Tippling Club is turning out to be one of the most frustrating restaurants I’ve reviewed. This is why: it is in Singapore. If it were in London then I would be profusely pushing it on every foodie I know, enthusing about its merits and glorying over the fact I’ve discovered such a gem. As it happens, so many conversations have started ‘Oh, I had the most wonderful food experience, you must go… when you’re in South East Asia.”
The fact is, the experience that’s being offered at Tippling Club is, really, second to none. I say ‘experience’ because it is not simply a meal – it is an event to savour. From the first cocktails enjoyed at the bar (chosen from a ‘web’ of flavours rather than your average list), right on through each individual, innovate and thrilling course, then your senses will be tingling at the newness of it all. Combine that with the fact we sat at the kitchen table, watching the flurry of activity and meticulous detail, and it was food theatre at its very best.
A Chef to Impress
As soon as your meet chef Ryan Clift, you get the feeling he was never one to play by the rules. Going for the ‘safe option’ doesn’t seem like it exists in his mentality, and the result is a concept that’s pushing boundaries. What’s more, it’s evident he is not one to be satisfied with a mediocre performance. Tippling Club can be found on Tanjong Pagar Road – a new location, one that Chef Clift us more than happy with. The pervious Tippling Club scooped several awards, from being named in the World’s 50 Best Bars, to being rated Restaurant of the Year at the Singapore World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence 2013. Now he’s honed the restaurant to his ideal specifications, and you can tell that he’s pleased with the fruits of his labour.
Join The Club
On arrival Chef Clift gives us a tour of the new Tippling Club – spread over three shop units, it features a bar, dining room and upstairs private dining room. It is the result of his own vision, and it seems his flair for creativity extends from the plate to interior design.
We’re already singing its praises as we enter – the colour scheme embraces various shades of green, from fresh mint to tropical, vibrant lime, and this combination extends to the decor. There are luxe green leather bar stools and bright, William Morris-esque swirling print wallpaper. Art Deco tiles adorn the floor, and the fittings alternate between walnut hued-wood and trendy black. The result is a crazily cool ground floor that has a mixture of gentleman’s club suave and tongue-in-cheek dandy. We soon learn that this pairing of ‘admired classic’ with ‘frivolous experimental’ is a theme that runs throughout the food and cocktails as well.
Upstairs boasts a private bar with a circular 60s style seating area, and a private dining room adjacent to a test kitchen, where willing guinea-pigs can try new dishes before they’re even on the menu. Decorated in chocolate browns, stone grey and with splashes of vibrant, ruby red, this is the place where wine lovers should flock. After all, it’s named Bin 38and is a collaboration between Chef Clift and iconic Australian winery Penfolds, and it is here that guests and groups can enjoy tasting menus complemented by fabulous wines. Overall, there is an undeniable confidence about the whole place that is immediately alluring.
Get Tipsy with Tippling’s Cocktail Map
The cocktail menu at Tippling reflect the ethos – modern, creative and assured. It is presided over by Kamil, who has had great success in global mixology competitions, and is like no cocktail menu I’ve seen before in my long career of drinking. I love the fact it’s not so much as list, but is instead a map with six ‘zones’ (much like the taste zones on a tongue), that range from sweet to smokey to bitter. We perched at the bar – another design dream in industrial metal, with the glinting liquor bottles hanging from wires and lamps of trendy exposed bulbs. Kamil talked us through the menu, completely at home shaking and stirring behind the bar.
Just a glance at the menu had us immediately captivated. Ingredients such as peanut vodka nudge up to granola – there are green peas, earl grey honey and chocolate spice. It’s experimental, confident and very exciting. I was immediately drawn in by a predominately dry drink called The Sounds of Tokyo – containing gin, nori & cucumber vermouth, and fino sherry, it packs a great punch and is both delicate in its fragrant flavour combinations, while also being reassuring boozy. The Trigger A Smile is both delicious and beautiful – a cool green mixture of gin, pineapple, vermouth and citrus, with a basil leaf floating on the surface. Pink Peppercorn Negronis were two of the best we’ve tried, the amber liquid resplendent with a special kind of spiciness that made us think of woodsmoke and firesides and crisp, autumn leaves.
The Main Event
Tippling Club is all about the Tasting Menu, and we tried some of the best loved dishes, paired with the odd cocktail or two. We found ourselves applauding each dish for the wow-factor – and that’s before you’ve even got past the ‘snacks’. It really is an explosion of colour, taste and a riot for the senses.
These famous snacks included Prawn paper with ebi sakura, freeze-dried pea and garlic aioli (a fabulous wafer resplendent with oceanic flavours), Tom yum curry mousse with tempura of coriander and fresh coconut (bringing a taste of the exotic Far East to our mouths, via the vehicle of feather-light mousse that had been whipped into submission more than a character from Fifty Shades) and jamon iberico with freeze-dried tomato and an olive oil gel (below) that was almost too beautiful to eat and then completely blew our heads off with the mixture of tomato freshness and salty, expertly preserved meat.
A palate cleanser of a Tomato, basil and olive oil caviar lava lamp summarised this experience – a joy to watch it served, with a hint of kitsch fun, and simply pure, unadulterated flavour.
From then on it was course after course of blindingly inventive culinary wizardry. Wild Scottish razor clams with milk-braised parsley root, parsley chlorophyll and a cream of purple garlic from Brittany was a dish of rich, tongue-coating luxury combined with melt-in-the-mouth clams. Puree of foie gras with cold confit apple, and a curl of gaufrette (brown butter biscuit – ideal for scooping) had a swooning in ecstasy, and was paired with a delicious Featherman cocktail (vsop cognac, madeira, black walnut bitters and citrus). The highlight for me was A4 Toriyama wagyu beef served with burrata, horseradish, Japanese fruit tomato and artichoke. It combined all of my favourite flavours and was an absolute encapsulation of umami taste. We finished with ‘Mandarin Cheesecake‘ – Enzymatic peeled mandarin slices, caramelised yoghurt, yoghurt sorbet, and edible branches. This deconstructed delight was the perfect way to finish – there was a definite lightness to the components, while also working together to create the ultimate sweet. And all the while we watched the chefs in the kitchen working like a well-oiled machine, completing a satisfyingly busy Wednesday lunch service with ultimate competence.
Singapore is a vibrant, hectic and demanding city, where there is always some new trend being bucked and people are on the look-out for a fresh new concept. So, it makes sense that you have to be damned good to stay ahead of the curve. In this sense, I can only imagine Tippling Club is earning itself more and more fans – and am not surprised it was packed when we visited midweek. What’s being offered is wholly unique, with inventive and high-quality food that is neither overly priced nor fastidious or stuffy in any way. It really is astoundingly impressive, and each morsel had us wondering how it could get any better. The whole menu is like a finely tuned piece of music, working together to create a harmony that you will remember for a long time after visiting. And rest assured, it’s one tune you’ll be singing to others for a long time to come.
On the day that I entered klapsons, The Boutique Hotel, Singapore was suffering in the grip The Haze – a yearly smog that descends due to fires in Indonesia, and renders all Singaporeans reliant on N95 filtration masks. The result was a sky grey as an old flannel, and a burnt tang at the back of my throat.
So to say klapsons was like an oasis of shine, colour and freshness isn’t too much of an exaggeration. But perhaps ‘oasis’ isn’t quite the right word. ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ might be more of a better description.
Boutique Me Up, Scotty
Entering klapsons, The Boutique Hotel, I almost felt like I was stepping into some Space-Age Disco lobby designed by The Jetsons, with significant input from Twiggy. It’s a glorious and jubilant temple to design, where sixties chic merges with contemporary pieces and more sci-fi influenced elements. The reception desk, for instance, is accessed via steps into a giant silver-chrome pod that seems to hover above a pool of shimmering water. It’s as if you’re boarding an intergalactic mothership – when you do speak, the acoustics make your voice resonate so it sounded a little like I’d been sucking in helium (which I found extremely funny, and therefore talked twice as much as I usually would to the lovely and patient Tony).
The seating in the lobby alternates between squishy couches and trendy, stylish chairs – everything is a balance of aesthetic beauty and ergonomic comfort, and it’s very obvious a lot of thought has gone into the decor. This feeling of care and attention seeps from the whole hotel, and imbues visitors with a sensation that they are somewhere safe – a haven where every need will be met with competent, smooth assurance. I put down my bag, sunk into a sofa, and immediately forgot the somewhat grim world outside.
Oh, and another thing – it pays to look up at klapsons. The ceiling overhead is a multitude of curves and holes and flowing lines that, periodically, change colour with neon ambient lighting. It’s entirely restful and a little hypnotic, and I’m not surprised so many people feel lulled into a sense of soporific security upon arrival. Award for coolest lobby I’ve ever waited in? I think so.
Staying In A Room Like No Other
The dedication to providing a unique experience at klapsons is perfectly encapsulated in each of the 17 rooms, since no two are the same. Each have individual design quirks that ensure your stay is different from every other person sleeping in the hotel – more of that lovely attention to detail, you see. I was staying in the klapons Suite – glamorous, chic and ideal for couples wanting a romantic break. Seriously, the hustle and bustle of Singapore seem miles away as you indulge in ultimate relaxation in the indoor jacuzzi bathtub, or enjoy a drink on a private balcony.
After the sensory colour-bomb of the lobby, the Suite is remarkably tranquil. The walls are pale and soothing, and a large white bed takes centre stage, with a crushed raspberry throw adding a pop of vibrancy. More elements of stunning design are dotted about, from the cool lighting to the curved chairs in the lounge area (all premium Italian furnishings, FYI). It’s all very simple and effective.
Dividing glass doors make great use of space; the plateau-inspired stone sinks are the kind everyone wants in their own bathroom; and there are interesting cubes of artwork on the wall. One big draw is the freestanding jacuzzi, standing proudly in front of the balcony so you can look at the city while soaking in the tub. It is the perfect escape, and trust me when I say it provides a thoroughly restful nights sleep.
Waking Up To A Sleeping Rhino
Breakfast is taken in the little restaurant downstairs, quirkily named The Sleeping Rhino. The klapsons signature luminous lightning and nods to design are continued in this room, and one can sit at individual tables or very cosy booths (I did the latter). One wall is completely glass, so you can watch other Singaporeans hurrying to work while you enjoy the fare on offer – a buffet in the centre has fruit and cereals, and a menu has more than a few tempting treats. Crab cakes with hollandaise were especially exciting, but I couldn’t not have the Croque Monsieur – it was everything it should be (creamy, salty, melted golden cheese seeping from butter-soaked bread. So, so good). The pancakes with maple syrup and bacon were also an extravagance that seemed acceptable since I was on holiday. Bravo, klapsons – you know that the people want.
To call yourself a boutique hotel, it’s pretty essential to display a flair for design – which klapsons pulls off with aplomb. Stepping inside feels like you’re entering a museum of contemporary art, and prepare to spend a decent amount of time wandering around with an open-mouth, peeking at all the stunning and unique pieces. Not only does this flood visitors with appreciative awe, but it also means you forget the rush of the world outside as you move sedately from wall to wall – and this is a very clever way of instantly relaxing anyone who’s just arrived. In fact, klapsons The Boutique Hotel manages to achieve what a lot of hotels aim for – that careful balance whereby they both invigorate and soothe their visitors. A stay here will calm your soul, inspire your imagination, and leave you energised for what is next to come – and this is exactly what a boutique hotel should be designed to do.