A few new watering holes have sprouted here, and their unique selling point? Their food/drinks highlight a particular country's culture.
19 Ann Siang Road 6423-1213
Mon - Sat, 5pm till late
Amid the European-themed bars and after-work expatriate crowd that flock to the Club Street area every night, it's almost rare to find a cosy little bar such as Tapow serving local food and drinks.
For now, its location is still marked by signage that bears the name of its former occupant (media bar Scoop), but take a step inside and you'll feel like you've just stepped into someone's living room - probably Zac Mirza's, since it's his movie posters and his mum's sofas that furnish the bar.
"I wanted it to be a place where the vibe feels like home. It's not just an ordinary bar where you've got to put on your best outfit, but it's homely and you can be at ease here," says the easy-going bartender, who was formerly with House of Dandy.
On Tapow's concept, Mr Mirza says: "It's my way of magnifying the concept of Singlish. I think Singapore needs this, because if you look at it in the creative way, Singlish is unique and we are unique people regardless of race and religion."
"Tapow can apply to the things you see, taste, the music you hear - you 'Tapow' the experience. We want to create an experience for people to Tapow," he adds.
On the menu are some familiar bar bites, such as burgers and pizzas, except that they are given a local touch. For example, their burger is a homemade rendang burger (S$8.50) with a beef patty garnished with acar and served with a side of either plain or masala fries. As for their Damn Shiok Pizza (S$12), that comes sprinkled with chilli padi and your choice of either prawns or an ayam penyet topping.
Also available are Thai-influenced dishes such as Thai style buffalo wings (S$8), spicy Thai basil chicken pita (S$8.50), and mango salad (S$6) - all courtesy of their Thai chef. A lunch menu is in the works as well, says Mr Mirza, and that will eventually allow customers to tapow lunches back to their office in old school tiffin carriers.
While the drinks menu is currently not available, feel free to place your orders with the bartender and they will prepare it on the spot. Or if you're feeling adventurous, try asking them to create one of their own cocktails, and you will be surprised by what kind of local flavours they come up with.
The Kang Tow Julet is a gula melaka cocktail with fresh lime juice, Kaffir lime leaves, and dark rum, and works well for those who want something sweet and easy to drink. A stronger option is the Pandan Muka Kau; a cocktail made with pandan leaves-infused tequila that is created in-house.
"I like to make my classics, and I like to twist it with a bit of Singlish flavour," explains Mr Mirza. "But it's not the lychee that I'm talking about. The Singlish flavour is when you go to a medicine hall in Chinatown and mix that tonic flavour with alcohol. It's not just Malay or Chinese or Indian flavours, but Singaporean flavours - bak kwa, pandan, ginseng, or honeysuckle flowers, mixed in classics like margaritas and daquiris."
The bar is slated to officially launch on March 13, which also happens to be his birthday, says Mr Mirza with a chuckle. But when asked what people can expect when they visit Tapow, he says: "Please quote me on this - love doesn't hurt, expectations do. So just come and walk in without expecting anything, keep it simple, relaxed, and things will go well."
Not bound by traditional constraints
In November last year, history was made when a Japanese single malt whisky, the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, was named the world's best by the Jim Murray's Whisky Bible for the first time in its 12-year history.
After that day, the demand for Japanese whisky naturally skyrocketed, which made it an ideal time for Yang Minxiang and his business partner Andrew Pang to start their F&B venture specialising in Japanese alcohol, especially whisky, from Japan's Suntory Holdings.
"The theme behind our concept is a sense of adventure," says Mr Pang, 30, who used to work as a steward with Singapore Airlines. "We want to share our knowledge and love for whisky, among other liquors. But it will not be a conventional retail store with shelves and shelves of liquor. It's more conceptual."
So last month, they launched Iki Shouten - which for now focuses on online retail, events, appreciation sessions, and corporate gifting. Plans for a retail store are currently in the works, as Mr Yang shares that they will be opening a space somewhere in central Singapore by this April. Prices for their whiskies will range from over S$100 to about S$2,000 per bottle.
He goes on to explain that the store will have an unconventional setup, with a tasting bar in the retail showroom, where customers can sit down and taste a range of the different whiskies that they carry, plus some food pairing recommendations, before deciding which bottle to purchase.
They are confident that it will be a success, too, especially since the popularity of Japanese whisky has been growing in Singapore.
"If you look at European or Western cuisine, people drink scotch with very meaty foods. But in Asia, our food is a bit more delicate, and Japanese whisky complements it way better. It's because of our culture, and the way our palette was formed over the years too," says Mr Yang, who formerly helmed the kitchen of his own Western restaurant.
He is a self-trained chef who picked up his cooking skills purely through interest and by experimentation, and it's this same mindset that he intends to bring to Iki Shouten - a chance for people to have fun trying out various whiskies and learning more about them.
"No one has given us a certificate in whisky knowledge, and we don't have a tattoo that says we belong to some secret guild of whisky masters, but it's because of this that we can relate better to the layman. Because we're not bound by traditional constraints," he says.
Down the road, they even hope to open a restaurant based on this concept, reveals Mr Yang. "It's not just local food, Japanese whiskies are also very good with different kinds of cuisines, so over the years, we hope to expose people to different pairings like even modernist and fusion. That's still in the works."
Capturing the Caribbean
Bumbo Rum Club
83 Club Street 6690-7563
Mon & Tue, 5pm - midnight; Wed & Thur, 5pm - 2am;
Fri & Sat, 5pm - 3am; Closed on Sundays
Everyone knows rum and the Caribbean Islands have been associated with each other even before Johnny Depp swaggered across the set of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean asking: "Why is the rum gone?"
So it was only natural that when Olivier Bendel, founder and CEO of Deliciae Hospitality Management, wanted to open a new restaurant and bar specialising in rum, he chose a Caribbean theme to go along with it, and that's how Bumbo Rum Club came about.
"Olivier loves rum, and he wishes to share this joy with more people in Singapore," says Ain Norman, marketing & communications manager for Deliciae Hospitality Management.
"Rum has a long standing history in the Caribbean, especially pertaining to piracy. Plus, the Caribbean still invokes a sense of carefree-ness, beaches and sea, legends and history. There is something special about the Caribbean that we wanted to capture," she adds.
Bumbo Rum Club opened its doors on Jan 16, and carries 76 rums from over 20 different countries in the Caribbean and its regions, as well as seven flavours of home-made infused rums (S$18 for a glass, S$188 for a bottle) with flavours such as pineapple and pear, passionfruit and banana, and even chilli.
"The majority of the world's rum production comes from the Caribbean, so we felt that the quality will be much better and we were not disappointed," says Ms Ain.
Their food, of course, is also Caribbean-influenced, and jalapeno peppers often make an appearance on the menu. For instance, the quesadillas (S$16) are filled with cheesy beef, spicy guacamole and jalapeno, while the potato brava (S$10) is essentially deep fried potatoes with tomato sauce, jalapenos and a sunny side up.
If you're feeling adventurous, try their ceviches - lubina (seabass) (S$14), salmon (S$16), and camarones (prawns) (S$16), or order the trio sampler and get smaller portions of all three (S$13). For something safer, go for the pollo hamburguesa (chicken hamburger) (S$16), which may seem like a boring choice at first until you bite into the juicy piece of chicken meat that's slathered in a spicy jalapeno sauce for extra kick.
Don't expect too much from the service at Bumbo Rum Club however; it's not a place for a snappy dinner or a quick drink and go. The food is served at a leisurely pace, and the waiters move about at a similar speed to match. But perhaps that's the point - after all, you're supposed to be relaxing in the Caribbean Islands.
This article was first published on Feb 7, 2015.
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