Native on Amoy Street and Fat Prince on Peck Seah shake it up with regional flavours
If you are looking for bars with distinctly different flavours, look to Native in Amoy Street which champions spirits and flavours only from Asia, or Fat Prince in Peck Seah Street which celebrates Middle Eastern flavours in its cocktails, alongside wines and beers from Lebanon
Asian spirits, ingredients take centre stage at Native
While there is no shortage of quality bars in Singapore touting the best spirits from the farthest reaches of Scotland to the rarest grape varietals from France, one bar is keeping it decidedly native.
Native, located on the second floor of a shophouse in Amoy Street, stocks only spirits from the region.
On the back bar, there is everything from Thailand's ubiquitous Mekhong golden spirit to Sri Lanka's potent Ceylon Arrack and different expressions of Amrut whisky and rum from India.
The walk up the stairs to the bar features a wall mural of Orang Laut (Malay for "seafaring people") as an homage to how historically, everyone who arrived in Singapore was a traveller.
Singaporean Vijay Mudaliar, 27, helms the bar, which opened just three weeks ago. He wanted to highlight the interesting spirits that have been coming out of Asia in the past decade, many of which he felt were under-used, if at all.
"There's a lot going around the region and I felt that people weren't taking notice," he says.
Having worked as a bartender for a decade, including at world-class establishments such as Operation Dagger (No. 21 on last year's edition of the World's 50 Best Bars Awards), he also hints at a disconnect with the foreign spirits and cocktail culture that he had to tap on daily.
"When you start bartending, a lot of what you learn are 'classics' like the Vieux Carre, named for the French Quarter in New Orleans," he says. "But I've never been to New Orleans, so making the drink or talking about the bourbon that went into it was a sales pitch."
So it made sense for him to keep the experience authentic by using products closer to home and work with ingredients he knows.
"Things such as mango, turmeric and coconut are ingredients that my mother works with and I understand these inside out, compared with those that come from far away," he says.
For instance, he follows his mother's traditional recipe for homemade yogurt, but uses a sous vide machine instead of fermenting it overnight in an oven, like his mother would.
He uses yogurt whey, which is more acidic than yogurt, to make what he describes as a "forward thinking" take on the familiar Mango Lassi ($22), adding hand-pureed Indian mangoes that are in season and Amrut Old Port rum for an alcoholic kick.
The flavour explosion comes courtesy of earthy beetroot jelly and pomegranate molasses at the bottom of the cocktail, all topped off with a rich pistachio foam and a sprinkling of curried pistachios.
While these are not flavours typically expected to work together, he got the idea for the cocktail while walking round Little India, where he saw mango and beetroot sold side by side.
A crowd favourite on the limited drinks menu, with prices ranging from $19 to $23, is Pineapple Arrack ($22).
It uses Ceylon Arrack, or toddy, which is made from fermented coconut flower sap that is distilled on the day of collection and aged in Sri Lankan wood. It is served with a frozen pineapple slice sprinkled with Sri Lankan cinnamon.
"For the first time in my career, coming up with this cocktail menu felt a lot easier and a lot more organic," he says.
52A, Amoy Street; open: 6pm to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays)
Down the road, he hopes to introduce a menu using ingredients foraged from around the Amoy Street neighbourhood. He has discovered everything from betel leaves to belimbing to jackfruit, but wants to make sure he has a sustainable supply before including them in the cocktails.
"The main reason we forage is to understand our surroundings better. I don't want to forage just for the novelty of it," he says.
Sustainability is a thread that runs through the bar's practices. Even the coasters are cut from waterproof lotus leaves.
According to Mr Mudaliar, they last three or four turns before they are dehydrated and put into circulation again.
The ceramic cups used for some drinks were made by an artisan found on Instagram, while the in-house playlist is made up of only local and regional acts.
Mr Mudaliar declined to reveal how much was pumped into the project, saying only that it involved all his savings and some backing from small investors.
Ultimately, he wants Native to grow into a community where "the little guys" can have a space to shine.
• Swig is a weekly page dedicated to all drinks distilled, brewed, fermented and aged.
Cocktails tinged with Middle Eastern and North African spices
Raki, the unofficial national drink of Turkey, is featured prominently in the latest drinks menu at Middle Eastern bistro Fat Prince in Peck Seah Street.
The potent anise-flavoured spirit is used in cocktails such as the regally named Sultan's Tipple ($23) made with Jameson Irish whisky, Becherovka herbal bitters and a maple syrup flavoured with the North African spice mix, ras el hanout.
Harissa, a North African chilli pepper paste, and Middle Eastern spice mixes za'atar and baharat are other unexpected ingredients that feature in various cocktails.
This includes the Moroccan Mary, a Middle Eastern take on the Bloody Mary, but made with harissa and za'atar salt alongside the usual tequila, tomato and Worcestershire sauce.
A great way to ease yourself into the flavours is via the housemade Turkish sodas with flavour pairings such as orange and cardamon, peppermint and lemon, Turkish tea and ginger, as well as fig and date.
While the fizzy sodas ($8 each) are delightful on their own, add another $8 to "spike" them with a house pour spirit.
Hidden among the beer list is an interpretation of Witbier from Lebanon by 961 brewery (named after the calling code for the country).
48, Peck Seah Street; open: 8pm to midnight (Tuesdays to Fridays) , 11.30am to midnight (Saturdays), 11.30am to 3.30pm (Sundays), closed on Mondays
The wine list is where some of the most exciting offerings from Lebanon are found.
While the country's wine heritage stretches back 5,000 years to when the Phoenicians started perfecting viticulture, only a few establishments here stock them.
The Bekaa Valley, home of the most modern Lebanese wine, is represented by the Chateau Kefraya Comte de M 2011 ($160 a bottle) and Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2014 ($19 a glass, $95 a bottle).
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