I’ve been looking for a dessert place to replace my favorite post dinner hang-out; Will Goldfarb’s now defunct Room 4 Dessert and the sweet memories of the creations from Alex Stupak at wd-50 and Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin. It is as much a search for inventive, elegant and flawlessly executed desserts here in Singapore, as well as an easing of my yearning and associations of New York City, a place that I’ve left, but has never completely left me.
Unfortunately desserts at restaurants in Singapore are mostly a mere afterthought. The problem is that they often aren’t executed properly. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve gotten misshapen quenelles. It says a lot about a pastry chef, and especially a pastry chef, who should excel in precision, to not perfect their technique. But the larger problem lies in our Singaporean mindset. Desserts are often uninspired. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen a fucking molten chocolate cake on menus. I don’t know if it’s a lack of imagination on our part, or that we take ourselves too seriously. Desserts should be fun and not boring.
Which is why I love what chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club (formerly of Melbourne’s Vue du Monde) does. He takes something ordinary, like yogurt and gives it personality, actually four personalities in his port poached pear dish with four textures of yogurt. Desserts made interesting. Thank you.
He has mischievous flair. I couldn’t help but chuckle when he introduced the next dish as a mandarin orange sea sponge because it did look like a sea sponge! Definitely something I would see on my dives. The sponge was delicate and airy, but packed the assertive aromatic flavor of a mandarin orange, perfect for Chinese New Year. What is truly amazing about the dish is how the sponge, which was the star of the show, and shine it did, perfectly shared the stage with the other cast of characters; the pistachio crumble, matcha distillate and cilantro. It takes considerable skill and sense to make those components sing in harmony and chef Clift pulls it off with verve.
What I love about the desserts are that they are an exploration of texture. The sudachi snowball had an exciting effervescence, taking on the role of champagne, delightful and celebratory, it was fun to eat. I only wish that there were more sudachi flavor in the snowball. The yuzu curd though provided balance and body with its intoxicating hints of yuzu and assertive eggy taste.
There are a couple items on the menu that are deconstructions of your typical dessert staples. There is a perfectly executed tiramisu but it’s too close to the original to stand out. The lemon tart is slightly better. The real show stealer and my favorite dessert is the pear tartin 2009. I couldn’t help but be charmed when I saw it. A “pear” sat on puff pastry crumble studded with hidden crispy caramel. The “pear” was actually a flavorful but clean brown butter sorbet encapsulated with a gel. It’s a simple yet effective trompe l’oeil. Perhaps the smartest move by chef Clift, was breaking down the pear tartin into its elemental parts, the pastry, pear and the brown butter it’s cooked in and showcasing the best (at least my favorite) part, the brown butter. What you get is an emphasis on the most delicious aspect of a pear tartin.
As I’m writing this I’m a little sad because they are going to change their menu soon. So no more pear tartin, but I’m excited too, to see what chef Clift and his new head chef Scott Huggins (formerly from Iggy’s) have up their sleeves. I was given a little preview of what’s to come. This one was a luscious soft chocolate ganache with various textures of chocolate. The plate was garnished with orange juice that had been concentrated to a syrupy consistency with some fancy shmancy lab equipment. The flavor was intense.
Drinks from mixologist/artist Matthew Bax are an equally magnetic draw. As a (former) bartender myself, I think there isn’t any other place in Singapore that serves such well-crafted, inventive and downright delicious libations. There is an attention to detail, like cracking their own ice, as well as a reverence for the barman’s tradition but it’s tempered with progressive technique borrowed from the culinary avant-garde movement. Like the food at Tippling Club, what makes their drinks stand out is the sense of whimsy and theatrics.
A few weeks ago I ordered a drink and a waiter delivered a book to the table. To much bemused WTF-ery, I finally opened the book and in it sat a bottle within a cut out compartment. What a great way to serve a Teacher’s Tipple, my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of that delicious drink. There is a drink called Fuck the Subprime, funny name, unfortunately at $35, I haven’t tried it. One of my favorite drinks, the Kopi-O comes in clear takeaway plastic bags like those found at local coffee shops. The difference is that there is a rectangular glass beneath the bag so you can put your drink down, and your coffee shop version probably doesn’t come with aged rum and roasted banana maple.
I don’t think I fully appreciated before how glassware affects the perception of the whole drinking experience. I took for granted that drinks are supposed to be served in your standard glasses, the martini, collins, flutes and rocks. But most drinks at Tippling Club are served in unique vessels that really change the experience. Just look at what Alinea is doing with its dining ware.
I won’t describe them all and spoil the surprise. Experience it for yourself, they really are the best drinks in town, and I daresay it’s hard to find better anywhere else in the world.
8D Dempsey Rd
Hours: cocktails, bites and desserts, Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m. till late. Best to call before you go. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Price range: Cocktails, $18 to $35; desserts, $18 to $20. Or if in a group, get chef Clift to organize a tasting menu for desserts.
I’m including some pictures from two master classes I attended at Tippling Club under the banner of the Melbourne Temperance Society, which was founded by Matthew Bax in his Melbourne based Der Raum bar.
On the Cutting Edge with Sosa
Modern Food and Cocktails
14 May 2009, $85++
I’d been getting my ingredients for avant garde cuisine from Le Sanctuaire in the States, so I was excited that I could get them now in Singapore from Sosa though Euraco. Sosa brought in their executive chef Jordi Colomer to teach the techniques that would showcase their products.
The food was perfectly executed. Confirming what I thought was a top-notch kitchen team. (The first time I visited Tippling Club was during chef Wylie Dufresne’s World Gourmet Summit dinner. And the crew at Tippling Club executed Wylie Dufresne and Alex Stupak’s wd-50 menu to an exacting T. I was seriously impressed, especially since I was reading some not so good things about Tippling Club on the blog circuit.) But I have to admit, coming back to the Sosa master class that I preferred more “real” food. Desserts were amazing though and totally enjoyable. But perhaps the best thing that night was trying Matthew Bax’s cocktails. It was the start of my love affair with them.
Sosa executive chef Jordi Puigvert Colomer.
FOIE GRAS & PISTACHIO SANDWICH, light pear mayonnaise, goat cheese powder, porto caviar.
Cocktail Master Class with Sam Ross
Milk & Honey NYC
28 October 2009, $150++
Milk & Honey was a bar that I’ve always wanted to go to in New York. Unfortunately you need to make a reservation using a “secret” phone number. I finally got that number courtesy of Meredith, she deserves a shout out here. But it was my last week in New York and the bar was closed for renovation. So I was extremely psyched when Sam Ross, their head bartender was doing a master class with the Melbourne Temperance Society. The drinks where phenomenal, there was a particularly gorgeous one, the Rebel Champagne, it was a velvety, sensual dessert-in-a-glass without being cloying or heavy. My only complaint was that the class was pretty dumb-ed down for the non-bartenders (everyone but me.) Still Sam tailored bits of the class to talk about refinement of the bartender’s art. In those short minutes I learnt more than in the last few years. Very informative and inspirational.
It was also at that event that I tried chef Clift’s food (as opposed to a guest chef’s) for the first time. I was particularly impressed with his bourbon coulant dessert. It was like a molten chocolate cake that I hate to see on menus turned upside down. The honey and white chocolate made a very interesting flavor combination. It could almost be mistaken for butterscotch, especially since it was off white in color and not dark like chocolate. Cold, white, chocolate but not, it was a refreshing and delicious take the molten chocolate cake cliché. I felt it was a jab at all the uninspired chefs who allow such garbage on their menu. It made the dessert even more enjoyable.