Move over, whisky, vodka and gin. Bartenders are now swirling Italian amari – including fernet – as well as Japanese liqueurs, Mexican mescal and Turkish raki into potent concoctions. But the newest, hippest cocktail bars are serving more than these exotic regional spirits – they’re pairing them with region-specific food.
PRIYANKA C. AGARWAL
FRENCHESCAR LIM, ASSISTED BY PHYLLICIA WANG
The only place in town that does upscale Middle Eastern fare – with a trendy vibe and cool cocktails – recently upped its (drinking) game. Located in the Tanjong Pagar enclave, Fat Prince has rolled out its latest menu, putting Middle Eastern spirits and liqueurs at the forefront. Turkish raki – the powerful anisefl avoured aperitif – has its own special section. Phoenician Dreams ($21) is a mild and citrusy blend of raki, Gran Classico Bitter, berries, lemon and egg white, while the bold Karakoy Nightcap ($20) is a spirit-forward drink of tequila, grape raki, maraschino liqueur and sweet vermouth.
"Thomas Sobota, who hails from Slovakia, is the man behind the drinks at Fat Prince (he’s also pictured on the previous page)."
The Middle Eastern spirits pair well with a selection of meze and kebabs. Try the nutty cashew hummus ($12), made richer with a roasted cashew gremolata topping and the feta muhammara ($12), a light and tangy pepper and walnut paste, with crumbly feta cheese and Turkish chilli peppers. www.fatprincesg.com
Middle Eastern meze and liqueurs
A CHOICE OF TWO
The bar serves two varieties of raki (classic and grape), and can also serve it straight up (either as a shot with a water chaser, or with water in a 1:1 ratio).
Spicy Adalar prawn and roasted lamb shoulder – two of Fat Prince’s signature kebabs.
Raki is touted as Turkey’s national drink, so it makes sense to serve it with Istanbulinspired grub
Two herbal offerings: Fernet and Coke (left), and King Cole Old Fashioned (below).
Amalfi-esque views and potent libations
Cocktail bar veterans, the Jigger & Pony group’s latest offering is a gorgeous waterfront spot at Customs House. Minty, spicy and herbaceous fernet bitters (botanically infused alcoholic mixtures) feature in a few cocktails – like the King Cole Old Fashioned, adding a herbal dimension to the classic cocktail of sugars, bitters, citrus and whisky ($22). The bar is stocked with 15 varieties (mostly from Northern Italy), with the Fernet Vittone and Fernet Vittone Menta among those they carry exclusively. “The recipes are a secret, but they usually feature herbs like cardamom, aloe and myrrh,” says group bar programme director Aki Eguchi. He’s confident that his audience will welcome fernet for its herbal and minty flavours, worldwide cult-appeal, and flavour profile (which is similar to traditional Chinese medicine potions). Eguchi encourages first timers to take a shot to get familiar with its flavours.
Small plates and appetisers pair well with lighter cocktails, and crowd-pleasers include the unctuous house made ricotta ($15), which sits in thymein fused chestnut honey. Larger plates include the lemon and cheese spanner crab spaghetti ($29), featuring lemonlaced cheese sauce and fresh crabmeat. And the chicken piccata ($36) is incredibly tender after being brined for a couple of hours before being grilled and finished with a barely-there lemon and caper sauce. www.caffefernet.sg
Plum & Toro, on Level 2 of Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay’s restaurant wing, promises handcrafted cocktails created by bartender Shinya Koba which are Japanese down to the mixers and garnish. On offer is Ki No Bi Dry Gin, distilled with Japanese ingredients like hinoki wood chips and green sansho pepper berries. Teaming the gin with yuzu liqueur and Prosecco forms the delicately tart and bubbly Kyoto 75 ($22). Other concoctions feature liqueurs made from peppery shiso leaves, Japanese plums and fruits. The Flower Moon 3 ($22), with shiso and ume liqueurs and sherry, comes on a flower-shaped ice cube.
Ninety per cent of the ingredients are sourced from Japan. The quality is clear in UniCorn ($30), intensely sweet corn tempura balanced with a deeply savoury sea urchin sauce.
Chef Hideki Ii (formerly from Waku Ghin) makes good use of the teppan and grill – it’s evident in the crisp-outside and tender-within tsukune ($15) of minced chicken meatballs with yakitori sauce. www.facebook.com/ plumandtorosingapore
The Kyoto 75 goes well with uni and caviar.
Fresh sourdough is baked in-house daily, and the cold cuts are sourced directly from Italy.
Marcello, tucked away at the back of the Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay, boasts South-east Asia’s largest selection of amari. The Italianmade bitters, which are also served as a digestif, range in their flavour profile from citrusy and spiced to herbal and sweet. Sourced from all over Italy, the 40 (and growing) varieties of amari on the menu are supplemented by cocktails, wines and beers from Italy, and a selection of Italian bar bites. Head bartender Palmira Bertuca says Marcello is “100 per cent committed to Italian craft”. Bertuca confidently uses amari and other digestifs in classic and modern cocktails. Her passion for these spirits is obvious. Tell her you have never tried amari and she will pour you a shot with a “let’s change that”. She is confident that Singapore will welcome amari for their varied flavour profile, approachability and affordability.
Amari are adaptable to different drinks and can be served in various ways – from the viscous artichokeinfused Cynar (a type of bitter from the Campari brand) to rarer brands like the Vecchio Amaro del Capo, which has a mandarin and liquorice profile. It’s non-intimidating, with varied drinking styles and pairings, and can be served neat, on ice, or with a slice of citrus fruit and soda. The Little Italy ($20) of rye whisky, Italian vermouth and Cynar is a perfectly balanced example of the bitter’s layered flavours – sweet, bold and herbal. Approach any bartender to shake up a bespoke amari cocktail.
Intended only as nibbles to pair your drinks with. The stuffed dried dates ($13) with gorgonzola and salami make a delicious bite-sized accompaniment – sweet, savoury and sharp. Also, you cannot go wrong with Italian parma ham ($15 for 50g) served with toasted sourdough bread and grated fresh tomato, which is a classic Italian bar snack. www.publico.sg/night
The Amalfi Sour ($25) is a zesty, lightly herbal, velvety concoction.
WHO’S AT THE HELM
You can never accuse Palmira Bertuca of not knowing her stuff. The Italian bartender was born in Calabria and grew up in Bologna, and has been bartending since the age of eight.
Mexico, mescal and more
At last, a Mexican restaurant and bar that has the theme down pat. Transforming a Bukit Pasoh Road shophouse (once home to the Keow Siong Club) into a vibrant space with vivid colours, skulls, masks and murals, Casa Poncho (by the team behind 13% Gastro Wine) impresses with its selection of mescal, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from an agave plant native to Mexico. Mescal is its favoured spirit, as it has a more varied and nuanced profile than tequila. Cocktails feature 45ml pours, and the tart yuzu-laced Mezcal Margarita ($20) goes down easily while still delivering a punch. The Gregorio Negrito, or Mezcal Reposado (aged up to nine months), and bitters like Antica Formula and Campari come in a skull-shaped glass and have an enjoyable bitter finish with sweet undertones. Most cocktails feature the Machetazo brand of mescal that the owners import directly (from Guerrero, San Luis Potosi and Oaxaca in Mexico). It’s brewed, aged and distilled from wild-grown agave, using traditional methods. You’re encouraged to sip it straight or have a shot.
A comprehensive menu of Latin American sharing plates (or pequenitos) awaits you. The Guacam…Ole! ($12) offers a great contrast of flavours and textures with its pomegranate and fried onions, while the breaded fried olives ($5) are an insanely addictive accompaniment to the drinks. www.casaponcho.com
WILD AGAVE CUPREATA
Produced in Chichihualco, Guerrero, it has a subtle, smoky flavour. Candied leaves add a delicate touch.
The chipotle salsa sauce is one of three in-house sauces. For a spicier kick, go for the smoky habanero salsa.
The Marca Pina ($20) uses pineapple infused mescal for a tropical flavour.
La Margarita del Poncho is a smokier twist on the traditional margarita. It goes well with deepfried dishes.