Bespoke Cocktail Bar Hopping – A 6-pub guide around CBD

2 11 2014

With the cocktail scene alive and kicking in Singapore, Amex has recently launched #ChillaxSG, a one year promotion for Amex Platinum and Amex Platinum Reserve card holders, offering various privileges such as 1-for-1, complimentary welcome cocktails with any order etc, at 16 different cocktail bars from 15 Oct 2014 to 14 Oct 2015.

In anticipation of this promotion, I had the opportunity to hang out with the folks from Amex, as they took two mini-bus loads of lifestyle and food bloggers on a pub hop event to 6 of the participating bars to showcase what was on offer.

1st Stop: The Men’s Room (13 North Canal Rd, #01-02)

Best for: The Laid-back Working Crowd who wants a drink neat, rather than fancy

Unlike some of the other places we visited later in the night, The Men’s Room seemed more like a place to get down with unadulterated liquors, especially whisky and gin. Instead of going hard on the first bar, I had their signature Chrysanthemum Cocktail instead, which would have been pretty nice for a tame night out and much reminiscent of Winebar/Zouk’s Chrysanthemum shots.

Source: Google Maps

Chrysanthemum Cocktails

2nd Stop: Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall (60A Boat Quay)

Best for: The Discerning Hipster

Like a scene out of the 1980s, I truly enjoyed the hipster vibes I got from this place. Like many other bars that concoct bespoke cocktails, you won’t find a drinks menu here and the mixologists get to work by asking about your alcohol and taste preferences.

I had their version of the Old Fashioned which I enjoyed. Typically, an Old Fashioned is a bourbon based drink but Ah Sam gave it a local twist in line with the shop’s theme by infusing the bourbon with Milo. What resulted was an Old Fashioned that had the rich creamy texture of milk. I’m the type of person who needs food to go along with my drinks so I was super pleased to find out that in addition to the well thought out ambience and creative drinks, Ah Sam serves up a mindblowing Hokkien Mee as well, which if served in a hawker centre, would no doubt be drawing crowds. Other food items on the menu include local delights such as Prawn Paste Chicken, Ngoh Hiang and Fried Kuay Teow.

Ah Sam in the flesh

Food Menu

Half-eaten Hokkien Mee and Milo-infused Old Fashioned (with a proper ice cube)

3rd Stop: Spiffy Dapper (61 Boat Quay)

Best for: The Cool Emo Kids

For a slightly more grungy environment with an amazing view of the Singapore river, pop by next door from Ah Sam’s to Spiffy Dapper. When we were there, we were served some decent tandoori and grilled items, possibly from the Indian Restaurant downstairs. If so, I think that’s a plus for allowing outside food, while the mixologists focus on doing what they do best. They did a marvelous job with my Gin shaken with Mint, simple but effective. Like Ah Sam’s next door, there’s no drinks menu here so sit back and let the bartenders get creative and concoct something to your mood and likings.

For a better idea of what you can expect in this unpretentious hole in the wall speakeasy bar, the below is an excerpt from Spiffy Dapper’s blog website which I think describes it perfectly:

“In the middle of Boat Quay, the last remaining bastion of the seedy port town that was Singapore, and hidden away on the second floor is The Spiffy Dapper.

Born out of a need to be real and imperfect, we aim to channel the creative audacity and sense of adventure of the 1920’s.

We make some damn good drinks, but what this place is really about is chilling the fuck out and having a good time.”

Gin Shaken with Mint (left)

4th Stop: The Secret Mermaid (10 Collyer Quay, B1-08 Ocean Financial Centre)

Best for: The True Blue Pro-American Craft Spirit Connoisseur

The Secret Mermaid is the latest brainchild of restaurateur Howard Lo, the owner of Tanuki Raw and Standing Sushi Bar. In the day, the shop space operates under the name of Shinkansen, a Japanese Salad Bar but once dusk falls, The Secret Mermaid emerges. 

Specializing in American spirits, The Secret Mermaid offers a range of craft spirits never seen before in Singapore. For the uninitiated, their tasting flights (starting at $15) comprising of 3 half shots of different types of spirits is an affordable way to get educated without breaking the bank. I was also rather intrigued with the novelty Smoked Salmon Vodka and Bacon Vodka that are available in tasting portions.

5th Stop: Maison Ikkoku (20 Kandahar Street)

Best for: Date nights, for couples who love pyrotechnic displays in a posh setting

Among the 6 cocktail bars we patronized that night, Maison Ikkoku had the most razzle dazzle and pomp. The setting is elegant, with the mixologists friendly and accommodative. The music is not too loud and allows for a decent conversation. Hence, it’s somewhere I would potentially bring a date, to impress her with the well-executed cocktails, liberal use of pyrotechnics for the cocktail preparation and classy bar grub.

For specific cocktails, I would highly recommend the Pina Colada which is served in a seared coconut, the Banana Daiquiri which I found astoundingly refreshing and smooth, and the Passionfruit Gin & Tonic.

Banana Daiquiri

Pina Colada (amazed that my iPhone did such a good job with this pic)

Parmesan Chawanmushi

Smoked Duck

6th Stop: Orgo (8 Raffles Avenue, #04-01 Esplanade)

Best for: Large group gatherings, where space is of the essence

I have been to Orgo before a couple years back and I wasn’t impressed. Fast forward the clock and I still get the same vibes now. Drinks were a pretty standard affair and the place exudes a more commercialized feel compared to the other 5 bars we had been to. What’s going for the place is the view, given its location on the Esplanade roof terrace.

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Artichoke Cafe & Bar – Moorish Weekend Brunch

24 08 2014

With cafe culture quickly catching on in Singapore, it’s getting real difficult to find a decent weekend brunch spot that doesn’t have a constant horde of diners waiting in line and breathing down your neck. In fact, I’m literally scratching my head on where to go for Sunday brunch tomorrow with no reservations. It’s times like this when one returns to spots that are tried and tested, where hype has gradually died down through the years.

I have been to Artichoke on 2 or 3 other occasions for dinner and have not been disappointed yet. It’s one of the few cafes in Singapore that dish out Moorish cuisine, which share some similarities and elements from dishes in North Africa, Middle East and the Mediterranean.

I’m a sucker for any brunch item on the menu that has stewed or baked eggs, so I ordered the Lamb Shakshouka ($26++) that was a lovely mess of stewed Eggs, tomato sauce, roast lamb, kashkaval cheese (a type of sheep cheese), pistachio dukka (a powdery mix of nuts and spices), eaten with pita. I swore I tasted hints of curry inside as well and it worked out to be an amazingly hearty dish.  The only downside (if at all), is the fact that it was too heavy a brunch dish and I left about 1/4 of it unfinished.

My dining counterpart R had the Cauliflower Sabbich ($22++), a cute construction of fried cauliflower, smoked egg, hummus, labneh (yoghurt), israeli salad, truffled tahini (sesame dip), zhoug (a spicy relish made from herbs, parsley and chili), over a serving of pita. The flavor packs a punch and for a moment, made me forget that this was almost an entirely vegetarian dish, which I would have normally steered clear from.

Grilled Haloumi Cheese ($10++)

Of course, no meal here is complete without the Date Pudding ($14++), served with burnt milk custard, coffee jelly, peanut caramel and smoked salt. It’s one of the signature dishes here and has been on the menu for as long as I can remember. Definitely something that I always look forward to when visiting Artichoke and one of my recommendations to anyone asking for where to get a memorable date pudding experience.

Artichoke Cafe & Bar

161 Middle Road, Sculpture Square, Singapore 188978 

Tel: +65 6336 6949





Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar – Very Meh

14 12 2011

Now that holidays are here, I have been trying my best to spend more time with my non-SMU friends whom I might have neglected through the school term. This term has been a trying one for me, but which term hasn’t? One thing’s for sure though, I had definitely spent more time in the library and less time with the nom noms this time around. So now, it was time to go on an eating spree to make up for lost time… 

I arrived ahead of C, excited to be dining at what was considered to be one of Singapore’s leading Italian fine dining restaurants. The service was impeccable, and the maitre’d saw to it that I wasn’t too bored, coming over to chat a while I waited for C.

When C arrived, we were served with complimentary freshly toasted Dried Tomato Focaccia Bread. First impressions count and Garibaldi nailed it as this was the 2nd best complimentary bread I have had so far (the best being from Private Affairs which has recently shifted out of its Joo Chiat premises). C even got himself a third slice!

Their 3-Course Set Lunch is priced at $38++, a huge discount from the ala carte prices which would probably set you back by about $100ish.

For appetizer, C chose the Cocktail Di Gamberetti or Poached Shrimps with Romaine Lettuce in Cocktail Sauce. They are quite generous with the shrimps, and the shrimps were fresh and springy so no complaints here. It does remind me of the cold dish prawns you get at wedding dinners.

For myself, I opted for the Soup of the Day which happened to be Asparagus & Crab Soup. It’s quite starchy, so I think they might have blended in some potatoes to thicken the soup a bit. Overall, it was meh.

For Main, I had the Spaghettini with Calamari, Black Olives and Fresh Tomatoes, thinking that a fancy Italian restaurant would definitely get their pastas right. Yet again, I was left disappointed as this was forgettable.

C’s Stewed Red Snapper served with Grilled Polenta and Green Peas fared slightly better, though severely lacking a wow factor. Polenta is made from cornmeal and supposedly looks a bit like mash potatoes which I don’t see any of. Perhaps it is the toast lookalike behind the fish.

For desserts, diners get a choice of what they want from a cart of homemade cakes by Sweets Garibaldi.

Diners can also choose if they would like a sauce (Chocolate, Vanilla and one more I can’t recall) to accompany the cake.

C got a Chocolate one which I didn’t try.

For myself, I had a Hazelnut Flavoured one which on first bite tasted like Kinder Bueno with the soft hazelnut cream and crisp praline base. I thought it could have been better if the sponge was lighter and more airy.

The set lunch comes with a choice of coffee or tea. The coffee was fragrant and robust despite being quite bitter (typical of french and italian coffees perhaps?)

Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the food but felt the service made up for it.

Bon Appetit!

Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar

36 Purvis Street

Tel: +65 6837 1468





Artichoke Cafe + Bar – Putting Moorish Cuisine on the Singapore Map

27 11 2011

“We believe that the most enjoyable meals are those that are shared. These thoughts are reflected in our menu, which is made up of communal shared plates.

So round up a bunch of people, order a mix of dishes, and enjoy a little bit of this and a little bit of that, rather than 25 bites of the same thing. Feel free to order more than once.”

This pretty much sums up the dining concept behind Artichoke Cafe

Artichoke Cafe’s premises used to house the now-defunct My Secret Garden and while the restaurant has changed, the interior remains very much the same as before, minimalistic and uncluttered. Like The White Rabbit @ Dempsey, the compound housing Artichoke used to be a small chapel as well, adding to the surreal tranquility and serenity echoing throughout the premises.

Artichoke is helmed by Chef Bjorn Shen, whose fiery passion and masterful cooking shows up evidently in his successful endeavor,  effectively putting Moorish Cuisine on the Singapore map. There’s no easy explanation to Moorish Cuisine, a cuisine borne of diverse sources and if you are just slightly more attentive, you might just be able to pick out the African, Middle Eastern and even Spanish influences.

We started off with Moorish Dips ($16+), a tasting of 3 Arabian dips with bread. My favourite was the Roasted Carrot Dip, sweetly spiced with cumin, rosewater and walnuts. The Labneh or Homemade Yoghurt Cream Cheese with house blended Za’atar was good as well, not to sour and extra creamy. From their glossary, I found out that Za’atar refers to a fragrant condiment made from sesame seeds, sumac wild thyme. The third dip is the Hummus, or Chickpea puree with tahini (sesame paste), lemon and sumac. It’s decent but I have had smoother ones elsewhere (thinking of Sofra Turkish Cuisine).

Upon request of C, the Forgotten Grain Salad ($15+) has now returned back on their menu. It’s a really healthy dish, made up of an observable mixture of Wild Rice, Cracked Wheat, Quinoa, Pomegrenate, Nuts, Capers and Sunflower Seeds. Personally, it reminds me much of hamster food for the health conscious for whom I am not.

A dinner special scribbled on the chalkboard not part of the regular menu, Chef Bjorn was kind enough to offer us a complimentary Spiced Chickpea & Spinach Stew with Crumbled Feta Cheese ($15+).

A new item on their menu, Artichoke’s Char-Grilled Local Calamari ($22+) with Cucumber, Aioli & Lime is one of the best renditions of squid I have ever had, springy, juicy and zesty. Marinated with their own ras el hanout (literally means “top of the shop” or the best blend of spices a spice vendor has to offer), this is really the bomb!

We see some Spanish influence from the Pan-Roasted Red Snapper Fillets with Piquillo Pepper Salsa ($28+). The skin is seared well and the fish is fresh.

Admit it, we all have a weakness for Mac & Cheese ($40+). The one served here is an upgraded version though, containing tender Stewed Beef, Kashkaval Cheese, Organic Mushroom and a hint of White Truffle Oil. Whole baby vine tomatoes scattered in the dish helps relieve any excess cheesiness and the portion is large enough to be shared amongst 2-3 pax as a main.

The Date Pudding ($14+) here has officially become my favourite dessert around. Served with Smoked Milk Custard, Cocoa, Peanut Caramel & Sea Salt, it deviates slightly off track from the simple warm sticky date pudding with caramel sauce.

The Homemade Baklava ($15+) is a Sweet Arabic Pastry with Almonds, Pistachio, Walnuts, Filo Pastry, Honey Syrup & Orange Blossom Honey Gelato. Tasting much like Honey Stars with the crunchy nuts and honey gelato, it was fantastic as well though all 5 of us had a preference for the date pudding.

This concluded one of my most memorable meals this year and I’m positive I will be back in a jiffy.

SMU Gourmet Club organized a dinner event at Artichoke Cafe about 2 months back which I attended as well but have yet to post on. So the 2nd half of this post will be mainly pictorial to give you a better sense of what else Artichoke has to offer.

Stuffed Piquillos

Manzanilla Olives and White Anchovies

Beetroot Tzatziki with Dukkah

Hanger Steak with Romesco Sauce

Chickpea & Pork Stew with Blood Sausage

Lamb Shoulder with Toum Garlic Sauce

Bon Appetit!

Artichoke Cafe + Bar

161 Middle Road

Tel: +65 6336 6949





Bumbu Restaurant – Indothai that does not suck

29 04 2011

In Chinese cuisine, you have Peking Duck, Buddha Jump Over the Wall and Oyster Omelette. In Japanese, you have Sashimi, Tempura and Kobe. In French, you have Foie Gras, Duck Confit and Coq Au Vin. In German, you have Pork Knuckles, Gourmet Sausages and Beer. In Indothai, you get Mango Salad and Ngoh Hiang and a Milk Tea? It’s pathetically anti-climatic don’t you think? Hence, I used to think that Indothai food sucked. I used to think that Thai Express was probably the extent of what Indothai food could offer. Heck, I used to be so ignorant.

So for all those out there who thinks the same way as how I did in the past, I urge you to give Indothai cuisine a chance, at least till you have tried Bumbu Restaurant. It has garnered several dining awards in the past but recently, it has gone off the radar quite a bit. Perhaps it’s time that I gave everyone a gentle reminder of this little gem near Arab Street.

I simply love the Tahu Telor ($7.80++) here. The smooth beancurd is encrusted by an eggy batter which is glazed with a mellow sweet sauce. Whether eaten alone or paired with rice, it’s still freaking awesome.

Another dish worth ordering is the Beef Rendang ($10.80++). It’s only mildly spicy and if I can take it without breaking a sweat, then pretty much anyone can take it.

Impressed as I was by the first 2 dishes, I was still blown away by Pandan Chicken ($3.20/piece), which I felt was the best I have had in the short span of my life. There’s quite a bit of fat, which explains why it’s so tender but it’s worth every calorie. The pandan chicken’s surface is crisp from the frying and the chicken is marinated well. Personally, I think this is a must-order dish for every visitor.

As for their Green Curry Chicken ($8.80++), I find their curry too watered down to pack a punch.

I had high expectations of the Butter Oat Soft Shell Crab ($17.80++) but sadly, it failed to deliver. Unlike the flavourful oat prawns from good zi char places, the soft shell crab and the oats here came across as uncharacteristically bland.

Some seasonal Stir Fried Vegetables ($7.80++) for a balanced diet 🙂

You will definitely get a bang for your buck here. I paid $15, inclusive of a drink, for an awesome Indo-thai meal that few places can rival.

Bon Appetit!

BUMBU RESTAURANT

44 KANDAHAR STREET

TEL: +65 6392 8628





Cocotte – Cuisine Bourgeoise, A French Affair

25 04 2011

The use of interesting wordplay by eateries are becoming ever so prevalent nowadays. From the likes of Thai eatery Porn’s, Joo Chiat’s fine dining restaurant Private Affairs, and now Cocotte. Few people actually know what it means, but Cocotte has 2 meanings attached to it. First, it could mean “a small fireproof dish in which individual portions of food are cooked and served”. Alternatively, it also means “a prostitute or promiscuous woman”, apt wordplay given its location at the Wanderlust Hotel, a boutique hotel off Bugis and Little India.

Cocotte offers rather traditional French fare which I feel embodies the principles of cuisine bourgeoise, a style of french cooking associated with the middle class, as opposed to haute cuisine which places large emphasis on many small courses of elaborate preparations and presentations. Many of the dishes here such as the signature Poulet Roti (Organic Roast Chicken) are simple displays of French country cooking that is meant for communal sharing, and it really allows me to envision the scene of a tight knitted french family eating together and chatting loudly, where the platters of food are being passed around and across the dining table.

French dining is no hurried affair, with meals typically taking up to 2 to 3 hours from what I hear. Sadly, such a dining tradition is gradually being eroded here in Singapore and families are finding it a tall order nowadays just to have short dinners together, often opting to eat out instead of spending quality dining time with family given our busy schedules.

Cocotte offers a variety of set lunches. There’s a 3-Course Set Lunches for 1 pax @ $29++/pax, Set Lunches for 2 pax @ $35++/pax  and Set lunches for 4 pax @ $33++/pax. I would highly recommend going for the set lunches for 2 or 4 pax because they offer more choices with regards to the dishes available and also fits in with Cocotte’s concept of communal dining.

I didn’t like the warm complimentary bread here because it was hard as a stone.

I had no trouble seeing why the Fried Tripe is one of Cocotte’s signature appetizers. Coated with breadcrumbs and served with a tomato salsa, I throughly enjoyed the chewy yet tender texture of the tripe. Although we normally find cow’s stomach in our chinese-styled beef noodles, it’s really quite rare to find it in Singapore served otherwise. I remember eating an unforgettable spicy boiled tripe in Italy (sold at roadside stalls) and I’d imagine that fried tripe would taste awesome in hotdog buns as well!

The Rosette (cured Pork Sausage) was served in a platter with Olives, Salad and Mustard. It’s really not my cup of tea as the sausage and olives were too salty, though I do know that this is how it’s supposed to be.

I much preferred the Tomato & Pickled Anchovy Salad, with the salty anchovies and sweet peaches.

Pan-seared Chicken with Pine Nut, Mushroom & Port Cream, served with crushed Potatoes & Haricot Vert (a type of Green Bean). While the chicken was fabulous on its own, I had some problems with the sauce. It’s probably because of the Port which made the cream base slightly sweet, which I found hard getting used to. The sauce did complement the potatoes though.

Personally, I’d suggest going for the Beef Bourguignon, “Grass fed beef braised in red wine, served with sauteed mushrooms, pearl onions & roasted baby potatoes” as a main. It’s a classic french dish and Cocotte executed it perfectly, scoring higher points than the one I had at Bistro du Vin. If only there was some creamy mash or nice bread to mop up all the gravy.

For desserts, we had a Passionfruit Raspberry Cream Tart, which I found much too tart and overwhelming for my meek tastebuds.

Since it was Easter Weekend, Cocotte also had a special dessert consisting of an Almond Basket Biscuit with Chocolate Truffles & Marshmellows.

The Creme Brulee here is decent and infused with a nice coffee flavour. The custard might have been a tad too dense but still very enjoyable.

A couple of hits and misses but on the whole, the execution of the cooking was very competent. It does justice to traditional French cooking and I definitely wouldn’t mind returning soon to try out more of it’s signatures.

Bon Appetit!

COCOTTE

2 DICKSON ROAD, THE WANDERLUST HOTEL

TEL: +65 6298 1188





Cafe Fables and Bar Stories – A Cocktail Adventure

22 04 2011

On occasion I get the question of why I’m such a foodie and the impetus in setting up a food blog. Normally I’d brush it off with a truncated answer for simplicity’s sake, of how I gained an epiphany; that despite living in a multicultural society, my food knowledge was severely lacking and like many other Singaporeans, I found difficulty in throwing out names of 3 authentic French restaurants in Singapore. 2 years down, French is now my cuisine of choice.

However, the unabridged version of my story starts off slightly different, beginning more than 2 years ago at a bar called Klee (which sadly closed sometime ago) with ex-JC classmate CW. CW had suggested visiting Klee for drinks and it was there that we coincidentally met one of the co-founders of Hungrygowhere and his fiancee. I never learnt of the reason why they sent over a couple of drinks on his tab, and I was really quite perplexed because this almost never happens in Singapore. Of course, we returned their hospitality with our company and chatted with them for a couple of hours till closing time, never seeing them ever again. Hungrygowhere was still rather new at that time and a week later, I opened an account and used it as my primary food hunting resource, occasionally contributing some reviews to this food community myself. And this was how I got started in food writing.

So while some travel to Mecca, and others do community service in 3rd-world poverty stricken areas, there’s this small group of us who indulge in a life-long food trail. The similarity between the 3 are almost indistinguishable, but the fact is that everybody’s actually embarking on the same journey…paths of self-discovery. 

Cafe Fables by day, Bar Stories by night. Housed on the 2nd level of furniture shop “A Thousand Tales”, what I found here was a sense of homeliness, somewhere to go to after work to unwind, somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

A venture pursued by one of the partners of the now defunct Klee, Bar Stories too, functions without a drinks menu with fresh cocktails specially mixed to individual tastes. How apt it is for CW to be the one bringing me here, after introducing Klee to me as well. The cocktail culture here allows me to reminisce the good old times at Klee, the concept of having friendly mixologists interacting with guests, the concept of being able to chat with random friendly strangers across the bar, the concept of being just so un-Singaporean. Say goodbye to the dark dodgy pubs that we are so used to, Bar Stories has an open concept with a soft tune playing in the backdrop, making it easy for catching up with old friends whilst sipping the night away.

Jeff, one of the two mixologists for the night, whipped up a sweet Honeydew Mango Sake ($22++) for CW. Really awesome stuff, and it reminds me of a drink called “Nothing” which is available in Zouk and made with Melon Liquor. But then again, comparing cocktails from Bar Stories with Zouk’s is like comparing steak from Morton’s with Jack’s Place. The difference is simple yet evident. Bar Stories makes its cocktails fresh from scratch, meaning no fruit syrups or concentrates are used. This gives a fresher feel to the cocktails and lends a taste that isn’t too sharp and artificial.

For myself, I was presented with a Pomegranate Passionfruit Martini ($22++) which appeals more to those who prefer their drinks sour rather than sweet. I’m more of a sweet cocktail person but it’d still be my pleasure getting high on this.

Bar Stories, a cocktail adventure? Definitely.

Bon Appetit!

CAFE FABLES & BAR STORIES

55-57 HAJI LANE, 2ND FLOOR

TEL: +65 6298 0838








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