mulled wine dramatics with a hot Cabernet Sauvignon base and notes of brandy, dried orange, honey, and star anise.
Strangely satisfying is Morning Dew, an olive oil-washed gin that makes for sumptuous sips. “I wanted a lot of texture and that was my approach to cocktails: depth and layers of flavor. I don’t want it to just be citrus-spiked or juice-spiked.”
Elsewhere, the whole spectrum of the weather systems and the universe makes its presence felt—the absence of wind in Calm (dark rum, brandy, ginger, lemon juice, sweet vermouth, Campari, bitters, rosemary), after the storm in Red Sky (using Santa Ana gin as the base), the humidity of Midsummer (salted caramel, vodka, hazelnut), and the darkness in The Longest Night, which is a savory-sweet creamy drink with some tequila rose and finished off with asin tibuok.
Seven years on since its inception, Half Saints’ evolution is as consistent as its slow burn process to get to where they are.
From the breezy and tea-like effervescence of Easterly to the “treacherous” (in a good way) Moonset where the Japanese botanicals gin arouses suspicion of its inescapably heady aftereffects, the rest of the drinks signals that Half Saints’ foray into cocktails appears to be a holistic experience meant to reward customers transitioning from one saintly (or sinner-like) dimension to the next. And that is good for any brand.
Seven years on since its inception, Half Saints’ evolution is as consistent as its slow burn process to get to where they are. A residency in Quezon City, an outpost in Tokyo, a new brunch and cocktail menu, and, as Roque hints, a looming view from somewhere near the center of the metro are all accumulations of the merits of taking your time with your journey.