The wave of local-inspired cocktails has caught on, it seems. It was almost inevitable, of course. Southeast Asia is a region so rich in flavours that it practically begs to be properly distilled into all sorts of great food and cocktails.
The difficult thing is to find a balance between the strong flavours of the region, unique as they may be, and those in more traditional cocktails. This is a challenge of course; who has found a good way to put chilli padi and sambal belacan in a tipple?
Which brings us to new bar Bee Bee’s. While the name led us to believe that it was a new age apiary, it is in fact a Peranakan-Tiki bar.
A unique heritage
Bartender-Owner Bryan Kishore is the living embodiment of Singapore’s multiracial society; he’s half Indian and half Peranakan (of mixed Malay- Chinese heritage). Unsurprisingly, his upbringing was a meld of different cultures- and cuisines. His experiences seep through into his craft. The bar itself is named after his mother.
The drinks there are described as Tiki, with a heady dose of Peranakan influence. Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine is unique to Southeast Asia, and fuses Chinese, Malay and Indonesian ingredients and cooking techniques. It is a source of pride to the Peranakans, and the recipes are often passed down from mother to daughter.
Nyonya cuisine is delicious; a combination of flavourful, rich, and often spicy. The union of sour, sweet and fermented flavours give it a unique taste. One often recalls feasting on the milky and spicy Singapore laksa and its acridly tart Penang variant. Just as memorable is otak-otak, a fish cake with chilli, galangal, and herbs wrapped in a banana leaf, and Ayam Buah Keluak, chicken stewed with the fermented black nut that gives the dish its name.
In all these dishes, regional ingredients are well represented. Coconut milk and condiments such as galangal, candlenuts, pandan, lemongrass and chillies are commonly used. Few things smells more like home than the scent of those spices wafting through the kitchen door.
It is this feeling that we were looking for in Bee Bee’s cocktails.
We started off with the Flora Nangka ($15 nett). A rum-based tipple made with jackfruit syrup, lime, orange blossom and agave syrup, then garnished with a slice of dehydrated jackfruit and rimmed with ginger salt. It reminds us of a classic daiquiri, but with far less bite.
Thanks to the jackfruit and agave, the flavours are rounded rather than sharp- more sweet and honeyed than tart. The salt both accentuates the sweet and sour cocktail and adds an unusual combination of savoury and spicy flavours. Overall, a promising start; a drink that is unique and competently made.
We moved on to the Respite ($15 nett), a chocolate-heavy take on the Manhattan with a tart and sweet finish thanks to the addition of crème de cassis. While appealing to those who enjoy the flavour of chocolate, it lacks the rawness and power of a regular Manhattan. More importantly to us, it lacks the unique nyonya flavours that we were looking for.
The Sombong ($15 nett) is combination of pandan, pineapple, Midori melon liqueur and vodka that proved to be quite pleasant. There is light honey sweetness provided by the melon and pandan, which is a splendid pairing. We are reminded of the classic pandan chiffon cake- a wonderful childhood memory for us.
The drink is, however, a little too sweet, and could be better balanced with the addition of more pineapple(or lime, for that matter). At present, there is enough sourness to keep the drink on Earth, but not enough to give it added depth and dimension.
The Mai Tu Liao($15 nett) was clearly a riff of the classic Mai Tai, a drink we consider close to perfection. The name is all that it really shares with the classic tiki drink. While it incorporates the traditional orgeat, the rest of the ingredients are more reminiscent of a Southside; the base is gin, and peppercorn, chives, egg white, lime, mint, and a dash of cranberry bitters make up the rest of the list. The result is expectedly quite unlike a Mai Tai.
On its own merits, the dominant flavours of mint, chives and citrus are well integrated, which makes for a refreshing drink, mistaken identity aside. It is light and easily quaffable, but a hair too thin for something with egg white in it.
The most unique drink of the night was the Murmurs in Purple ($15 nett). A twist on the clover club, using homemade grape syrup in lieu of the usual raspberry, lavender and violet. The syrup itself was made with orange blossom, muscavado sugar, and a combination of 2 grapes. A floral drink with a wonderful bouquet, and it summons images of walking through a field of flowers. It is well balanced despite its floral-forwardness, and harmonises its moscatel sweetness, bitterness and citrus tartness. It doesn’t quite scream Peranakan at us, though.
The food menu is somewhat sparse at the moment, but the few items that are on it are quite delicious. Chef Shawn Koh, who is also the Head Chef at FIVE TEN, a Taiwanese-inspired eatery. There is a delicious Braised Pork Belly Rice Bowl ($8), served with egg and achar, and a Peranakan spiced Tuna Tartare Bruschetta ($7). There is also the vegetarian option of Auntie Mary’s Bruschetta ($6 nett), which features burrata instead of the tuna. All are very tasty, but we’re a little discomfited that the menu changes every two months.
We have some minor gripes about the size of the drinks. While $15 seems cheap, the drink sizes are smaller than normal- great if you’re trying a few different drinks, not so great if you’re just there for your daily poison.
The other thing is navigating the menu- while the prices are on the menu, not all the ingredients- most crucially the spirit base- are listed. When drinking the Mai Tu Liao, for example, not knowing that gin is used instead of rum leads to some very awkward moments. At first blush, you might not also realise there isn’t any brandy, cognac or mezcal in the drinks at all.
The nine drinks are also packed into one page, making the menu word dense and hard to read in the dim lighting. The idea behind that was that customers would speak to the bartenders and start a conversation. All well and good on on quiet nights, but guesswork will be called for on busy ones.
Summing it all up
Disappointingly, we did not find all that much Peranakan influence in the drinks (or food, for that matter). We enjoyed the Murmurs in Purple most of all, and that is hardly a showcase of Southeast Asian flavours. That is not to say that the nyonya ingredients are altogether absent, but we were left wondering if there was a missed opportunity to focus on our unique heritage on that 9 drink menu.
Perhaps we were expecting too much here, though- the drinks work fine on their own merits. Some of the drinks, such as the Murmurs in Purple and the Flora Nangka are quite good. Others, like the Mai Tu Liao and the Respite, could do with a bit of tweaking.
Overall, Bee Bee’s is promising, but there are some things that can be improved. We’re looking forward to going back in a couple of months and seeing how things evolve.