We often get asked why we love local flavours so much in our drinks. A strange question to be asked, we think.
Wouldn’t it be natural for us, Singaporeans born and bred, to embrace local flavours?
As a people with a short history and embryonic national art, literature or music, local food and drink is what Singaporeans have. With Michelin starred chefs and big bars flocking to our shores, wouldn’t it be sad if our cuisine were to fade away?
There is a grain of truth in what people say, though. We grow no grapes in Singapore, harvest no grain nor produce any sugar. Just about everything we eat or drink comes from somewhere else. We are an outcrop of globalism, and have been since our days as a trading post.
Perhaps the very idea of Singaporean drinks seems ludicrous.
Or does it?
Nutmeg and Clove
This unassuming little establishment remains one of our favourites precisely because it manages to meld Singaporean sensibilities with international flavours.
The original menu at the bar reflected the major eras in our history. A little on the nose perhaps, but we appreciated the sentiment.
That is gone now, replaced by a concept that’s more subtle- and in our opinion, more rewarding. At the bar’s National Day preview, we saw classic cocktails and local herbs, fruits, flowers and spices come together to form splendid new drinks. A fitting metaphor for our country’s place in the world, we think.
Needless to say, we’ve anticipated this new set of drinks with bated breath.
In some cases, using the term “Singaporean twists on a classic” might be quite an understatement; the resemblance is mostly spiritual.
Take the new Midnight Flings($22++) as an example. It’s based on the Hanky Panky ($18++), a classic spirit forward cocktail, created by Ada Coleman at the Savoy in London in 1903. The combination of London dry gin, Italian vermouth and Fernet Branca give the classic a powerful aroma, a robust herbal body and a lingering bitter chocolate finish that is distinctively Italian.
The Midnight Flings trades in the traditional components for Milagro Blanco tequila, sweet vermouth, tongkat ali bitters, chrysanthemum, osmanthus and saline. While the other ingredients might be vaguely familiar, tongkat ali begs a brief introduction. Known as “Malaysia Ginseng”, it is commonly used aphrodisiac. The cocktail’s name is, we surmise, a wink to that.
Despite all the changes, few would have trouble identifying the drinks as cousins (though distant ones). The bitterness and herbal flavours are consistent, if a bit milder and mellower than that of the Hanky Panky. It combines the best traits of the negroni and chrysanthemum liang teh; both of which acquired tastes, we grant.
From across the Atlantic, we have the New York Sour($18++), a combination of Wild Turkey bourbon, sugar, lemon and a red wine float. The version concocted by the crew has a light pine flavour and fragrance, which balances both sweet and sour perfectly. Citrus and berry notes brighten up the sweet bourbon. A tasty drink.
The localised Straits Time Sour ($22++) takes the classic and adds an entirely new dimension. Instead of bourbon, it uses clove-infused Botanist gin. Basil syrup, lemon juice, and mulled red wine then complete a Singaporean rendition of a classic sour.
A welcoming aroma of spices wafts gently from the glass. The addition of cloves and basil elevate the drink from a simple sweet-sour combination to a complex melange of savoury, spicy and herbal flavours.
There’s little about the Gin Fizz ($18++) that hasn’t been said. A simple combination of London dry gin, lemon, sugar and soda is always refreshing, but rarely excites.
The new One in a Melon($22++), however, is far more interesting. Butterfly-pea-flower-infused-Hendrick’s Gin, coriander, lemon juice, clarified watermelon juice and pickled watermelon rind brine make for a very different drink.
While tasting this, we had the impression that we were drinking a cloud; airy and weightless. With the “cooling” influence of the cucumber-rich Hendricks and the watermelon in the cocktail, it is just as, if not more, refreshing than the original.
Yet, layered with the sharp citrus acidity of the gin fizz is a softer, rounder tartness reminiscent of preserved sour plum. A savoury note accentuates all the other flavours in the drink and ties it all together. Very enjoyable.
Strangely enough, we end off with the quintessential hair of the dog. The traditional Bloody Mary ($18++) is made with Ketel One Vodka, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, fresh tomato and celery. The folks at Nutmeg and Clove eschew the popular throwing technique (bar speak for “tarik”) and give the drink a light shake instead.
The result is rich, savoury and bursting with the sweet flavour of fresh ripe tomatoes. It’s a little on the spicy side, but we like it that way. The best Bloody Mary that we’ve ever tasted- no hyperbole.
The local spin, Dear Rosemary($22++), uses spice-infused-Hendrick’s Gin, rosewater, oolong tea syrup, lemon, pickled tomato, salt, black and white pepper, mustard seeds and sour plum powder.
We didn’t think that rose could be made into a savoury pick-me-up, but the crew managed, somehow. The aromatic component brought by the rose and spices add a bit of olfactory interest to the classic, which we consider to be a huge improvement.
There is an interesting play between the sweet and floral notes and the umami and spicy elements, a kind of liquid tension that gives the cocktail a delicious bite.
Summing it all up
Wow. These drinks are superb.
Whether one slants towards the classics or wants to enjoy the local flavours, it is hard to be disappointed. With the hits from our earlier preview also available, we think that the new menu provides something for everyone; whether one wants something spirit forward, refreshing, savoury or plain fun.
Above all, we’re glad that someone has finally managed to combine both great quality and a sense of Singaporean-ness in cocktails. This revamp is possibly one of the best things we’ve happened upon this year.
Nutmeg and Clove