SINGAPORE | Tippling Club Singapore has been around for a few years now, although its only been at its current location since late 2013. This is one of those restaurants that’s received so many accolades over the years that it finds itself by default on the list of many a diner looking to sample the best of what Singapore has to offer.
It’s one of those restaurants that’s firmly at the forefront of the worldwide trend of shedding the stuffy and pretentious image associated with fine dining. The degustation menu is certainly priced at the top end of the market, and the food that is served is most certainly fine dining, however there are fun twists and turns involved, the staff are professional but not stuffy and the atmosphere is that of an upmarket bar – silk tablecloths, suits and ties are well and truly banished at Tippling Club. In fact, if you don’t want to have a full degustation meal, there are a range of bar snacks available that can be eaten in the restaurant’s bar section.
The food that is served up by part owner/head chef Ryan Clift is best described as modern gastronomy. Fine dining technique and precision with creative elements and a style that happily bounds between European, Asian and a whole lot more. As long as the produce is fresh and of the highest quality and the flavours work well together, there are no rules. Clift clearly has a passion for what he does – I was seated at the open kitchen and had a few chats with Clift about the restaurant and the food scene in general and I was struck by how into it all he was, given that it was way back in 2008 when Tippling Club opened. Some chef may have become bored after this time but I suppose the change of venue and the constantly changing menu means that Clift’s creative juices are constantly able to flow.
When I visited, the new menu had just launched, and featured a lot of Japanese influences. Not Japanese food as such, but flavours and techniques that anyone who has eaten food in Japan would recognise. Clift told me that one of the reasons he loves cooking in Sinagpore is because of the variety of Asian ingredients that can be sourced fresh in Japan. The Sinagpore base allows him to do things he wouldn’t be able to do in Australia (Clift was once the head chef at Melbourne’s Vue De Monde) or his birthplace of England.
Tippling Club isn’t just about the food and along with the as to be expected excellent wine list, there’s a real focus on cocktails. The drinks pairing for the degustations (diners can choose between the 6 course “classic” or 12 course “gourmand”) actually contain a combination of cocktails and wine. As with the food, the focus is on quality ingredients and interesting, but never unnecessary, touches. I decided to go for the 6 course “classic” degustation (S$160++) but as you can see, the snacks that come out before the courses begin are numerous, and you end up eating a lot more than 6 things. Instead of the drinks pairing, I chose 2 cocktails from the menu.
The Fig Sidecar contained fig infused cognac, citrus and orange glass. A bit sweet, a bit spicy and a lot delicious.
I ordered the Pablo halfway through my meal and the combination of cachaca, grape, lillet blanc and passion fruit was a beautiful way to clean my palate before moving on to the heavier dishes of the night.
The snacks kicked off with a curry mousse and coriander tempura. This snack was extremely delicate, and tasted just like a curry but was texturally completely different. It really set the scene for what was to come throughout the night. A nice touch was that different dishes were brought out and explained by different members of the kitchen – I loved that the people actually involved in making the dishes were explaining what they were all about.
This beef tendon was dried and served as a light cracker, with a topping that was meant to invoke a Margherita pizza. A novel idea that can only be understood when you put it into your mouth and realise that you’re eating pizza, but you’re not and… wonderful.
Snack number 3 was one of the most visually striking dishes of the night and is one of Clift’s signature snacks. Smoked red peppers charred to the extent that they were completely black on the outside, yet still soft and moist on the inside along with a soy and wasabi dipping sauce. How does Clift do it? Well actually the peppers aren’t charred black at all, rather they are lightly coated in a squid ink tempura batter. Looks can be deceiving! The kind of thing one could nibble on all night with a brilliantly unexpected textural contrast.
Fish With Mirin & Nori Cracker
A simple dish topped with salmon roe. Delicious.
Chorizo & Tomato Sandwich
Well it’s not a sandwich in any traditional sense of the word, but it’s rather delicious that’s for certain. Having the chorizo and tomato come out in gel form was totally unexpected.
Wild Mushroom Maki
This wild mushroom maki came with a vessel containing herb oil that is injected into the maki before eating. Despite its appearance, this was actually one of the more simple dishes of the night.
It might not be alcoholic, but this shot hit all of the high notes, with the basil olive oil that was poured in at the bench mixing with the concentrated soup to form a tomato lava-lamp like concoction of deliciousness.
So after all of the snacks, it was finally time to move onto the first of the 6 courses. The eel with charred shallot and mustard ice cream continued the trend set by the snacks of being utterly delicious. The mustard ice cream had a very soft texture to it and was much more creamy than any standard ice cream. The Japanese influences in both the mustard and the eel really shone through here, with everything coming together nicely.
The scallops were served with parsley root and a purple garlic soup. The thin pasta sheet atop the soup added a very interesting textural element to the dish, which was really all about highlighting the freshness of the scallops.
Rockling & Smoked Ox Tongue
This was one of my highlights of the night. I’ve never thought to have fish and ox tongue together yet somehow this combination worked wonderfully. The folded ox tongue was served atop the rockling, alternating with a classic flavour pairing, beetroot. In true Tippling Club style the beetroot was bay baked, and there was also a horseradish and beetroot distillation.
Roast Pigeon A’La Tallyrand
This dish was the most rustic of the lot, but also the heaviest. There was a generous amount of roast pigeon served with cep mushroom puree, truffle macaroni and jus peragadine (a truffle infused sauce). It was very tasty but if I had any criticism of the menu it would be that this is quite a heavy dish, and it was a struggle to fit it all in at the end of the meal.
The textured milk consisted of dehydrated milk “meringue” and rhubarb along with wood sorrel, coconut milk tapioca and frozen yoghurt. There was a lot going on in this dish and everything worked well either individually or combined. A real “mix it the way you want” type dessert where each bite is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, especially on the textural side.
No fine dining degustation is complete of course, without petit fours and somehow I managed to squeeze these in too. I cannot recall what each of them were but I can guarantee that each and every one was finished in full.
There’s a reason why Tippling Club has been around since 2008 and it’s obvious. Ryan Clift is clearly passionate about what he does, and throughout the night I saw him walking up to diners whenever he could find a spare moment to chat to diners. The food and drinks are excellent, fun and inventive and the space is casual. The whole operation is very professional, yet there’s not pretension to speak of. Some say that fine dining is dead, but that’s not correct at all. Tippling Club proves that fine dining is alive and well – it just looks nothing like it used to.
38 Tanjong Pagar Road
Mon – Fri: 12:00pm to 3:00pm; 6:00pm to late
Sat: 6:00pm to late