When beer takes centre stage - Salted & Hung
Photo: Salted & Hung
For the chef from Down Under, introducing a craft beer pairing menu made perfect sense. After all, chef Drew Nocente is an avid beer lover and very familiar with Australian breweries. But more importantly, breweries like Stockade operate by regularly doing limited edition releases of experimental beers; those in turn serve as a source of inspiration, motivating him to continually dream up new dishes to pair with the suds.
Feed Me is typically an eight-course affair. It leans a bit towards omakase style, with a mixture of off-menu specials and the restaurant's signature dishes. Cured meats are the soul of the restaurant, so naturally, you'll started with their famous charcuterie board of house-cured hams, sausages and pickles. On our visit, the first pour was the 8 Bit IPA by Stockade ─ a bold, unorthodox move to kickstart the meal with a punchy, hoppy number. The idea was to let the bitterness get the appetite going, and to cut through the saltiness of the cured meats. The gamble paid off; the bitter rush was almost overwhelming on its own, but mellowed into malty sweetness once you get started on the charcuterie. The 8 Bit's hoppy character was also spot-on with the gin-cured mackerel ─ another of chef Drew's signatures ─ bolstering both the charred and umami flavours.
Photo: Mia Chenyze
For a lamb taco that calls to mind zippy Southeast Asian flavours, the Puppet Master Thai IPA, brewed with lemongrass and kaffir lime, hit the spot. Much lighter than the 8 Bit, the Puppet Master brought along a lot of juicy freshness that was just right for the tangy heat of the Romesco-styled sriracha-and-Quandong (a tart stone fruit native to Australia) sauce, and the meatiness of the intercostal cut of lamb (carved from between the ribs, chef Drew favours this cut for its toothsome texture).
Chef Drew's ingenuity is particularly evident in the way he plays up to the Fallen Angel Pale Stout's varying nuances. Golden hued, the Pale Stout is unmistakably a stout on the palate ─ complex with notes of dark chocolate and coffee, and incredibly smooth ─ but with none of the heaviness and creaminess of stout. It's exceptionally easy drinking, almost like a boozy cold brew. Paired with the Westholme flank steak, it fleshed out the meat's smoky aroma and intense beefiness. Yet when sipped alongside the burnt Pavlova, it morphed again, this time turning incredibly rich and mocha-like with a long chocolatey finish.
Wanna take your craft beer appreciation to the next level? This is it.
Feed Me menu, $75 per person, supplementary $45 for three beer pairings. Salted & Hung, 12 Purvis Street, tel: 6358-3130.
Only sweet tidings - Bam!
Desserts are sometimes an afterthought, but not at Bam! where desserts share equal limelight with a separate dessert-only omakase menu ─ complete with a sake or wine pairing for each of the three courses (or actually, four, when you consider the pre-dessert portion).
Ordinarily, a multi-course dessert experience might sound dangerously cloying, but luckily there's no such problem in the hands of pastry chef Elke Aprilia. She has the marvellous knack of fashioning creations that are undeniably dessert in nature, but ethereally light.
Your dessert omakase will typically start with a palate-cleansing amuse bouche. On our visit, it was a refreshing lemongrass parfait of sorts, inspired by the lemongrass tea that first welcomed when she started her culinary education at At-Sunrice. This one has echoes of another popular local drink ─ iced soursop ─ with fleshy coins of soursop, lemongrass granita, chia seeds, and dollops of wobbly lemongrass jelly. Then there are skinny strips of lime-marinated green apple for snap and acidity.
While most restaurants pair their drinks to cut the richness of the food, the opposite happens here at Bam!. The sommelier opts for a mixture of sakes and wines to lend gravitas to chef Elke's dainty flavours. For instance, a Jorge Ordóñez late harvest moscatel, a dessert wine with intense stone fruit sweetness, to provide a rich juxtaposition to the bright flavours of the lemongrass "starter".
Photo: Mia Chenyze
The same principle plays out again in another dessert pairing we tried: A plated dessert of dark chocolate cream and caramel ice cream, accompanied by Josefina Piñol, a late harvest white grenache wine. The caramel ice cream is perhaps the best example of chef Elke's masterful restraint: The name suggests a saccharine hit but there's only a whisper of sweetness. Rather, it is the aroma that is reminiscent of caramel ─ lingering, a little smoky and poignant with caramel depth. On its own, the dessert is strikingly high in cocoa content, with a quenelle of dark chocolate cream and a smattering of cocoa crumble. But a sip of the amber-hued wine transforms the ensemble altogether, completing the cacao bitterness with a sweet, boozy kick.
And that's perhaps what makes the alcohol-paired omakase dessert experience so much fun: Observing the give-and-take flavour rhythm between the desserts and their boozy counterparts.
Dessert Omakase menu, $48 per person, supplementary $34 for sake and wine pairing. Bam!, 38 Tras Street, tel: 6226-0500.
Avant-garde, yet familiar - Operation Dagger
Photo: Operation Dagger
Operation Dagger is famous for their cutting edge cocktails that do magic with fermentation and molecular gastronomy tricks; what's lesser known is that the speakeasy also has a stellar food menu that plays to those same strengths. The best way to experience all that is to request for the Omakase (available in 3- and 5-course options) and observe how they pair each inventive cocktail with a snack. (Psst. Take it from us and go with a hungry belly, because even the three-course option will really fill you up.)
Most pairing menus are about complementary flavours. Operation Dagger is one step ahead of the game: Most of its drinks also mimic the flavour components of the dish in surprising ways.
Take for instance, the appetiser of burrata cheese with heirloom tomatoes and parsley oil. The accompanying G.O.A.T. cocktail is a goat cheese-infused gin lengthened with clarified pineapple juice. There's that familiar powdery earthiness that evokes flavour memories of goat cheese, and the juicy fruitiness of the pineapple also parallels the sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes. And because things are never what they seem at Operation Dagger, what looks like a citrus twist turns out to be savoury cracker made from mixing dehydrated pineapple pulp with goat's cheese.
Photo: Operation Dagger
Then there's St John, a cocktail that pays homage to the eponymous nose-to-tail restaurant by British chef Fergus Henderson. It invokes the London joint's famous dish of bone marrow and parsley salad by way of a fat-washed gin that lands on the palate with a full-bodied unctuous smack, then gains tartness and a bit of umami bitterness. The bar team explains the uncanny resemblance: They've put the gin through a four-hour sous-vide with roasted bone marrows, then had it shaken up with parsley and caper vinaigrette. A garnish of fried parsley provided the finishing touch to the cocktail, and a traditional French steak tartare completed off the beefy course.
Dessert proved to be another mind-trick. What looks like a short pour of beer reveals itself to be a molecular gastronomy remake of piña colada. At the bottom is tequila which has been infused with lavender and pineapple, then muddled and shaken with fresh pineapple and lime to a frosty golden hue. A warm espuma of white chocolate and coconut forms the creamy foam head. It is quite literally Hot & Cold as the name suggests.
Omakase, $95 for the three-course pairing, and $150 for the five-course pairing. Operation Dagger, 7 Ann Siang Hill, tel: 6438-4057.
A deep dive into agave spirits - NORMA
In a scene dominated by whisky lounges and cocktail bars, the Proof Collective, the team behind 28HKS and Crackerjack ─ that cafe/restaurant/bar in Tanjong Pagar with cosy, neighbourhood vibes ─ envisioned an experimental space for booze. A space that's not bound to one concept indefinitely. A space that will allow bartenders to test ideas, from the outlandish to the esoteric. That space is Junior, a 10-seater "pocket bar" conjoined to Crackerjack and accessed from the alleyway. Junior works like an art gallery, and the head barmen ─ Peter Chua and Zac de Git ─ are the curators who decide which "exhibition" gets to dominate the space for each six-month period. Right now, that "exhibition" is NORMA, named after the regulatory standards for Mexican spirits, and focused on agave distillates.
Tequila and mezcal are the headliners, but they're also joined by lesser-known agave spirits: raicilla (a rustic form of mezcal that's unusual for being distilled in tequila-producing regions), and mezcal de pechuga (mezcal which is put through an additional third distillation, during which a piece of meat, usually chicken breast, is hung over the still), as well as sotol (a spirit similar to mezcal, but this one's distilled from the sotol plant that's a close cousin to the agave plant).
Both Peter and Zac are fonts of knowledge, but still, the best way to get up to speed with agave spirits is through a tasting flight (from $45). You get three 30ml pours, and each expression will be paired with a complementary snack ─ it could be something as simple as a cut of citrus fruit or as unorthodox as a sliver of spicy bak kwa. The food pairing is not just about differentiating NORMA's tasting flights from other bars' offers; it's also about helping people make sense of the agave expressions. For instance, a wedge of orange dusted with worm salt (it's smoky and briny, and definitely not as eye-popping as it sounds) lent a citrusy aroma and juicy sweetness ─ a welcome break that mellowed an otherwise overwhelmingly grassy La Higuera sotol. At other times, the pairing reinforced the flavours: Like serving the Los Danzantes mezcal de pecuhuga with chilli bak kwa and parmesan cheese to emphasise the spirit's savoury and smoky notes.
The tasting flights on the menu change every week depending on what new stock comes in (a good number of the bottles were hand-carried by the team and their business associates), but the bar guys will also be happy to design a bespoke flight based on your taste preferences or interests.
NORMA is here only until 31 January 2018, so if you're looking to get a deeper appreciation for agave distillates, you'd better prioritise your visit to the bar.
Tasting flight with snack pairing, from $45. NORMA is at Junior, 43 Tanjong Pagar Road, tel: 8121-1462.
Sizzle and smoke - The Wall
Photo: The Wall
Think of whisky and you'll probably think of peat and smoke, and that's exactly what the whisky-and-sumiyaki pairing at The Wall is capitalising on.
Set in a two-storey shophouse along Tanjong Pagar Road, The Wall is equal parts whisky den and sumiyaki joint (sumiyaki encompasses a broader range of grilled skewers, beyond the chicken cuts of yakitori shops), so the food pairing here is nothing to stick your nose up at.
The most noteworthy aspect about The Wall is not its range of over 200 expressions, or even the rarefied elixirs in the collection, but rather, the fact that it maintains the same unit price for the whiskies whether you order by the dram or by the bottle. And that means you can easily venture beyond the suggested list of 15 flights (from $37 for four 15ml pours) to customise your own.
And did we mention that the food pairing is a downright steal? The standard set is a mere $12, comprising four sticks of different chicken cuts that are versatile enough to go with most whiskies. But if you'd rather have your food tailored to your sips, the team will gladly oblige and adhere to your budget too ─ there'll be no such thing as bill shock at The Wall.
Photo: The Wall
Nor do the pairings repeat ad nauseam the tried-and-tested formula of using charred meats to play up smoky nuances in Scotches (and that's not necessarily a bad thing either ─ a peaty Islay and grilled shishamo is a truly sublime combination). A 9-year-old Caol Ila from an independent bottler showed itself to be a laudable match for a skewer of scorched chicken skin, cutting through the fatty flavour with a lemony acidity and spicy finish. The team was also spot on in the way they paired a Talisker 10 with a row of grilled shiitake mushrooms; both components were superb on their own, but the Scotch's dual peppery and honeyed characteristics particularly fleshed out the earthy sweetness of the shrooms.
Though its industrial, brick-walled look may seem in sharp contrast with the polished glamour of upscale whisky lounges, it's worth remembering that The Wall is about democratising whisky appreciation ─ and this laidback cafe-like vibe is precisely what makes The Wall so accessible and appealing.
The Wall, 76 Tanjong Pagar Road, tel: 6225-7988.
An extravaganza with cocktails and wines - Tippling Club
Photo: Tippling Club
A pioneer in the art of pairing long-drawn degustation menus with cocktails and wines, Tippling Club is still at the top of its game, nearly 10 years in. Officially, the tasting menus (vegetarian options are available too) are either five- or ten-courses, but you would also be served between five and seven pre-dinner snacks, and another handful of pre-desserts ─ which makes those eye-watering prices much more justifiable.
The tasting menus are offered only at dinner, and rightly so; you'll want to leisurely savour the flavour play between the kitchen and the bar.
Langoustine arrives as a trio of parcels that look like crystal dumplings, but they're actually sweet langoustine flesh swathed in very sheer pickled kohlrabi, and drizzled with buttermilk dashi. On its own, Langoustine seemed only about fresh, albeit mellow, flavours, but the cocktail pairing ─ the Umami Bomb, a melange of tequila, beer, dill and plum ─ worked like a prism that brought the flavours into clarity: Dehydrated konbu bits in the concoction boosted the umaminess of the nouri crackers; the fizziness of the beer added vitality to the tanginess of the buttermilk dashi; and the dill infusion both shored up the herbaceous quality of the kohlrabi and intensified the sweetness of the crustacean.
Photo: Tippling Club
For Foie Gras ─ resembling more like dessert with foie gras mousse piped over a ring of pistachio sable ─ with its contradictory richness and airiness, the accompanying cocktail stood in for the customary fruit compote and anchored the ensemble with heavy sweetness. The caramel-laced tipple was a mixture of rum and oloroso sherry, and the latter's nutty character was in tandem with the pistachio sable base.
Still, if you'd rather a more wallet-friendly alternative, you'll want to keep an eye out for Tippling Club's Once Upon a Time guest bartending series. These one-night-only events (generally about $155) typically present five cocktails by the guest bartender, and five pairing plates by Tippling Club’s chef Ayo Adeyemi. For instance, the last installation, Once Upon a Time in Japan featured Shingo Gokan from Shanghai's famous Speak Low and put forward a Japanese-inspired menu of cocktails and nosh. The upcoming edition for November, Reverse Psychology, however, will offer an inward look: head barman Joe Schofield and chef-owner Ryan Clift will be swopping places, so you'll have Joe helming the kitchen and Ryan tending the bar.
Photo: Mia Chenyze
Classic tasting menu, $170, or $275 with alcohol pairing; Gourmand tasting menu, $270, or $430 with alcohol pairing. Tippling Club, 38 Tanjong Pagar Road, tel: 6475-2217.