Monday, June 02, 2014

Review: The Tippling Club


I did not realize that the Tippling Club had moved from Dempsey Hill to Tanjong Pagar until recently. I had never been to the old Tippling Club at Dempsey despite a lot of rave reviews. Not being a fan of molecular gastronomy nor expensive cocktails, it seemed to me a place that I might enjoy, once and never return to, so I never got around to the opportunity, even though it had placed in the Asian Miele guide within the top 20 restuarants and was also part of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. C. had been once and was unimpressed with the experience, which additionally coloured my view.

I finally had the chance when I was invited there for lunch and was pleasantly surprised. I definitely had my reservations- that this would be an expensive and unfulfilling lunch filled with sauces and espumas and marshmallows, lots of unpleasant or gooey mouthfeel and a hungry belly at the end of it. I was proven wrong, in fact, it was a most inventive, delicious meal and I am thinking about going back and introducing some friends to the experience.

The old space was 42 seats around a curved counter, but the new Tippling club offers bar seats as well as regular table seats, in front of the kitchen. The service is excellent and knowledgeable and the chefs work silently in the background. The restuarant is in a lovely, quiet spot along Tanjong Pagar road and natural sunlight filters into the space, lighting the quirky, green decor.

I was initially a little shocked at the prices, 12 courses $160/$260 with wine, 28 courses $265/$415 with wine) and even those of the set lunch (2 courses $42, 3 courses $57) and pre-theatre menu (6-8pm, 3 courses, $70). The set lunch and pre-theatre menu consist same items except the latter comes with a glass of wine. The dishes are all described in a very ad-hoc modernist way, like 'black soil. snail espuma' and so it makes you feel like you are getting very little for the money, but that's not true, as we were treated to three innovative amuse-bouche before our set lunch began and then a selection of petit fours after, which filled us up and I felt, made the experience and price worthwhile, at least for the 2 and 3 course set lunch.

I wished that I had been there at dinner to experience the drinks- which I've heard come as bubbling martinis or as purple cough syrup in brown glass bottles, with medical labels!

Our three amuse bouche were an interpretation of the local curry chicken in the form of curry foam topped with crispy rice; three bell peppers in a squid-ink tempura, with a sesame, soy, wasabi dip and theatrical metal tweezers to pick them up with and a test-tube of clear, cold tomato essence soup with a pipette straw of basil extract.

We tried the tomato tart, the smoked eel and the Kohada, which was served as a sushi, three really beautiful dishes. I had the most 'boring' starter, the pea ham soup with 62 degree egg.

Most of us had the risotto with charred tomato, burrata and basil and the roasted barramundi with milk, braised parsley root and garlic soup.

I was blown away by the attention to detail and the preparation of the food, from the thin, drying of the meats to the solid jellies made of tomato, the long, slow cooking and the playful presentation.  Despite this, the food retained the fullness of their taste and freshness.


The show-stopper was the additional dessert that we added on, the Cassis and Violet souffle, with a yoghurt, white chocolate mini magnum that was simply out of this world. Although I didn't like the very artificial looking violet sugar sprinkled on the top of the souffle, it was wonderfully light and risen and I was amazed that they had baked it in a glass, double-bowled cup. The magnum combination of yoghurt and white chocolate was just brilliant.


There was nary a sour note, if I had to pick one, it would be that the grains of the risotto were too tough and it had so much rice that we ran out of ingredients to eat it with. The tomato tart (roll) and the dessert of souffle were the best things, I felt. After the meal, we were given petit fours, an apple doughnut, a chewey nut meringue and a tie-dyed, liquid filled chocolate sweet, that sated our sweet appetite.

I notice that the appetizers and mains also rotate very often, so that going there should always be an inventive, novel and special experience. While this is a good place for a date, I think it is fun to go in a bigger group to be able to appreciate the diversity and creativity of the dishes and becuase these experiences are more fun when shared and discussed.

Tippling Club
38 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088461
T: 6475 2217
Lunch: M-F, 12-3pm
Dinner: M-Sat, 6-11pm
Bar: M-Sat, 12pm-12am

Review: Diamond Kitchen for Makansutra Dinner


Diamond Kitchen is an air-conditioned zi char place opened by two young businessmen, at Laguna Park, at the base of a large condominium complex in East Coast. Don't go expecting atmosphere, as it is along the stretch of shops with a tuition center and childcare, with a very similar space. The ceilings are clapboard, gussied up with the tackiest of chandeliers and there is a mock white brick fireplace in the center, stuffed full of tablecloths and toilet paper rolls.

We were, in any case, there for the food, as part of the Makansutra Dinner outings. These BYO dinners are arranged for a fixed sum, in this case, our 10 course dinner, very reminiscent of a Chinese banquet wedding, was $50. I did a rough calculation on smaller portions of the dishes and you could have paid slightly less, about $40 a head for an ample dinner for 4 people.

The first item on the menu for the night was the appetizer, San Lau Chicken. This is an interesting take on a cold dish, which is usually the first platter in a Chinese banquet. The cold, jellied drunken chicken is shredded and mixed into julienned celery, radish and mu er, wood ear mushrooms. I really liked this dish, it tasted of deep sesame and retained a good crunch. One of the dinner guests commented that the skin had been left on the chicken, which made for some fatty bits which they felt should have been omitted. Dinner had taken a fair while to get started and service was slow and inadequate but as far as food goes, so far, so good. 

The second dish was a Superior Chicken Soup, which came in a robust black pot. It was full of soft chicken pieces, red dates and Chinese dried mushrooms. The soup was piping hot and very strong and flavourful. Definitely one of the favourites of the night.

The next dish was the Steamed Sea Bass Hong Kong style. I had read that the managers of the restaurant are so particular that they go personally to select their fish at the fisheries early in the morning. The sea bass was really large and it was impressively cooked, flaky and fresh, however, the taste was slightly bitter and muddied, it didn't have that sweet taste of fish flesh that you hope for. The sauce and condiments were suitably sharp and tasty.

One of my favourites was the Beancurd in golden pumpkin sauce, I really liked how the beancurd was fried, with a good give in the skin and creamy soft on the inside. The pumpkin sauce though, could use some work. I tasted no pumpkin at all and if I had been blindfolded, it would have simply been a starchy, sweet and smooth soup.

The Salted Egg Sotong had really good flavour, but I wish that they would have used a larger sotong, these sotong seemed to have shrivelled into small bits and the coating, while flavourful, was hard. I was disappointed not to have the live steamed prawns that I had seen online, they are thrown into a wooden bucket with hot coals and seem to be the highlight of this restaurant.


The next dish was Champagne Pork Ribs, I was hoping for large, bone-in pieces of pork rib but no luck there! These were small, narrow nibbles of pork ribs but they were very tasty. They had been well marinated and fried to a soft but chewy texture. I am told that Champagne is a partial misnomer, most of the pork ribs are marinated in Seven-Up to get that springy, turgid texture. If I were to compare these and the pork ribs at Ming Kee seafood in Macpherson, I like Ming Kee's coffee ribs about as much as I like these ones, but Ming Kee had large, satisfying pieces, which is nice to have in pork ribs!

The Sweet Potato leaf in Claypot was quite unremarkable, it was fairly spicy is all I remember. The Kam Heong Crab is also one of the highlights of this restaurant. I had never had Kam Heong before and the spicy, dark red paste reminded me of Sichuanese ma la and has the same effect of making your mouth a little numb. The sauce is made from dried prawns, or hae bee, curry powder, birds eyes chilllies, oyster sauce, soy sauce, shallots and curry leaves, basically a mish-mesh of South East Asian flavours. I don't know that I like it, it is really overpowering. The sauce is used for chicken, lala, crab. I've always prefered my crabs plain steamed with ginger, so I'm not a good judge of sauces, but this is closer to a dry black pepper crab than the very wet chilli crab.

I enjoyed the Bee Hoon with Clam in superior stock but some of the clams were slightly sandy. I felt that could have been more attention paid to this, but the soup was very tasty. Again, I read that they boil over 10kg of clams to get this stock and it certainly had a good briney kick of clam flavour. I don't usually like Chinese desserts and I'm not a fan of yam ornee (paste) at all, so I was quite surprised that I really liked their Yuan Yang Yam Paste. I suspect this is not because it was that unusual, but because the dessert was drenched in coconut milk!

The yam paste is not savoury and cooked in lard, which I always find an odd combination, rather the yam and sweet potato had been steamed and with coconut milk added, making it a lighter and more refreshing end to a heavy meal. 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable meal with the unusual setting and good company. I am not sure it's a place I would have come out to on my own, nor that I would have found it by myself, within the condo complex. I think it would be booked solid during weekends as there is ample parking, local food at a decent price and must benefit off the large residential hinterland in this area. The staff looked very harried and I really salute the two young people for running a full restaurant with such a wide menu, not an easy ask at all. It's definitely something to be supported, if Singapore's local cuisine is to prosper and progress. 

The restaurant's prices are reasonable and I was sorry to not get to try some of their other dishes like the sweet and sour pork ribs. Their pork dishes, for example are $12/18/24 for the small, medium and large portions, as are their tofu dishes and the sweet and sour pork rice or pork rib rice, costs $6 per plate. Definitely worth a try if you are wanting a meal in the East Coast over the weekdays or are thinking of a family treat over a weekend. 

Diamond Kitchen
5000F Marine Parade Road
Ground Floor Laguna Park, (parking costs $1)
Singapore 449289