Our favourite time of the year is here again. Chinese New Year is once again on the horizon (actually, it’s pretty much at our doorsteps) and with it comes sweet revelry. And drinks, of course.
Last year, Nutmeg and Clove created a special set of drinks just for the occasion. We’re glad to say that they’ve done it again for the Year of the Dog.
Question is, are they any good this year?
We are still mighty impressed with the very traditional Singaporean Chinese feel of Nutmeg and Clove. Even though they’ve switched up the menu to include more regional ingredients, they’re not shy about returning to their roots.
The difficulty here is actually in creating new drinks; the paradox of trying to celebrate tradition by not serving something traditional.
Well, the crew at the bar has still managed to come up with three drinks for the occasion. We discuss them in recommended drinking order.
#1: 旺 (pronounced “wang”)
The first drink is a play on the copious seafood often served during the New Year. We remember bowls of steaming seafood soup (thankfully sans shark’s fin nowadays), thick mounds of springy fatt-choy topped with oysters, abalone served with a thick, savoury broth. These are the flavours we (and many others) grew up with. Does the drink measure up?
It is a combination of Mount Gay Black Barrel, oyster sauce, ginger reduction, coriander, lime juice, and soda. It also comes with a fortune cookie on the side, though it is mostly for nostalgia rather than flavour.
On first sip, it definitely recalls the flavours of seafood; the umami of oysters works quite well with the green coriander and ginger flavours. Then, the lime juice comes into its own, followed by a mild wood flavour and a pleasant tart finish.
Overall, the texture is light and fizzy, which was not quite what we were expecting. It’s light, refreshing, and definitely very palatable, but it wasn’t quite what we were picturing in our heads when thinking of dinner. Your best bet if you’re looking for a light, savoury drink.
The ingredient list resembles the catalogue of a Chinese medicine shop; red-date-infused-Hendrick’s Gin, Chinese mushrooms, wolfberry, angelica root, Averna, Noily Prat vermouth and walnut bitters. It’s garnished with a slice of marinated dried fish and candied orange.
When we first put our lips to the glass, we catch the smell of the garnish; a sweet-savoury aroma that will remind one of dark soy sauce and fish. The familiar bittersweet scent of herbal soup then reaches us- full of earth and root.
The drink itself is spirit forward, and on sipping, the flavours of Chinese herbs immediately fill the mouth. It reminds us a great deal of savoury black chicken soup. Yet, these flavours are not overwhelming, and eventually lighten to leave a bittersweet aftertaste.
The combination of salted fish and candied orange in the garnish is a stroke of genius. The savoury fish complements the bitterness and makes it richer, and the sweetness of the orange mellows the drink’s bitterness and cleanses the palate.
In a poorly balanced drink, its pungency might be off-putting, but in this case it comes off as comforting and evocative of mother’s cooking. Its closest analogue might be a White Negroni, but that sells Reunion short. It captures the warmth of Chinese New Year in an amber prison. Most piquant.
The final drink rounds off the menu in a way most apt, considering its name. On the fifteenth day of the New Year, festivities are brought to a close. Traditionally, red lanterns are lit and everyone enjoys a bowl of tangyuan, glutinous rice balls served in sweet ginger syrup. These balls are commonly filled with either a peanut or black sesame paste.
It should come as no surprise that the final drink’s ingredients include roasted-peanut-bourbon, osmanthus, lemon and topped with a black sesame foam. If the preceding two drinks are the appetiser and main course, then this would be the dessert.
The foam releases the bouquet of sweet black sesame, and creates an ethereal sensation when sipped. Both the sesame and the peanut prove to be excellent complements to bourbon, adding a light roasted nuttiness to the vanilla and pine of the whiskey. The lemon and osmanthus rein in the sweetness and give the drink balance.
Overall, a very delicious drink for those with a sweet tooth. It never proves to be too heavy. Perhaps that explains why we finished the entire glass within a minute.
Summing it all up
Well, we’re glad to say that the folks at Nutmeg and Clove haven’t lost their touch. All of the drinks are enjoyable in their own way, but if we had to choose only one, we’d pick the Reunion.
The great part is that if you can’t pick just one, you might not have to; they’re going for a song. $18++ a glass regularly, and $14++ during happy hour (6pm till closing on Monday and Tuesday and from 6-8pm from Wednesday to Saturday).
Nutmeg and Clove