Shin Gi Tai @ Waterloo Street

You won’t find much about Shin Gi Tai online. This four month old bar has a relatively low profile, because they realized that over-marketing draws in the wrong kind of crowd. In its early days, its marketing efforts attracted guys looking for happy hour beers. Shin Gi Tai is a classic cocktail bar. So lesson learnt – Shin Gi Tai now depends on word of mouth for footfall.

Shin Gi Tai is basically a one man show. This is also one reason why Anthony (owner/bartender) has had to turn away large groups before. Besides part time help from time to time, Anthony has to run all operations single-handedly. This includes bartending, cooking, cleaning, entertaining and even book keeping I guess. So if you order 10 drinks and 10 bar bites at the same time, you might have to wait.

I must say, he pulls off this one man show with aplomb. Being the only Singaporean bartender ever trained in Japan (hence the name Shin Gi Tai), you can see Anthony is quite the talent. One of my favourite drinks on the menu is the Truffle Whiskey Sour. The smokiness of the whiskey closed off with subtle truffle. Definitely magic on my tastebuds.

If you are feeling adventurous, do also ask Anthony for something omakase. He has a daily fruit basket, from which he can whip up some creative fresh fruit cocktails for you. I chose a cognac base with apple and cinammon – it was thick and frothy, and felt like an apple pie.

I think Shin Gi Tai is a no frills, simple bar with serious cocktails. Patrons are mostly friends of the bar, and there is a casual air about the place, as if you are at a friend’s home. Great for a lazy night out.

PS. If you were/are a patron of Jigger & Pony you might recognize Anthony.

Advertisements

All about the bars

Things have changed a lot since I last wrote about a cocktail bar. I have changed as well. Through new friends made and new places frequented, I have learnt many new things that changed my perspective on cocktails totally.

It all started on 31 December 2014, I was ushering in the new year with a staycation at marina bay sands. While looking for dinner options, we were very lucky to have gotten seats at Cut for the night. If you follow me on Instagram (@stephsiau), you would already know of my Cut obsession.
I fell in love in an instant. Before I knew it, I was back at Cut the next day. Then I was going once to twice a week. And then I guess you can say the rest is history.

My experiences at Cut have taught me a lot about food service and standards. And this rings true for their bar as well.

The things I look for are no longer limited to a strong kick or gimmicky ingredients. I find joy in picking out all the ingredients in the drink (is it laphroaig whiskey?) and understanding the balance in a drink (that jalapeño goes really well with the tequila!) and the reason for each ingredient (egg white adds a texture that allows flavours to shine). Of course all this is impossible without a good bartender to help.

I have come to learn that a good cocktail and bar experience is heavily dependent on a good bartender. Good bartenders offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. The way they carve that ice block (Manhattan @ Regent Hotel even stamps each individual ice cube with their logo), stir your glasses with ice till they are chilled, and even the way their hands are gripping their tools, or where they place their measurements. Everything counts towards being a good bartender. Under a good bartender, nothing goes unnoticed.

Bartenders, when you engage them, can teach you a lot. I have tasted so many whiskeys and learnt my favourite gins thanks to bartenders who like to share their knowledge. I’m deeply grateful for the lessons!

Nowadays, I value being a regular at my favourite bar over checking out hip new bars. I’m never disappointed and I enjoy having my favourite bartenders as a part of my night. I find that many new bars are heavy on concept but fail to deliver on quality. It’s disappointing and a waste of time and money. But I’m always happy to find a good surprise. My next destination is Operation Dagger on bukit pasoh; I have heard that their drinks are simple but their techniques and knowledge are remarkable.
——————-

A few notes on Cut:

Cut Singapore has among the longest cocktail lists in all Cut restaurants worldwide. The head bartender is invited to Bahrain, Dubai, to train the new bartenders in the new Cut establishments. Trust me you are in good hands. They would bend over backwards for all their patrons, and they only put out their best.

They only open for dinner, but everyone’s clocked in as early as 10am to get the ball rolling. I have not met a more cohesive and dedicated team. Everyone I have spoken to absolutely love their jobs at Cut. This says a lot.

It also says a lot when the restaurant/bar is filled with regulars. Everyone pretty much knows each other. It’s love all around!

I am very happy that another Wolfgang puck restaurant, Spago, is opening at marina bay sands hotel this year!

Steph’s Notes on Paris (Non touristy; where to eat drink shop in Paris)

I am writing this for future reference, and to keep these memories golden forever.

Montmartre

Touristy, but absolutely magical to climb the steps and walk the ancient streets that Picasso, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali and many others hung out at. The view at the top when you reach the Sacre Couer cannot be justified with words. Beautiful.

Pigalle 

(A short walk from Montmartre. Pigalle used to be a sleazy part of town for prostitutes. It has now cleaned up and is emerging with a few hip spots and night clubs, but generally still quite quiet like it is waiting to be discovered.)

Buvette – Named as the place Lefooding fell in love with the most this year. Me too. Cafes need to learn from Buvette. It has a simple yet satisfying menu. We had a tasty chicken salad and a waffle sandwich and wine. Sometimes, a simple meal like this is better than any Michelin starred fine dining meal. Highly recommended.

Glass – A new bar in the neighbourhood. Dark, rustic, wooden interior. Music is very good soul/jazz. They have daily specials and I couldn’t stop complimenting them on their slushie shots that go for 3 euros each. Refreshing and tasty and a brilliant way to salvage leftover ingredients. They serve complimentary salted popcorn, and we also ordered a piping hot and toasty hot dog. Delicious.

Other worthwhile visits: Dirty Dick

Opera

Porte 12: This restaurant was only three weeks old when we visited. We were lucky to snag a table because I made a reservation the minute they opened. Why is there so much hype around this restaurant? Chef Andre Chiang, whose eponymous restaurant in Singapore is #38 best restaurant in the world, has opened an outpost Paris. However, he is not helming the kitchen here. Chef Vincent, who worked with Chef Andre before, created the menu. Even the staff have worked with Andre before. Great food! So much thought went into the dishes and every component is well balanced! I might do a solo post on this restaurant if I have time. 68 euros per person before tax and wine.

Le Richer: They do not accept reservations so be prepared for long queues here! It is a casual bistro-style restaurant with pretty complex dishes and fresh ingredients.

Shopping: Galeries Lafeyette and Printemps are the biggest names here. I recommend that you walk through it if you must, then make a beeline straight to the top floor of Lafeyette for the rooftop garden where you can take in sights of the Eiffel Tower, the Opera and Paris.

Other worthwhile visits: L’Office

Goncourt/ Votaire/ Charonne/ Bastille

(Home to the hippest restaurants in town!)

Bones: This reminded me a lot of my favourite restaurant in Singapore, Burnt Ends, possibly because both have Australian chefs. Rustic, smokey flavours. I loved this from start to end. It is 70 euros per person without wine.

Le Chauteaubriand: Hot favourite restaurant recommended by so many people from Anthony Bourdain to a friendly bartender. Hipster french food. They have the most mind blowing dessert! It is 70 euros per person without wine. Check it out for yourself.

Le Floreal: I like this place because I get an extensive list of wines and cocktails, and fresh seafood platters to go along with it. Good fresh seafood in a very hip atmosphere! Right next to the metro station, very convenient.

Other worthwhile visits: Frenchie, Septime, Perchoir

Marais

Glou: Recommended in the Michelin guide, you know it’s good. I love it for its laidbackness, and quality of food is top notch. Order a simple steak tartare and it will probably be the best you have ever tasted. There’s a special something in their food.

Breizh Cafe: Some say they have the best crepes in Paris. Definitely worth a stop. I would choose the savoury crepes made from buckwheat because I think they are definitive of Paris. Sweet crepes can be found anywhere. They have wide selection of ciders to go along with your crepe.

Shopping: Shine at15 Rue de Poitou carries a lot of things I like. You can find comptoir des cotonniers, Helmut Lang and Zadig & Voltaire along the same street. The Kooples and Sandro shops are along Rue Des Francs Bourgeois (must visit), Karl by Karl Lagerfeld at Rue Vieille du Temple, and a department store BHV Le Marais. End off your shopping day by taking in the magnificent sight of Hotel De Ville, a stone’s throw away from BHV. When I was there, a timeout event was going on and the square was filled with giant white balloons, with the magnificent building as backdrop

Other worthwhile visits: Marche L’Enfants (outdoor food market) and Bibi Idea Shop (where i bought the whole shop down!)

St Germain

L’Atelier Joel Robuchon: This branch at St Germain has 2 michelin stars. A discovery meal is 175 euros per person. Surprisingly, it is not hard to get a table. I managed a walk-in and was seated. Something I must point out is that it is not suitable for big groups because it is bar seating. The food is French, not many surprises from the meal. It is okay.

L’Comptoir: As you can see from my restaurant recommendations so far, I am not fan of traditional french food because it is too rich and heavy. However, L’Comptoir scaled down portions and revised it for modern palates. Another plus point is it is open all day, meaning you can stop by for a snack and wine at 4pm. Recommended by Anthony Bourdain.

Prescription Cocktail Club: Opened by the illustruous Experimental Cocktail Club brand, a small speakeasy that has no signboard on the exterior, and the bouncer will ask you a question before you are allowed to enter. It has loud music, but is comfortable with its couches and lounges. We tried a couple of their creative cocktails, but ended off with our favourite classics: Side Car for me and Old Fashioned for him. Always.

Terroir Parisien: Chef Yannick Alleno who received his Michelin star at Le Meurice left to open this bistro. He gives his modern take on traditional french food in this vibrant venue.

Shopping: Boulevard Saint Germain has boutiques like Kenzo, the first Diptyque store, and most importantly, department store Le Bon Marche. Equally well stocked as Printemps and Lafayette, but with NO TOURISTS. Be sure to check out their gourmet wing as well.

Rue Saint Honore

Colette: The one shopping stop I highly recommend. I always tell my boyfriend that the merchandising in Colette is one I strongly admire. Everything is interesting, conversation worthy, trendy, unexpected, and so much more.

Chanel store at Rue Cambon: It is such a chore to buy Chanel in Paris. There is so much waiting involved. But if you are interested in getting your Chanel fix in exclusive white boxes and white paper bags, go to the Rue Cambon store. There are a few other stores down the next street. Those have shorter waiting times but black paper bags. The decision is yours.

Bookmarc: Marc Jacobs’ only bookstore. Drop by, get a pen or sharpie or notebook.

Eiffel Tower

Les Tablettes de Jean Louis Nomicos: Michelin starred restaurant near the Eiffel. The set menu comes with two glasses of wine and is a reasonable price of about 80 euros for a Michelin experience.

David Toutain: Hottest place to eat in Paris now! Lots of vegetables in this meal. Hard to get reservation.

The (New) Library @ Keong Saik

If you haven’t been to the library recently, it’s time to revisit. 3 months ago, it underwent a change in bar manager, and with that, a change in menu and concept.

It is still a secret bar, so you still need a password to enter. Most times, you can find it on their Facebook page if you know where to look. Otherwise, it isn’t hard to get in if you are game enough. The door bitch will give you a task and if you complete it, you are free to enter! We had the password, but we had fun making friends with the door bitch – and even gave her a mini concert because we wanted to do a task.

The difference between the library now and the library before, is that they have downsized their menu from the previous list of over 40 complicated drinks, to a shorter and simpler menu. So now, they spend less time shaking and stirring, and more time chatting and giving you a friendly and memorable experience.

This change was driven by the understanding that customers just want to enjoy a good drink, they do not want to wait 30 minutes especially on weekends for bartenders to mix 20 different ingredients and then blowtorch the damn thing before serving.

As a result, they now pre make all their drinks before the bar opens, and put them in tumblers. When someone orders the drink, they pour it out and add the finishing touches and serve. This cuts down on prep time and everybody is happy.

I realize this is a departure from many other bars who pride themselves on showmanship and freshness. But does it really make a difference whether they prepare it 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later, since you are not actually involved in prep anyway? If you are curious, ask them about their techniques and methods. They are more than willing to share. If you want them to show you prep from start, I’m sure all you need to do is ask. But for the sake of the majority, they will premake all drinks.

Personally, I am among the minority. I badger the bartenders to know every detail and ingredient. Otherwise, I would have nothing to write after paragraph 1.

The first drink I ordered, “butter rye effect”, contains burnt butter rye whiskey, fernet branca, fresh lemon and maple syrup. Great recommendation from my bartender aloysius. This drink is prepared by first melting the butter over heat, then adding whiskey and freezing it again. When the fat solidifies on top, remove the fat. Then add maple and lemon.

IMG_0963

My companion chose “rumford and sons” purely for the name. She is a Mumford groupie. And so is the bar manager! He even has the beard going on. Name aside, many people choose this drink for it’s homemade caramel raspberry jam. But I find it’s ginseng liqueur content more intriguing. I was surprised that a western company, Kamms and Sons, created this liqueur. Ginseng is usually preferred by Asian palates. Aloysius noticed my interest and gave me a tasting portion of the liqueur. It was medicinal yet degenerate in one.

IMG_0964

At this point, our friendly bartenders aloysius and armin decided to shower us with shooters. Thank you! When I asked what they were made of, they gently informed me that the name of the drink is “shut up and drink”. To encourage customers to just drink! But I guessed the ingredients and aloysius confirmed that the main ingredients were Pisco, aperol, lemon juice and grenadine.

IMG_0966

I was seduced by “the silver screen”, which is their twist on the old fashioned. But I decided to be adventurous and aloysius gave me their strongest. It’s called the “Mai o Mai” – containing homemade pineapple juice infused beer, passion fruit, lemon, green chartreuse, absinthe, a blend of Caribbean rums including 55% abv rum, 60% abv rum and a 78% abv rum. This is so strong that they have a limit of 3 of these per guest. Through out my drink, aloysius kept checking on us to see if we were okay. I was. In case you’re curious. When chatting to another customer, he informed me that this used to come with dry ice and stuff.

IMG_0968

We were very lucky, because the people next to us returned their drink (there was a mistake) so we benefited and gained a free drink. It was the “bloody Andy”, which is obviously a twist on Bloody Mary. It contains roasted tomatoes, horseradish infused vodka, yellow peppers, tobasco, Worcester sauce, and celery bitters. Spicy drinks don’t sit well with my tummy, so this was a nono for me. But I’m sure it has its fans.

IMG_0973

One of the first questions I asked when I realized the menu changed was, “is there still the bath tub drink??”. The bath tub is still around, but now serves a different drink from before.

All cocktails are $23, while the Mai I Mai cost $35.

Cheers guys.

The Beast @ Jalan Klapa

The poster child for southern cuisine is undoubtedly fried chicken, the ultimate comfort food. Lesser known southern classics include pulled pork, bacon, mashed potatoes, grit, cornbread, etc. Note that it’s definitely not for anybody on a clean-eating diet. Here’s what we had when we visited Singapore’s first ever southern restaurant & bourbon bar in the arab street area:

IMG_0654

Started with happy hour beers – $10nett per pint.

IMG_0640

Chili Concarne $14 is a no-brainer when it comes to sharing food among friends. It is hearty, tasty and easy to eat. It was served piping hot and we enjoyed the savoury start to the meal. However we realized later that we were served nacho chips instead of cornbread, that was stated in the menu. We wonder why?

IMG_0645

Chicken & Waffle $20 – Here, half a chicken is deep fried but without the sickening oily feel. The blend of sweet and savory when eaten with the waffles and maple bourbon syrup was perfectly on point. The gluten-free waffles were soft yet crisp. Quite mind blowing and finished this as quickly as it was served. MUST order!

IMG_0646

Jack & The Beast Stalk $12 – if the previous dish was mind blowing, this was definitely earth shattering. In this dish, green beans are deep fried with a SECRET seasoning. We tried getting it out of the waitresses, but they refused to divulge. If we had to hazard a guess, my dining companion said sugar while I say plum. So you can guess that it is sweet. MUST MUST order!

IMG_0698

Portions are big, and I would recommend ordering one dish at a time, as southern food is best enjoyed hot. Only move onto ordering the next after you have finished the previous dish. They cook pretty quickly anyway. Not forgetting the free flow salted popcorn that the waitresses were very happy to top up voluntarily.

IMG_0641

Onto the drinks – All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. The main difference between whiskey and bourbon is that bourbon must be made entirely in the USA. The distinctive flavors are often attributed to the spring water used.

If you are a bourbon beginner, do try their flights. These are sampling platters that allow you to taste three different bourbons. There is an introductory flight ($34) for beginners, or low/high-rye ($34) if you have more specific tastes. We went for the small batch ($36) flight because we wanted something exclusive, followed by a single barrel flight ($38) for a more premium experience.

IMG_0668 IMG_0674

With flights, there will definitely be hits and misses but it’s a good way to expose yourself to various spirits, and understand the difference in tasting notes, aromas, palate, aftertaste, etc. If you need guidance, they provide notes for you to study as you drink.

I also tried a couple of cocktails; the Beast Smash, and the Scarlet Sour ($20 each). I requested extra sour for both, and made them doubles. Meanwhile, my dining companion progressed down the bourbon menu, one glass after another ($20 each).

IMG_0686 IMG_0689

We also ventured to get shooters ($12 each)! Being a sister bar of Chupitos in clarke quay, they have similar daredevil shooters mixed from the weirdest ingredients. We ordered one of everything from the menu. And I would say Pickleback was the weirdest! It made me feel like snooki! It is bourbon mixed with pickle juice and I absolutely underestimated the intensity of the pickle because it was really overwhelming. It’s like eating a Macdonald’s cheeseburger and you want to pick out the pickles but you can’t in this case!

IMG_0694

Service was stellar – we made friends with every one of the waitresses. They were outgoing, friendly and funny. Bartender was knowledgeable about bourbon, not just about the taste but also the background stories of each distillery. She gave spot on recommendations everytime we requested for a specific type.

Chalks are provided in the bathroom to encourage customers to draw on the walls. No rude messages spotted as far as I know, and shows that the crowd is really decent. LOVED the adventure time cameo.

IMG_0692

In the southern states, it’s never about pretenses. It’s about carelessly over-indulging in too much fried food and good bourbon. And that is exactly what we did one fine Monday night after a hard day’s work. Swap out your heels for some cowboy boots and get ready for a really good time!

The total damage was $330 for 2 people, because we drink too much for our wallets’ good.

There is live music most nights but they failed to sing my song – “Why’d you only call me when you’re high?”

IMG_0681

Jekyll and Hyde

Aptly named because of its split personality; both a cocktail bar and a nail parlour. That’s as bipolar as it gets.

20131218-104800.jpg

I would not have paid the nondescript entrance a second glance if I wasn’t actually looking out for it. Looks like a restaurant that’s closed for the day or still under construction.

Upon walking in it was dark, but very very crowded. Without a doubt, Jekyll & Hyde is the newest and hottest bar in town right now. We spotted Ann Kok and celebrity stylist Marty Wong among the other patrons.

Their incompetence in handling crowds is going to be their downfall. When we entered we were not greeted by anybody, shown to a table or told to wait.

So we walked around the room trying to get the attention of someone, anyone. Everyone was really busy. But anyway when we finally did we were told to sit at the bar near the wall. However there were not enough stools so half of us had to stand while the other half sit.

I saw empty tables left vacant because there were no chairs. It’s kind of retarded. What a waste.

And another thing. Can you read this menu. Besides it being too dark, the menu is  impossible to read because they used this burnt out font. We gave up halfway and ordered everything off-the-menu because they do custom drinks too.

20131218-104819.jpg

The drinks took forever to come….

Saw quite a lot of people order something that looked oriental. Asked what it was. It’s an off-the-menu item. Beancurd, Kaya, Sago, Gin. Tasted like nothing alcoholic. Tau Hway! For something that almost everybody ordered, you’d think it’s their signature drink, but I was left disappointed. That said I would recommend you try it for yourself tho 1) cuz it’s so instagram worthy 2) it has a seriously unique flavour just lacking in alcohol.

20131218-104836.jpg

Off the menu too – My friend wanted something with green tea. There’s a bit of whiskey in here too. Ha Ha.20131218-104850.jpg

So I asked for a whiskey based drink with kaya. They gave me a pocky stick too. This is a really good dessert if you’re having after dinner drinks.

20131218-105011.jpg

20131218-105027.jpg

20131218-105058.jpg

Infinite Bar List: Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall

Everytime I bring up Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall with friends, their reaction is most probably “uh we’re at newton, can’t we just drink at muthu’s cold drink stall” *points at stall number 48 at newton food centre*. The name throws people off a bit, sounds like somewhere tiger aunties would roam, or maybe wher you’d order a milo dinosaur. So it’s a pretty cool idea for a bar name. Creative, tongue in cheek, kind of fun.

20131123-182922.jpg

I think they have a very interesting concept going, and if they had invested a bit more in their appearance, ah sam could go a really long way, especially with hipsters. Currently the tables and stools are kind of restaurant style seating, very basic tables and chairs. But if they can maybe install those small tables with attached benches that you get in hawker centres, it would really highlight their whole local coffee shop drink stall concept. Maybe put those little table numbers on the tables too. This way the bar would be serious eye candy and instagram candy too.

20131123-183123.jpg

Drinks are all classic cocktails. Which is cool because it’s an old world selection of drinks in a hip/hipster bar. They’ll come over and ask you what you want without even giving you a menu. When you ask for a menu they will say something so hipster and pretentious that I just LOLed. “We don’t have menus, but we have references.” Ok big boy. So they call their menus: references.

I pretty much know what I want, got my all time favourite cocktail Side Car. And a whisky sour. And switched things up a bit with a Paper Plane. They were all faultless but most remarkably their Sidecar is one of the best I’ve tasted in Singapore so it really is a must order, and a repeat order for me.

Will I go back…? I would if I’m craving a sidecar, god knows they make a mean one. They really got their drinks going for them. Ah Sam is one of those bars that have real substance. They keep you hooked not because of their gimmicks, but simply because the drinks are that good.

There is potential to grow if they make some tweaks to their design, which would attract hipsters and a bigger crowd of curious cats. And then rope them in further with their kick ass drinks.

Paper Plane (Redemption Bourbon, Aperol Amaro, Lemon Juice)
20131123-183047.jpg

Whisky Sour
20131123-183056.jpg

Side Car (Remy Martin VSOP, Cointreau, Lemon Juice)
20131123-183109.jpg