Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tippling Club Singapore

Tippling Club in Singapore has been on my radar as restaurant to try for some time, but previously I have been put off by its rather remote location at Dempsey Hill, not exactly the easiest place to reach without a car. But with its recent move to a more central location (at the foot of the trendy Duxton Hill), time has come for me to check it out during my recent trip to the city a couple of weeks ago. 

Given a tight work schedule ahead, I decided to eat a bit early, so it's hardly 7pm when I arrived at door of the restaurant, located at a street corner at Tanjong Pagar Road and within walking distance from my hotel in the CBD. The dining room featured a simple, homey decor with timber and metallic theme running across; right behind the entrance was a secluded but well-stocked bar area and on the other side of the wall, there were a handful of tables, plus the long, communal bar table with high chairs facing directly to the open kitchen. The dining area wasn't exactly super spacious but comfortable with soft lighting. I was told there's also the private room on the upper level equipped with a separate R&D kitchen too for some who wants a more cozy dining experience.

I asked to be seated at the bar table, and they put me in front of the kitchen's cold station where most of the appetizer and desserts were prepared. Turned out it's great having an unhindered view of what's happening inside the kitchen, it also allows me to interact with Chef Ryan and his team with my many questions. And also another thing I like? The lamp next to each seat provided perfect lighting to take food pictures!

For dinner service, basically it's a choice between the simpler, 5-course Classic menu or the more elaborate Gourmand menu, both came with wine matching options. Just like many trendy dining spots, menu courses were listed simply by major ingredients, leaving the rest up to guests' imagination, at least until the dishes were presented. I opted for the shorter Classic menu this time, not wanting to sit through a long meal by myself and went for a glass of wine instead of going for the full flight. (Unfortunately they only have a very limited wine by glass menu, just be forewarned)

The meal began with three "Snack" dishes - essentially amuse-bouches in bite-size portions - served sequentially. To start, it's their rendition of "Singapore curry", served in a small, aluminum-sealed jar. Inside was curry foam, topped with puffed rice and curry leaves. It was followed by thin strips of capsicum in charcoal color served with wasabi-soy "dipping sauce", to be eaten with a pair of tweezers. Capsicum was coated with tempura batter mixed with vegetable carbon (giving it the color and the smokey flavor), deep-fried, placed on a dark slate plate, and on the side, it's a dollop of slightly viscous fluid gel made with dark soy sauce and wasabi. Last one was a transparent gazpacho (i.e. tomato water) served with basil essence and olive oil caviar in a tall shot-glass. They were all fun to have, but particularly I enjoyed the capsicum most with its playful presentation and interesting combination of flavors - love the umami tastes from the wasabi-soy fluid gel.

My first course was listed as kingfish carpaccio, yuzu, cucumber and black radish. A frozen "disc" of thinly sliced kingfish carpaccio and black radish (in marble pattern) was placed in the bottom of the plate, then it's brushed with a light yuzu dressing and topped with numerous condiments including mini tomatoes, avocado sorbet, sesame salt, olive caviar, nori crisp and cucumber slices. Not only it's drop dead gorgeous to look at - like a little garden - it's also filled with all these distinct flavors and textures which I could easily taste through each bites.

I continued with the seafood theme in the next course, which was a parsley root and purple garlic veloute with razor clams. The soup has a mellow flavor - wasn't as garlicky as I expected but rather sweet like what you would get when you slowly roast your garlic in the oven - and that brought out the fresh taste of the razor clam bits inside the bowl, with dehydrated parsley leaves as garnishes.

My third course was seafood again, and this time it's monkfish with lime tofu, green curry and tom kha veloute. It's another playful act of Southeast Asian cuisine using local spices, and this time, monkfish was filleted and sous-vided, served with pea puree mixed with green curry, pickled celery strips and a coconut-dominant tom kha foam mixed with rice. Once again, I was impressed with the complex flavors and textures working so well with one another.

Main course - and the last savory course - was kangaroo, served with an "onion ring", salsify puree with puffed rice, micro-herbs and arugula puree. I guess the highlight of the dish was the "onion ring" which has a almost jelly-like texture. The chef explained to me how it's made, and that involved something like "gellifying" the onion juice, molded into ring-shape, frozen by liquid nitrogen, coated in onion bread crumbs and deep-fried. The result was a onion ring with a delicate, crunchy crust with a soft but intense filling full of onion flavor. Definitely not something one could do at home. My only complaint of the dish (especially the meat) was it's tad too salty, but other than that, it's nicely done.

The dessert course was chocolate-based and featured familiar tastes presented in unfamiliar forms. In the center of the plate was a chocolate "aero" cake (frozen foam maybe?), then surrounding it was chocolate "jelly worm", port fluid gel, manuka honey powder, cocoa nibs and chocolate "soil". I reckon the presentation was a bit messy and the tastes a bit one dimensional (nothing to contrast with the chocolate taste), but it's still decent.

Well, simply put, I enjoyed my first experience at The Tippling Club. I liked seeing everyone behind the kitchen works as a team while utilizing their individual adventurous minds to create and assemble the dishes. Okay, I wish they would make use of more local ingredients, or I did raise my eyebrows with the sights of extensive use of ready-made components (fruit purees, for example) which came in a plastic box imported from overseas. I was told this is for quality consistency sake which I wasn't 100% convinced that was necessary. But overall I like the originality of the dishes and felt they made good use of those new techniques to adequately challenge my taste-buds. 

Many naysayers may dismiss the food they served here as merely "Tweezers Food", offering more style than substance or going over the top with avant garde techniques, but for me, I didn't see anything wrong someone want to push the boundary a little further and make the dish pretty to look at. Probably not what I want for everyday food, but nothing wrong with that once in a while. I will definitely like to come back some other time for more of Chef Ryan's creations. 

Where? Tippling Club, 38 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore
Menu Highlights? Kingfish Carpaccio, Yuzu, Cucumber, Black Radish
Drinks? Weingut Markus Huber Gruner Veltliner "Berg" Tippling Club Selection 2011

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