38 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel. +65 6475 2217
Food type: Modern Eclectic
Website: Tippling Club
When I asked my sister (who lives in Singapore) what would be the ONE restaurant that I must visit, she replied ‘Tippling Club’ without hesitation. Now, my sister is very well travelled herself as a foodie and for her to name Tippling Club above the other heavy hitters in Singapore like André, Jaan and Waku Ghin (all of which are on the World’s 50 Best list) made me sit up and take notice. It was pretty much a no-brainer really and so I asked my sister to help secure us a booking.
If you are not familiar with the area, it is worth pointing out that the restaurant does not have any signs to indicate you are at the right place. In fact, our taxi driver completely missed the restaurant driving down Tanjong Pagar road. Even when we did get to no. 38, there was very little indication that we had found the restaurant. Thankfully, as we entered, walking past a hip and trendy bar, one of the waiters greeting us confirmed that this was indeed Tippling Club.
The dining room has very cool, hipster feel to it with an open kitchen, wooden tables (no table cloths in sight), chairs that don’t match and cutlery laid on top of plastic packets containing herb oil. The emphasis here is on a casual environment where you can enjoy Ryan Clift’s eclectic cooking. For dinner, there were two tasting menus available – a shorter 7 course ‘Classic’ menu priced at SGD$160 or a lengthier 12 course ‘Gourmand’ menu at SGD$265. I think it was pretty much a no brainer decision as we went for the full tasting menu and the only other decision was whether we wanted to opt for the white truffle supplement (SGD$40) with one of our courses. Oh well, life is too short so why the heck not?
First piece of advice when dining at Tippling Club – come hungry! Even though it was advertised as a 12 course menu, you get plenty of little extras to make it closer to a 20 course menu! The first ‘course’ on the menu titled ‘Snacks’ were in fact 8 different canapés brought to us in succession by the chefs. Many of these dishes are also featured on their bar snacks menu where you can simply walk in to have a drink and enjoy some delicious food. A take on Margherita pizza featured puffed beef tendon which was dusted with tomato and basil powder. Amazingly, it tasted like a cheese and tomato pizza! Another favourite was a dish of charred peppers – red peppers covered in a crispy charcoal infused batter with an umami-laden soy and wasabi dip on the side. I can see why the bar at Tippling Club was completely packed with punters when they serve such tasty snacks like these.
Our first proper course (remember by this time we already had 8 small mouthfuls) was a dish of lobster with sea buckthorn. Ryan Clift is English by birth and having trained both in England and Australia he has decided to incorporate this very English* ingredient into the dish. Now sea buckthorn is notorious for being one of the most astringent, toe-curling acidic berries known to mankind (I may have embellished a little here) so to see it on the menu paired with lobster was worrying. Thankfully, the acidity from the berry was kept in check with the lobster perfectly tender and sweet. Definitely a ‘wow’ dish for me.
*Ok, ok so sea buckthorn grows all over Europe as well as some parts of China but for me, this will always be a very English ingredient, found around the costal areas
Next was a purple garlic soup which came with our supplemented white truffle. Hidden underneath were some razor clams which were of the non-chewy variety** The soup was velvety smooth and comforting and the subtle roasted garlic flavours helped elevate the perfume of the white truffles. Perhaps this dish would have been best enjoyed on a cold winters day in England rather than the tropical Singaporean heat.
** Amongst all types of shellfish, I have eaten more chewy razor clams than any other including lobster and squid. It is surprising how many restaurants overcook their razor clams.
The dish of the night was the Mangalica pork collar with pickled vegetables. This was the dish my sister could not stop talking about. Mangalica pigs (also known as wooly pigs) is the Kobe beef of pork with amazing marbling. Once you have tasted Mangalica pork, no other pork will ever taste the same again. Here it is paired with Japanese-style pickled vegetables to provide plenty of acidity to cut through the richness of the pig. A little cinnamon-infused dashi (crazy as it sounds) is poured at table side to complete the dish and add a huge umami punch. Mind-blowing!
If the pork was completely unforgettable, then the main course of Kobe beef with horseradish burrata was a close second. Reading the menu, I was very worried with the pairing of the inherently rich Kobe beef (A4 cut used here) with a creamy cheese like burrata. I need not have worried, because somewhere in chef Clift’s crazy mind, he found this crazy combination which worked. The trick is that the burrata is flavoured with horseradish creating the illusion of an extremely creamy horseradish sauce. I was also very impressed with their home-cured Kobe beef ham which would was more akin to a slice of Iberico ham.
Cheese of the day was some Manchego with artichokes and quinoa. On a bed of a disc of aged Manchego, sat some crispy puffed quinoa, artichokes and an ‘air baguette’ wrapped with iberico ham. There was plenty of technique on show here, but as always, I am a purist and would prefer to nibble on some Manchego without any of the embellishment.
Following this was another flurry of pre-desserts. First was strawberry cheesecake… in vitamin pill guise. I mean why would you ever NOT want to have strawberry cheesecake pills? Putting all the crazy gimmicks aside, it really tasted like cheesecake. This was followed by a green tea and yuzu ‘meteorite’ – in essence a truffle made by using liquid nitrogen and a passion fruit ‘fizz bomb’ complete with edible paper.
Desserts kept up the Willy Wonka mind-warping cooking style. Blackberry financier with an apple and celery granita is perhaps chef Clift’s nod to the classic blackberry and apple crumble. The addition of celery was interesting because it complemented the apple by adding a pleasant background herbal note to the dish. We finished off with a Mandarin cheesecake, again deconstructed to not resemble any cheesecake at all. A tasty and refreshing end to the meal.
We were very impressed with our meal at Tippling club. Even with more than 20 individual courses delivered, at no point did we feel that we were completely overwhelmed. Part of the reason is due to the high amounts of acidity in many of the dishes making a lot of the richer dishes easily palatable. Ryan Clift was not in the kitchen when we visited (something about an ash cloud keeping him stuck in Bali though I suspect he might have used that as an excuse to extend his holiday) but we wouldn’t have known better with course after course of perfectly crafted food delivered to us. We drank champagne and wine during our meal (a bottle of Krug and a 2000 Chateau Pavie) and on any other meal I would have said that we drank very well. However, looking at some of the cocktails served to the neighbouring tables, I was perhaps a bit envious that they were getting the better deal! For me, Tippling Club really delivered on all fronts – a meal which was whacky, fun, full of technique but above all tasty. Someone just needs to convince Clift to return to England because the dining scene here is crying out for something like this.