If you’ve ever been to Tippling Club, you know that it’s no ordinary bar.
It’s not just about the decor, which is tasteful, nor the service which is excellent.
No, its something else entirely. When you go there, you expect a mixological experience- and a unique one at that.
The word experience is quite overused in the wine and dine media. Everyone likes to call a trip to their restaurant or bar “an experience”. Aside from the fact that the actual “experience” is for the most part, mediocre to horrendous, the worst part is that it’s often just a contrivance. Quite often, the word turns out to be an euphemism for “gimmick”.
Not so in this case. There’s an artist’s touch to Tippling Club. The drinks are still excellent in execution; flavour, balance and presentation are all on point, and they have the awards to prove it. However, the differentiating factor is the concept or the thought, behind the cocktails there. It’s not enough for a tipple to be “merely” delicious. It must express an idea or an emotion.
When you come here, you do not simply drink the cocktail, you interpret it. It is the cerebral side of making drinks that creates an experience. That’s the difference.
It’s Michelin-worthy fine drinking.
The idea behind the new Dreams and Desires menu was, well, dreams and desires. As you might expect, each cocktail embodies one of these (mostly) abstract concepts, such as revenge, peace, supercar and so on.
It is quite a stretch to ask people to order drinks based solely on names like that. Fortunately, the architects of the menu, Head Bartender Joe Schofield among them, considered this difficulty, so it has a unique presentation: gummy bears.
Picture walking into an English candy shop and spotting jars of gummy bears on the shelves (you can see them in our masthead image). As you would expect, they come in kaleidoscopic colours, and you assume, flavours.
You take a gummy bear and bite into it. The taste is quite unlike any other gummy bear you have eaten into. There is no sense of artificiality, but the flavour is itself complex and quite hard to describe. Then you realise that you’re still sitting at the bar in Tippling Club, and each gummy bear is a bite sized sample of a cocktail. Within arm’s reach is a sample of every drink on the Dreams and Desire menu.
See what we mean by getting an experience?
The trouble is that it’s quite hard to review an experience, since they are, by definition, personal. We’ll talk about our own impressions, but your experience will, more so than other reviews, vary.
Our first drink was Lust. Served in a flute glass with an ossified slice of fruit precariously balanced on the rim, it seemed like an appropriate way to start. A wafting aroma floated slowly out of the glass, a siren’s call of sweet peaches and vanilla.
We took a sip. The drink had just a nice amount of acidity; there’s a definite bite to it, but as we all know, sourness refreshes the palate and whets the appetite. This initial taste is replaced by sweetness. Chocolate, sweet peach and vanilla that seems to go on forever while in the mouth. After the swallow, the sweetness is gone all too quickly.
Well, to us, that’s like every experience of lust that we’ve ever had.
What is this drink? When you break it down mechanically, it’s a modified bellini. In much the same way, you could say that the Mona Lisa is just paint and canvas. Yet, they’re both so much more. That’s the genius.
While lust seldom leads to happiness, in this case, we’re glad to say it did.
The drink itself has an edible sticker clipped to the side. The garnish is a little on the nose, we think. How about the flavours? We get an initial blast of citrus; the freshness of orange, lemon, and yuzu. It melds into a tangy sweetness from passionfruit and honey, then the grassy, herbal notes of tequila. A light bitterness brings everything to a close. The drink is quite sweet, and toes the line of being saccharine, without crossing it.
Fruit, honey and grass. That sounds a warm summer’s day. Happiness? We’d say so. The unrestrained joys of childhood and innocence, perhaps. It’s apt that the finish is a bitter one.
The flavours of vodka, lemon balm, lemon juice and almond milk come together to form Peace. There’s a smooth texture, milky- almost creamy. The initial bite of lemon is quickly softened by the smooth flavours of almond. The drink is mellow and remains so to the finish.
It’s soothing, but we wouldn’t go so far as to call it the sensation peace. Still, it’s a tasty drink.
From high ideals, we go to the baser elements of the modern dream: the supercar. We were glad that the garnish wasn’t a miniature car, but an edible “road” or “tire” (which it is, is, we suppose, up to interpretation). This was one of the harder drinks to create, according to Schofield, so we we admit to feeling trepidation about the result.
Verdict? It’s pretty good. The flavours of truffle oil are most obvious- and do a fine impression of petrol and smoke. The drink is buttery and even has a herbal, bitter tinge that is then balanced by sourness. There’s an industrial vibe to Supercar, if one can call a drink industrial. We think, perhaps, this is how a car would taste like.
The synthetic tones of truffle oil are the linchpin to the overall industrial feel. Is the delicious drink also a subtle commentary on the artificiality of our modern aspirations? Or are we reading too much into it?
We were in the mood for something interesting, so we asked for Revenge. Jokes aside about it being served cold (which it was), we were expecting something dark, bloody and bittersweet. We got a clear drink with swirls of red beneath the surface. Almost like washing bloody hands in a basin. A most poetic presentation.
Revenge is a dry drink, a spiced martini if you will. It’s strong, bitter, and tastes of fire and spice. There’s almost no sweetness in it. We didn’t quite like the drink, personally, though perhaps we can see that perhaps we shouldn’t revel in vengeance. For those who like their drinks strong and completely dry, you might enjoy a spot of revenge.
Our final drink was Knowledge, complete with edible “paper” as a garnish. The drink has woody aromas, but also sweet vanilla and chocolate notes. This, however, was only scratching the surface.
On first sip, the cocktail was a heady rush of sweet bourbon flavours. After taking a moment to gather our thoughts, we found remarkable complexity. There were fresh wood and pine notes, bringing to mind books and fresh parchment. The sherry in the drink lends it a savoury, nutty aspect. The chocolate gives the drink a milky sweetness, both supporting and contrasting the sweet spirit. The finish, however, is just so slightly bitter, but the drink is so well layered that it’s hard to tell where one flavour ends and another begins. It’s a very pleasant tipple.
It’s a superb representation of knowledge, on many levels. The form, a liquid representation of a book, is well crafted. Look beneath form, however, and we find commentary on the nature of knowledge. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as it seems to be at first glance. There is salt, sweat and a light bitterness that awaits at the end. Yet, it feels complete.
A triumph. Our favourite drink for sure.
Summing it all up
Taken on a purely mechanical level, the drinks were enjoyable and well made. There was an excellent diversity of flavours and they’re all integrated into the cocktails like threads in a square of silk. We liked most of the drinks, and even in those we didn’t, we think someone else might enjoy them.
However, that’s not the only reason why they’re so marvellous. The reason we spent so much time interpreting these cocktails, is that they’re the closest to art that we’ve ever found in a glass. We found that as our senses feasted, our mind was also engaged. This is a complete experience quite unlike any other you can find in Singapore.
All this comes at a price- and not a modest one. At $24++ per drink, they do not come cheap. Yet, we find ourselves wholeheartedly recommending that you bite the bullet and visit Tippling Club at least once. It’s an experience that we should be glad that money can buy.
P.S: If you’re interested in going to Tippling Club, and want to see what else head bartender Joe Schofield can come up with, you might also want to consider also going to the upcoming Once Upon a Time with Schofield Brothers. Joe and his brother Daniel team up with head chef Ayo Adeyemi to present a pairing of cocktails and North England cuisine. It’s held on Saturday, 10 February 2018 from 7pm onwards, and will cost $155++ for six cocktails with five small plates. RSVP and enquiries at [email protected].