As many of you know, Singapore feels like home to me, especially when it comes to cocktails. That’s mostly because of Paul, who invited me to a preview party of 28 HKS many years ago, where I first developed a passion for great cocktails. Thanks to a great collaboration with a local university, I am able to return to Asia’s cocktail capital once or twice per year, and have actually become more of an expert on the drinking scene in Singapore than Milano.
Below I give you some highlights of my 2019 trips to Singapore in May and June, which included some epic guest shifts with Mario Farulla of Baccano, Asia’s 50 Best Bars, and World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In addition to discussing the Heathrow Martini, I include sections on the best new bars and ranking-worthy bars in Singapore.
THE HEATHROW MARTINI
Sponsored by Grey Goose Italy, Mario Farulla of Baccano Rome and I organized a 4-bar tour of SIngapore on the lead up to Cocktail Fest. Mario being based in Rome and myself in Milano, we decided to meet up at London Heathrow. Having British Airways lounge access due to my frequent travels the past years, I invited Mario in to chill out with me before we flew together to the Lion City. As Mario was relaxing in his lounge chair, I was busy checking out the bar area.
I wanted to do a bit of PR for Grey Goose in the lounge as the bosses requested we document every moment of our trip. I got lucky - the anemic British Airways bar had a bottle of Grey Goose and even Martini extra dry vermouth! Although there were obviously no bar tools in the lounge, I scrounged up whatever I could. In front of Mario, who was on the phone with his girlfriend, I placed a Tom Collins glass with a few sad ice cubes and a wooden stirring stick in it. Then I brought over the booze and asked Mario to mix me a Grey Goose martini. Mario put the phone down and I started my video. To our surprise, the other frequent flyers sitting by us asked us what was going on. I assured them Mario was a professional bartender and that peeked the interest in our artisanal cocktail.
So instead of making a martini for me, Mario made one for a curious elderly woman and a friendly American couple traveling to Singapore on our flight, along their 21 year old daughter. We posted the video on Facebook and Instagram and hoped Martini Italy would be impressed, but expected things to die out there.
Upon visiting our first bar in Singapore, MO Bar, where Mario had a guest shift later that week, bar manager Michele Mariotti decided to reproduce our Heathrow Martini. Of course, instead of serving it in a sad wine glass like we did at Heathrow, Michele poured it into a beautiful Nick and Nora, and added a lemon twist. We couldn’t believe Michele had even seen the video! This inspired us to reproduce the Heathrow Martini all over Singapore, including a Gaz Regan-style rendition at 28 HongKong Street.
28 HongKong Street
In close collaboration with newly-appointed GM Justin Pallack and bartender Ronan Keilthy, Mario did an awesome takeover at the high-octane 28 HongKong Street, which continues to lead the pack among bars in Singapore. The highlight of Mario’s drink list was Tropical Koriko with Grey Goose vodka, umeshu, citric banana and bergamot essence. The crowd was unbelievable at 28, with much of industry supporting the evening including Andrew Yap, Vivian Pei, Charmaine Ann Thio, Davide Boncimino, Hutch and many more.
Bbar (Habitat by Honest Bee)
The first of its kind, Bbar is a charming speakeasy at the back of Habitat, a gourmet grocery store in Singapore. In collaboration with bar manager Anton Gornev, Mario did a guest shift featuring four Grey Goose cocktails, with my favorite being Italian Renaissance with Grey Goose, Italicus, lemon syrup and champagne. From Anton’s menu, Beehive was awesome, having Bombay Sapphire rested with beeswax, St.-Germain, sesame oil and grapefruit tonic water. Thanks to the regular customers and industry for attending, in particular the teams from 28 and Manhattan.
I was already a big fan of the Italian restaurant bar Caffe Fernet, having organized a great master class and guest shift here the previous year, in collaboration with Giampiero Francesca of Blue Blazer and bartenders Diego Ferrari of Cocktail Art and Matusalem Rum and Benjamin Cavagna of 1930. Caffe Fernet focuses on aperitivo-style drinks to pair with Italian food, such as a delicious cacio e pepe.
Mario didn’t have a moment to rest during his guest shift at Caffe Fernet. We had an even bigger turnout than 28, and the lively crowd enjoyed four new Grey Goose based drinks. The best seller was Pinch of Punch with Grey Goose , Seedlip spice, hibiscus syrup and champagne. A special shout out to sweet Caryn of Zouk for coming out!
Mario Farulla suited up for his final guest shift at the newly launched hotel bar in the glitzy Mandarin Oriental. Given that it was only a day before Cocktail Fest, we had some international industry friends like Martin Hudak stop by this fun takeover at MO bar. Thanks to bar manager Michele Mariotti for a wonderful experience and for interviewing us and friend Diego Ferrari for his awesome podcast Unjiggered.
THE BIG BOYS
The big boys are the bars I feel offer the best combination of hospitality, ambiance, cocktails and overall positive energy. They are the bars with the most international appeal that could compete for recognitions such as The Spirited Awards and World's 50 Best Bars.
Manhattan’s personnel has seen a major shake up with the departures of Philip Bischoff and Cedric Mendoza, two key figures behind Asia's best bar. But to my delight, I experienced the same world class hospitality on my recent visits, thanks to the excellent experience of the Manhattan veterans Gabriel, Tim, Sophia, Frank, Kelvin, Roland and Suzan. With new bar manager David Nguyen-Luu at the helm, the future is bright for Manhattan.
Jigger and Pony
Being forced out of their original Amoy Street location was a big emotional blow to owner Indra Kantono and his team at Jigger and Pony. Instead of closing up shop, they were inspired to reinvent Jigger and Pony, building a new iteration of the Singapore favorite in the Amara Hotel. As you enter the bar, you'll immediately see the protagonist of the new Jigger and Pony, a gorgeous glossy-black finished piano bar. Upstairs is a stylish lounge area, offering a more exclusive experience with velvet sofas and a separate private bar. For the voyeurs out there, there is even a special seat that provides an unobstructed view of every single table in the two-floor bar. Although Jigger still feels like an intimate bar, the well thought out two-level design allows for 130 seated guests.
The cocktail list at Jigger focuses on well-executed classics and is found inside a glossy magazine, which also includes special articles you'd expect to find in a drinks industry publication. Try the elegant and earthy Sakura Martini with Roku Gin, homemade sake vermouth and preserved sakura blossom.
Kudos to the team managed by Jerrold Khoo for delivering phenomenal renditions of vintage cocktails and exceptional hospitality. The risk of moving to a new space has paid off for Indra and co, with Jigger full on most nights. They are already gaining international recognition, claiming the Highest Climber award on Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
Atlas, the most majestic bar in the world, is also the best place to savor a martini. Although the house Atlas martini is too soft for my palate, their vintage martini series is a delight. Although the departures of Roman, Carla and Sim were a disappointment, Jesse Vida (ex Black Tail) has been an outstanding replacement, giving great energy to the elegant space. Leading a gifted bar team Russell, Yana, and Lauren, expect Atlas to place highly in October.
Gibson bar is a Jigger & Pony group establishment that has been a part of Asia’s 50 Best Bars since its inception. The sleek space gives you that high-end hotel bar ambiance but the laid back staff will immediately put you at ease, with the result being an easygoing and friendly vibe in the bar. Principal bartender Gento Torigata seeks to fuse the best of Asian ingredients into classic cocktails to realize something unique, sometimes odd, but always delicious. In fact, Gibson has one of the best cocktail menu in Singapore.
No visit to Gibson is complete without trying the signature Gibson with a Japanese twist: Roku gin and homemade Ginjo sake-vermouth. The three condiments served along side, pickled onion, smoked quail's egg and homemade nukazuke, are a great compliment to their dry and slightly fruity Gibson.
A unique green twist on a classic is the Garden Sazerac, where the absinthe has been swapped for fresh herbs. Featuring Botanist Gin, Mackmyra Vit Hund, Seedlip Garden Honey, Mexican tarragon, Garden Sazerac is one of the most beautiful and best drinks on the menu.
Singapore is still seeing booming growth, despite the government imposed regulation of hiring mainly locals. There have been five important new openings since I was last in town.
The Other Roof
From the brilliant mind of Dario Knox, comes The Other Roof, the spin-off of the successful The Other Room. Macarena Rotger leads the new rooftop operation, located on top of Ann Siang House hotel. The Other Roof offers a completely original concept with a menu built around tea-finished spirits and cocktails. A fine example is Negroni del Conte with Bohemian raspberry tea gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and Campari. Diego Ferrari, Mario Farulla and I got to discover The Other Roof during the launch of The Lovers Rum during cocktail week.
From the confidence-boosting smile by the ladies at the door to the impeccable service by Michele Mariotti and his team, you will truly feel like a million bucks at MO Bar Singapore. Located on the 4th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Singapore, MO bar offers breathtaking views of the Singapore skyline.
The interior design at MO Bar includes hand-carved wooden sculptures and hand-woven tapestries, complimenting Michele's cocktail menu inspired by the APAC region. Unlike other Mandarin Oriental bars around the world, Michele is taking things beyond twists on classics, thanks to an in-house laboratory just behind the bar counter. Mariotti and his team use all the latest high tech equipment to come up with new flavors and aromas for their signature serves at MO Bar.
There's no better way to start your adventure at MO Bar Singapore than Mother of Dragons, perhaps the most beautiful drink of 2019. The drink was inspired by the legend of the ancient dragons of Vietnam's Ha Long Bay (and also the popular character Daenerys). This fruity and sour drink has strawberry aloe vera, dragon fruit juice and cachaca. The gorgeous concoction is decorated with a dragon design on edible paper.
The Old Man
Named after the Hemingway novel “The Old Man and The Sea,” Agung Prabowo has come up with an innovative cocktail list inspired by the literary giant (and cocktail aficionado), but prepared with modern methods such as the rotovap and centrifuge. The Old Man took the cocktail world by storm, initially placing fifth in Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2018. This success prompted the team to expand to the thriving Singapore market. At The Old Man Singapore, you’ll find the same signature I-shaped bar counter with its innovative bronze strip drink cooler, as well as the same delicious drinks, but in a space that’s roughly twice as large as its HK counterpart.
Leading The Old Man SG is Andrew Yap, who brings his exceptional hospitality to the new bar on Keong Saik Road. Officially launched during SG cocktail fest , Old Man SG is decorated with low-key tropical touches, and features a main bar area with its chef’s table style bar counter, and a lounge area for a more intimate experience. All nine cocktails from the original menu at the Old Man HK are available.
The massive 3-L capacity centrifuge in the back laboratory leads to outstanding clarification for Old Man’s preparations, as evidenced by the addictive and refreshing gin and tonic variation, Islands In The Streams with clarified pink grapefruit, salted gin and carbonation. Although every drink I tasted was a masterpiece, my favorite was The Snows of Kilimanjaro, an unlikely mix of marshmallow gin, lacto-fermented raspberry, and topped with freshly-grated Gruyère cheese.
SKAI bar is Rusty Cerven’s new project in the Swissotel at The Stamford. Rusty and head bartender Demitria Dana Paramita have recently launched their cocktail list based on altitude, fitting for a bar located on the 70th floor of the Stamford. The Alpine section, with ingredients from 1200 m to 3900 m, features Berry Cascade (Reyka Icelandic vodka, Tempus Fugit Duplais Absinthe, Cascara, Fermented Strawberry Cordial, sweet vermouth, soda water), my favorite drink on the list. While sipping your drink, admire the view, Singapore’s best. I’d love to experience this bar to watch the Singapore Grand Prix as it gives a view of most of the circuit. Before or after your cocktail, don’t miss out on one of Asia’s best restaurants Jaan, with Simone Macri’s kind hospitality and Kirk Westaway’s fresh take on British cuisine.
Another much talked about opening is Idlewild, a luxurious lounge on the lobby level at the InterContinental Singapore. Managed by Andy Griffiths and featuring the warm hospitality of Krissy Jesudason, this sexy bar features drinks inspired by golden age of air travel and regular jazz performances. Perhaps my best night out during Negroni week was at Idlewild with guest bartenders such as Campari BA Symphony Loo, MO bar's layback police Michele Mariotti and Jan Martin from Chihuly Lounge.
Madame Fan bar is located on level two of the the NCO Club. The 40-seat bar is an extension of the high end Madame Fan Cantonese restaurant. Running the bar program is Bacardi Legacy finalist Davide Boncimino, with an elegant cocktail list with an Oriental twist. Don’t miss the Yu Cha with London Dry Gin, shiso vermouth, peated green tea and herbal liqueurs. Joining Davide behind the bar is the lovable June, fresh off a stellar performance at Chivas Masters.
IB HQ is the bar outlet of the research done by Kamil Foltan and Zurina Bryant of the Indigenous Bartender, a platform for sharing knowledge about locally sourced ingredients and their uses with a culinary and creative approach. I visited the intimate IB HQ during a guest shift by Hayden Lambert of Above Board Melbourne. Other than Hayden’s solid drinks, we got a chance to sample Kamil and Zurina’s inventive menu, powered by an in-house laboratory on the second floor. IB HQ is a must visit for Kamil’s warm hospitality and delicious cocktails made with clever and new experimental methods.
Indra Kantono, owner of Jigger and Pony, is a serious foodie. In fact, he talks more about eclectic and unknown Japanese bars than his own places. If he gave up building a bar empire, I am sure Indra could make a career as a drinks and food writer! Knowing how well one eats and drinks at his bars, I always jump at the chance to go for a night out with him and his adorable wife Guo Yi.
For delicious sake and oden (one-pot Japanese dish with boiled eggs, daikon and fish cakes in a light broth) at Orihara followed by whisky highballs and the famous "spaghetti napolitan' at the wild and always packed MoboMoga sake bar. For cocktails Indra recommends D.bespoke's easygoing sister bar RPM, featuring an amazing 4000+ vinyl collection and simple and tasty Japanese shochu cocktails. The bar at Waku Ghin inside the Marina Bay Sands offers outstanding classic cocktails, prepared by Japanese bartenders with a mesmerizingly beautiful technique. If you're hungry (and have a massive wallet) you can also enjoy the finest Japanese dining at Waku Ghin’s restaurant.
Asia’s 50 Best Bars
Asia’s 50 Best Bars returned to Singapore this year after the successful countdown gala last year. Mark Sansom of William Reed MCd the event, which once again drew an impressive mix of the global bar industry.
As a cocktail journalist for CLASS, Drinks International and Bargiornale along with my own blog Cocktail Pilgrim, I was able to secure a ticket to the gala. Once again, this meant suiting up, but thankfully my Roman bartender friend and roommate for the week Mario Farulla helped dress me.
The biggest news of the event was Old Man, the bartender-owned bar in Hong Kong (and now Singapore) that leapfrogged the powerhouse Manhattan to claim top spot. Singapore once again dominated the list, with 11 bars in the top 50. Eight Hong Kong bars made the list, seven from Bangkok, six from Tokyo, four from Taipei, three from Shanghai, Manila, KL and Seoul.
Jigger & Pony took home the Highest Climber Award, rising 33 places to #9 after its shift to Amara Hotel and following a menu overhaul. Below are my photos from the memorable event.
My gala photos
Official gala photos
World’s 50 Best Restaurants
Thanks to sponsor Matusalem Rum, I had the opportunity to attend the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, held for the first time in Singapore. Mr. Mariotti once again saved the day, giving me “license to kill” access to the Mandarin Oriental and even lending me his suit for the event. Although the countdown was lower intensity than the 50 Best Bars, likely due to the lack of cocktails, it was great to see Test Kitchen from Cape Town making the list and Gaggan of Bangkok placing 4th best. The real fun of this event was the after party at Marquee, with drinks by Old Man Singapore, Himkok and Antonio Lai.