Every now and then I come across a meal that impresses the crap out of me. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a crisp linen kind of joint with crockery significantly larger than the morsel of food that sits upon it, hell, it could be a crusty hole-in-the-wall with multi-legged ground feeders sharing my dining space. An iconic food moment can happen in any environment. When that moment happens, where the world slows down and every sense is being delicately caressed, I have no choice but to surrender, go with the flow and be grateful for the experience.
Stopping over in Singapore for a few nights after a couple of weeks in Vietnam was a perfect way to end the holiday, and at the same time, slightly prolong it. In my eyes, holidays should never end. If you can drag it out that little bit longer, why the hell not? Almost two decades have passed since my last Singapore stop-over; a visit I barely remember. Little India, Boat Quay, the Swissotel, Tiger beer. I don’t even remember what I ate.
Here’s one meal I won’t forget for quite some time. Found in the labyrinthine Dempsey Hill restaurant complex is the Tippling Club, a drinking and eating house that was initially a joint venture between Singaporean Cynthia Chua, founder of Spa Esprit, UK-born chef Ryan Clift and Adelaide-born artist/mixologist Matthew Bax.
Together they made a few dreams come true, transforming a military building into a beautiful drinking and dining space, inside and out. Matt left the party a couple of years ago.
The set-up almost reminds me of Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney where most of the diners sit up at the kitchen bar in view of the action, except here at the Tippling Club it’s less rigid and more relaxed. If Sydney was wetting itself over Momofuku Seiobo in its novelty stage, it’d be doing a whole lot more if the Tippling Club was in town.
Having just two menu options, both of which are degustations, makes choosing a breeze. The Classic* 7-course menu or the Gourmand** 12-course menu. We went with the latter, starting with a procession of not one but six amuse bouches.
A soup often makes it into the amuse bouche set and rather than the conventional small cup and spoon, Ryan Clift presents our vichyssoise in a flattened glass pipe topped with a cube of confit potato, caviar and fennel flower. It’s all quite simple. Place the pipe to your mouth and down it in one hit, including the potato.
Next we get a jar containing a curried carrot mousse, covered with freeze-dried yoghurt and coriander. The flavours are delicate and the meringue-like texture of the yoghurt changes from crispy to silky as soon as it hits the tongue.
Amuse number three may look like something unearthed from an archeological site (perhaps there should be a brush and edible sand involved) but once you dip these charred peppers into the salt-heavy golden wasabi soy sauce you soon realise it’s a batter coloured with squid ink, encasing a sweet strip of soft capsicum.
At a quick glance one could think that what was put in front of us for amuse number four came straight from the garden nursery outside. Served up in small plastic seedling pots is a warm truffle brûlée with white truffle and black truffle soil complete with snow pea tendril.
Next we have a small lidded jar that, once the lid is peeled back, reveals a smoked pickled quail egg enshrouded in woody smoke. The flavour and aroma is sensational and when the runny yolk pops in the mouth it truly makes for a happy ending.
Finally, amuse number six is served in a test tube. Freeze filtered gazpacho fills the glass tube while the straw has a vibrant essential basil oil that hits the palate before the lightly sweet and spiced gazpacho.
Oyster lovers will be pleased with the first of the starters. A briny lonesome oyster sits surrounded with micro herbs, wading in apple olive oil and parsley champagne. highly refreshing and very moreish.
Smoked eel is next on the Gourmand menu. The wild eel is smoked in-house using hickory and we also have soya braised mustard seeds, charred vinegar onions, fresh cucumber and a crumble of bread and pumpernickel. A tangled shallot touile crowns the dish and a beautiful mustard ice cream takes the flavour sensations even further. Incredible.
Foie gras is always a touchy subject. You either love it or you’re politically against it. The stuff we have here is raw and un-pasteurised and sourced from Spain’s Basque country. The ducks aren’t force-fed like they normally are, instead they’re tricked into believing they are migrating two days later than they actually are so they force-feed themselves. The liver is much smaller and the flavour is a lot more delicate as it has been tempered to about 50°C with a little bit of cocoa butter.
The gorgeous creation here is a tube of foie gras perched on top of a crumble with glüwein meringue, crystallised cacao, shiso leaves and freeze-dried blood plum. When you cut into it with a fork a river of glüwein gel pours out, adding sweetness and a little spice to the divine creamy liver.
Next we have wild scampi from Western Australia with wild mussels that are braised in a stock of chorizo and vinegar. Smoked paprika, parsley and confit tomato join in on the fun and draped over the scampi is glistening Jamon de Bellota with batons of Iberico chorizo.
All the way from Italy is the meager, a deep ocean fish similar to mulloway. It’s slowly poached and topped with porcini puree, roast porcini mushrooms, braised salsify and finished with a skin of buffalo mozzarella, pea tendrils and shavings of house-preserved truffles from last season.
Tender, slow-roasted A3 Kagoshima wagyu comes served in a glass with diver-caught Hokkaido scallops, wild sea grapes, Japanese cucumber, wild organic sesame, nori, shiso and coriander. A hot fluid gel of dashi is poured over the top, adding warmth and delicious umami.
The savouries continue onto slow-roasted, lightly seared pigeon breast with a confit of its wing, purée of caramelised shallot, burnt and then braised Jerusalem artichokes, preserved lemon vinaigrette and nasturtium leaves. The pigeon is just perfect and the deliberately burnt skins on the artichoke add a smoky depth to the meat and salty vinaigrette.
A cheese dish always gets my attention and the one we received here included braised banana shallots that are braised in porcini stock served with crumbled Loire Valley chèvre. We also have thin croutons made using the house made preserved truffle and a purée of the same truffles. Freaking awesome.
With the savouries behind us we move onto a couple of pre-desserts. Shimmering black like it just fell from the heavens, the blood peach meteorite is metallic in appearance and had a thick, almost chocolatey shell that gives way to a centre of blood peach sorbet. Next comes a small packet clipped onto a stand. The fizz bomb is simply unclipped, placed into the mouth and then chewed. The contents are just like sherbet, tingling on the tongue.
The first dessert is Ryan Clift’s interpretation of Bertie Basset liquorice allsorts. A tube of house-made liquorice is filled with mandarin sorbet, nitrogen-separated blood orange segments, smoked yoghurt, freeze-dried black olive, freeze-dried mandarin, rhubarb batons and smear of liquorice the length of the plate.
It truly is a celebration of liquorice, so those that don’t have much of a penchant for the stuff may struggle with many of the components. My favourite part was the tumble of freeze-dried mandarin and blood orange.
The final dessert is the textured milk. The base of the structure is coconut milk sago topped with sheep’s milk ice cream and three shards of crispy full fat dehydrated milk. All the whiteness is broken up with wild oxalis (wood sorrel) that’s hand-picked from the forest around the restaurant. The leaf has an acidic flavour, complementing the various milk textures and varieties.
Chocolates round up the Gourmand meal – salted caramel gel, salted green olive and a rosemary & olive oil ganache.
Whilst the meal may be extravagant and far from inexpensive, it was without a doubt one of the best I’ve had. Just incredible.