by Cheah Ui-Hoon
CYNTHIA Chua, founder of the Spa Esprit Group, made her name with spa and beauty services, but it looks like she can add 'F&B entrepreneur' to her resume now. Her first food venture was the Barracks restaurant at her Dempsey Village wellness getaway, House, but she's since added more eateries and her latest one looks set to create much buzz in the local dining scene.
She has since snared a coup of sorts by wooing the head chef of Melbourne's famed Vue de Monde restaurant to Singapore despite him not having been here before. Indeed, Ryan Clift was won over by her restaurant vision, Singapore's burgeoning dining reputation, as well as hints by Michelin France that Singapore might have its own guide in the near future.
The 31-year-old is instrumental to the success of The Tippling Club, the group's first venture into fine dining. Besides Barracks, there is also a soup and salad joint called 12x12 in Suntec City. But come August, The Tipping Club's restaurant-cocktail bar concept will offer five, 10 and 15 course degustation menus paired with cocktails. Clift will handle the food, while cocktails will be mixed by Matthew Bax, of Melbourne's Der Raum fame, an artist who started his own cocktail bar in the city's Richmond area.
'When I venture into something, I just want to make sure I do it well,' Ms Chua says of the group's recent foray into F&B.
The Tippling Club will be housed in a standalone building next to Barracks at Dempsey Village. And Clift - unlike chefs who are sticklers for seasonal produce - is looking forward to creating his own style of cuisine with all the ingredients that Singapore can source.
'The thing about this little island is that you get everything from everywhere, so in that sense we don't have to be tied down to the seasons from a specific part of the world,' he says.
That's bound to keep his brain ticking - seeing how he likes to work with his ingredients and come up with innovative presentations and combinations. Chicken and Chip for instance, sees cracker-thin chips - made entirely of chicken, he assures you - served with a tube of creamy emulsion blend, while Orange, Pistachio and Green sees pistachio-covered green tea cake.
The English-born chef, who has been cooking for 16 years, trained at well-known restaurants such as Claridges and Marco Pierre White's Mirabelle. He worked with Curtis Stone at Mirabelle before the latter got his own TV show. But it's a string of other well-known chefs that Clift names as his inspirations, including Michelin-starred Emmanuel Renaut, who was recently guest chef at Goodwood Park.
Another huge inspiration is San Sebastian's Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz fame. 'But I take my style of cooking from every chef I've worked with, by fusing the best and coming up with my own style,' says Clift.
Fascinated with Japanese culture, he likes the way people sit at a sushi bar and have food prepared in front of them. 'So I want to do that at The Tippling Bar - where the chef prepares the food and serves the diner as well, in a Western setting,' he says.
The cocktail pairings will be unique. And after 10pm, when the place will be turned into a bar, Clift will create dishes to match Bax's cocktails.
Their friendship goes back six years or so when Clift used to live opposite Bax's bar and would drop by for a drink and a chat, and the two guys eventually got to exchanging ideas on food and drink creations.
What are Clift's hopes for The Tippling Bar? 'It's fine dining without the snobbery,' he says. 'We're trying to make fine-dining fun, so the food will also be 'interactive'. Food is about enjoyment, having fun and being pleasantly surprised.'
The Tippling Club will take reservations from Monday, June 16. Call 6475-2217
This article was first published in The Business Times on June 14, 2008.