Women Shaking Up The F&B Scene In Singapore: Bannie Kang of Anti:dote
It’s widely reported that there is a shortage of female bartenders, but that doesn’t mean that there is a good representation of the ‘fairer’ sex who are on top of their game. Sure, women all around the world face unfair challenges and stereotypes in every industry, but none of them are as apparent as the Food & Beverage industry where brute physical strength is a quality that’s a precursor to any successful hire. We rub shoulders with Bannie Kang who has worked the ranks as a waitress at City Space before rising up to become Anti:dote’s current Head Craftsman. The creative force behind the soon-to-be-released new tipples menu, we roll with the punches (literally), imbibing tasty cocktails draped in Korean influences.
And since today is March 8, International Women’s Day, there’s no better time to celebrate women who have challenged social stigmas and trampled on inequalities at work.
Since my first visit to Anti:dote, I’ve been taken by Bannie’s impish smile and serious work ethic. However, then head bartender’s Tom Hogan’s illustrious and audacious mannerisms often stole the limelight. Fast forward 5 years, and Anti:dote has shape-shifted from its previous incarnation, only to emerge with a more sophisticated outfit that has warmer lighting and polished black concrete floors to boot. The introverted lady also finally lets her hair down, making a statement and dispelling myths that she can only shake up cocktails of a certain floral, fruity nature, via her new menu. A preconceived notion that probably stemmed from her very famous Hwachae tipple, an alcoholic Korean flower punch, that led her to represent Singapore at the global finals of Bacardi Legacy Cocktail competition in 2016. “A lot of people think I can only do ‘girly’ drinks, but I want to show them that I can mix stiff drinks too. In fact, it’s my preference,” says Bannie, as she clenches her fist to affirm her statement.
Three drinks in and I concur. The Taproot Sangaree reads like my favourite bedtime story—mezcal, Italian bitter liquor cynar combined with fruity notes of festive mulled beetroot wine—awashed with earthy and smoky notes amidst vibrantly tangy inceptions of sour berries. This one has a slight medicinal tang to it, cough medicine comes to mind, but the ruby red liquids are made easy to go down with whiffs of torched cinnamon sticks that induce a sort of hallucinatory effect. A bejewelled frozen jelly of wolfberry and red date jelly are used to chill a very grown-up measure of VSOP cognac in the Su Jung Gwa. It is loosely based on a traditional Korean tea brewed from cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar and dried persimmon, reserved for special occasions such as the New Year and Mid-autumn festival. The only exception is that at Anti:dote, they provide just enough health benefits for you to consider outweighing the detriments of overconsumption. It’s persuasive, and a little coy smile from Bannie is all that is needed to tip the scale.
Those who aren’t so acquainted with the harder spirits can resort to nibbling on sweet baby carrots yanked out of an immaculately crafted porcelain vessel that resembles a mini gunny sack pulled over a glass bottle. In line with the whole Alice in Wonderland theme of Hendricks Gin’s marketing, The Rabbit Hole is paired with an equally whimsical Chicken liver parfait conceived by Chef Tryson Quek. Dished out in mischievous-looking ‘fat-birds’ that when decapitated reveal luxurious layers of triple sieved liver parfait under wine jelly and crispy arugula nest. If this pairing doesn’t make you grin, you’re probably dead inside. There’s also the Atlantis Lea (vegans rejoice!) which blends tequila with cucumber and lime juice; lastly using aquafaba (chickpea water) to mimic, if not champion that regular egg white foam. I loved it, not saying that I would consider going vegan for this, but the fleeting thought did cross my mind—just for a split second.
There was no hesitation once the Grilled Octopus with crispy parsnip and sherry porcini arrived at the table. It’s unfussy, but at the same time fabulous. The parsnip puree that pools at the bottom of the octopus is heavenly, lifted with a wee bit of sherry porcini foam that pelts the jaded palate with vinegary tingles. This was demolished in minutes, the usual ‘paiseh piece’ practise removed with no discontention. The paired cocktail by Bannie made the same impact, this time with quirky presentation antics dialled down several notches in a strict representation of the style of beverages she prefers. The Philoso’Me is essentially a rum negroni with sherry for sweet vermouth. The mists of cinnamon smog work wonders under the camera lens, contributing to the layered smoky profiles of the titillating tipple. This, for me, was the missing piece to the lack of char on that octopus, which after some thought, seemed like a deliberate act on wannabe-perfect-husband-material Chef Tryson’s part (sorry Tryson). Bravo.
The #PressforProgress at gender equality is hard. And it’s always heartening to see individuals who strive for it. Regardless of how minute the effects are, it’s important to recognise the contributions of women in the world of food and hospitality. Start by ensuring the future (of the local cocktail scene) is female by making a trip to Anti:dote. Similar to its incarnation, the hotel bar still has plenty of tricks up its sleeves. More importantly, Head Craftsman Bannie Kang’s enthusiasm and knowledge are so evident that it may just tempt you back for another punt at the drinks. Let’s not forget the Thredfin Fish and chips and Hokkaido Scallop tartar, those will prove to be the bane of your diet.