May 25, 2017

Because kaya is so passé

Singapore’s bar life is stacking up to some of Europe’s finest cities at the moment. A convictive opinion voiced by cocktail crafter, writer and historian Simon Ford has spurred more inner city bars to work harder to keep that impression in the game. And Singaporeans are taking the bait, packing in the joints despite the humdrum of quieter weekday nights.

Bars in Singapore seem to come in three archetypes: There’s the classic philanderer featuring straight-up drinks done to perfect measure. And then there’s the culturally inspired assortment, well-spoken and packed with elaborate fusion brews, mostly to showcase its significant cause or cuisine. Finally, there’s the bottom tiered, churning out colourful drinks targeted at the unwise youth and undiscriminating palate. Let’s not go there.

I do love a classic negroni, gin, campari and vermouth in equal parts; but irrefutably, the urge to have the regular kicked up a notch from time to time, is strong. That’s when you can turn to your friendly bartenders who are mostly closet mixologists and plead them to have their way with your palate. Think of it as an omakase, albeit streamlined to quench your thirst for darker spirits.

If you favour dramatic cocktails with as much flavour in contrary to the profile minusculely described by the rattling of incohesive ingredients behind; here are some of my recommendations for mystical brews, each touting something peculiar in its sticky depths. It may be unnerving at first, but trust that the flavours are sublime.


1. Her Royal Highness (Fat Prince)

Barkeep Loga Raj is not one that half-arses a theme, so he’s gone full ‘Fat Prince Kafe and Kebab’ Middle Eastern with his Negroni Week contribution. The purple-hued libation, inspired by a Thai folk story that romanticises the blue-pea flower and its ability to soothe the souls of weary travellers, is one that truly actuates that cause. Mace, a forgotten spice that falls in the same family as nutmeg is shown some love in this play on the classic negroni. The pungent spice adds complexity to the campari and a je ne sais quoi element to the cocktail.

For Negroni Week, Her Royal Highness will be going at $23++ and a dollar from each drink sold will be donated to the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

Address: 48 Peck Seah St, Singapore (079317)
Tel: 6221 3683


2Banana Boat (Crackerjack)

No prizes here for guessing the mystery ingredient. Yes, the less than fashionable fruit has breathed new life into Crackerjack, the new kid on the block. At this all-day dining and drinks venture, not only can you get your hands on one of Singapore’ best toasted Banana Bread; but you can also have it liquified. This is not another brown sticky ice cream laden mess of a milkshake, it looks clear all the way, carrying quaffs of freshly baked banana cake—made matured with Appleton rum. I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.

Bartender Brendon Khoo has taken the household staple banana and done something novel and delicious with it.

First, there’s banana bread syrup, rich hazelnut tones of labour intensive beurre noisette (brown butter) are incorporated into banana and sugar. Then out comes the fancy gadgets, the centrifuge bringing the beverage to the next level of sophistication. The result, clarified brown buttered banana bread. I’m all ears.

Alas, it doesn’t stop here. Food wastage is prevented as banana skins are employed as the garnish to the cocktail. Blanched, marinated in sugar syrup, dehydrated and deep-fried, the lengthy process results in a superb snack that gets on swimmingly with the nutty and biscuit flavours of the tipple.

Address: 43 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore (088464)
Tel: 8121 1462

3. Duck’s Fat Hope (Smoke and Mirrors)

For the creative spirit, Smoke and Mirrors perched on the 6th floor patio of The National Gallery, can be an oasis of liquid dreams. Alongside stunning views of the city skyline and addictive finger foods, Smoke and Mirrors serves up cocktails that take the word innovative and push it beyond expectations.

The Duck’s Fat Hope for one threads the fine line between sweet and savoury, allowing one to entertain thoughts of skipping dinner altogether. Don’t. With a list of impeccable tipples, we recommend you to line your stomach first. Never has the descriptor “oleaginous and lip-smackingly delicious” been used in the cocktail context, however, it can’t be truer than the Duck’s Fat Hope. A daiquiri made in a Cantonese kitchen, jackfruit is combined with rum, five-spiced honey, lemon and the final flourish of Peking duck jus. First sip and you’re met with mixed feelings, increasingly this tipple grows on you. It’s bold, strong and deeply alluring. The intoxicatingly smoky scent coupled with a tingling refreshing finish just eggs you to finish every drop.

Please sir, can I have another one?

Address: #06-01 National Gallery Singapore 1 St. Andrew’s Road Singapore (178957)
Tel: 9234 8122

4. Ikura (Native)

Singapore booze hounds will tell you to visit this new joint if you’re looking for the most peculiar tipples in town. Native, quietly tucked away at the corner of trendy Amoy Street shines the spotlight on spirits and flavours a little closer to home. Seeking to connect its patrons with the daily intricacies of life in Singapore, it’s ingenious drinks not only use locally foraged ingredients but are cleverly named after everyday anecdotes.

With an ode to all things local/regional, expect to find Indian Whisky, Sri Lankan Arrack, Filipino Rum, Taiwan Whisky and even Singaporean Gin amongst its collection. It doesn’t hurt that that their staff are extremely friendly too, adding to the snug and comfort factor of the elegant bar. A cautionary note: the high stools can impose quite a hazard for the vertically challenged during dismount.

Do you know what Ikura tastes like? We’re talking in a cocktail form and not in your chirashi-don bowl. Native churns out a Japanese-inspired sweet and savoury concoction, combining sparkling sake with yuzu acid. The pièce de résistance, a confetti of ikura settled at the bottom of the glass, detonates a slew of sea-slicked flavours in strong contrast to the sweet fizzy tipple. It’s a tad difficult to wrap your mind around, but give it time and the drink grows on you after its slightly ‘fishy’ first impression.

Address: 52A Amoy Street, Singapore (069878)
Tel: 8869 6520


5. Yo Yo Mani (Flying Monkey)

Flying Monkey along Bussorah Street in Kampong Glam is the latest addition to the string of watering holes in the area. It is also restauranteur Sumeet Singla’s second storefront in Singapore, a venture he decidedly took on after a rather successful run with Pizza Fabbrica just next door. This new project sheds its family-based holistic image with an eye-catching wall-to-wall display of alcohol, amplified with the presence of a row of tiny barrels containing aged liquers waiting to be uncovered.

Behind the stick, Head Bartender Kannan (previously of Cufflink Club, Long Chim and most recently Long Play) does a swell job of bringing age-old Indian culture into the now. His cocktail programme pays homage to the Indian heritage through means of storytelling, ingredients and infusions.

But back to the star of the show for a minute, the peculiar ingredient featured in one of their mainstays is rice. Dieters will write off this drink in fear of the carbs while the intrepid will fall in love with the flavours. The 5-spice Kerala rice syrup, which bears some resemblance to barley water or perhaps makgeolli (depending on which part of the world you’re hailing from) with rum, coconut milk and water exude some serious tiki cocktail vibes. Definitely a nice comforting corrective to the trying day at work.

Address: 67/68 Bussorah Street, Singapore (199480)
Tel: 6291 0695


6. Stranglethorn (Bitters & Love)

Finally, a place that loves coffee and booze as much as you do.

Bitters & Love has a daytime job as Free the Robot, a cafe enslaved to providing the working class with performance drugs, and by that I mean coffee, together with a snug nook for a good respite from the work hustle. When the sun goes down, it whips off its daytime costume to reveal the laidback bar. Candle lights and a hidden alcohol cabinet are the final details that contribute to the excellent job of transplanting the invitingly cosy feel of a rowdy basement bar to Bitters & Love.

You must have heard by now of the infamous Kaya Toast Cocktail, but moving past that, the new menu does reveal certain interesting characters such as this Stranglethorn, concocted and endorsed by Head Bartender Naz Arjuna. If you’re bought into the lore of saccharine charms, this is not one that you want to get chummy with. The chrysanthemum and ginseng gin combination has a sobering depth to it, further enhanced after a theatrical smoke out. Intense and very soothing on the palate, fans of the usual ginseng chrysanthemum tea, you would usually purchase at Chinese herbal shops, will come to love this. It’s a robust fortifier though. You’ve been warned.

Address:118 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore (068587)
Tel: 6438 1836