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Shanghai: El Coctel

6 Jul

El Coctel, a Japanese-inspired Spanish cocktail bar owned by Chef Willy Trullas Moreno of popular tapas restaurant El Willy, is one of my favourite cocktail bars in Shanghai. It’s just about the prettiest bar that I’ve been to, but lest you think it’s all style and no substance, I’ll have you know that they serve great cocktails and gourmet sandwiches (from Chef Willy’s hot dog and sandwich shop Bikini one floor below the bar).

It’s hard to not feel relaxed here and let all your troubles slip away here. I love its eclectic apartment style decor; complete with mismatched chairs, plush leather sofas, quirky art pieces and watercolour wallpaper. In the day, floor to ceiling windows fill the room with gorgeous light and at night, a dim orange glow makes it really conducive for a date. Lovely is an understatement.

It would be nice to one day sit at the bar one day and watch their (hipster) bartenders make my drinks/converse with them since that’s a huge part of the cocktail bar experience, but that day we were contented to have our own little quiet spot in the corner for girl talk.

How cute is the flamingo coaster? Its watercolour animal and floral themed brand identity is just adorable.

We were served a complimentary bar snack of popcorn and excellent nuts that were both sweet and savoury. Really good!

To start, we both had something light and fruity. I thought the Harvard Cooler (Calvados Fizz) (8oRMB) was a witty take on cider. It actually tastes like a cider, though it was made using Calvados (apple liquor from Normandy), lemon juice and powdered sugar and then aerated and shaken. Great concept and I liked the slight fizz.

The Sakura Caprioska (80RMB) is a must order IMO, as sakura (cherry blossoms) liquor doesn’t often feature on cocktails menus. With the addition of gin, orange and lemon, this was a uniquely floral yet well-balanced cocktail. The choice of citrus fruits complemented the sakura flavour well.

If you’re feeling peckish, you should order from the sandwich menu here, as they are not your average bar food standard. This was the warm salmon, walnuts, apple, spinach and goat cheese panini (55RMB). What an interesting combination that really works! The salmon went really well with the sweet apple slices and goat cheese. And the bread was nicely toasted. Sure it’s not that cheap for a sandwich in China, but I think it’s good enough for a light meal. On a previous trip, I had the ham, emmental and mustard panini (55RMB) which was also amazing and totally elevated my ham and cheese sarnie experience to a new high. The melted cheese was a dream, and good quality ham was actually used (a treat in China).

The Snow Ball (80RMB) was a Japanese interpretation that had Advocat, lime juice, and ginger ale. I tend to shy away from eggs in my cocktails, but the Advocat liquor (egg based brandy) was actually quite comforting, and was nicely balanced with the citrus and the fizzy ginger ale.

For the last cocktail for the road, I went for the Islay Old Fashioned (80RMB), which was a usual old fashioned (spirit, sugar, orange, bitters) with an additional 5ml shot of Islay single malt. This was extremely smooth and had a nice tint of smokiness. Felt very manly gulping this down as we were running late for dinner, angsty Don Draper would approve.

This is definitely one of my go to bars in Shanghai even though it’s a tad pricier. I like the classy ambiance and their house cocktails are all quite unique. They also seem to refresh their menu seasonally as I spotted a few new/missing drinks since my previous trip. Finding the bar is a bit of a challenge though, as there isn’t a signboard bearing its name anywhere. So do the folks at The Apartment (a neighbouring bar that always get asked where El Coctel is) a favour and look out for a discreet entrance with a cocktail shaker and walk up the stairs.

Price: $-$$ (~80 RMB per cocktail, ~55RMB for sandwich)
Location: 2/F, 47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu
Opening Hours: Daily 5pm till late
Tel: +86 21 6433 6511

Singapore: Martini Bar at Mezza 9

24 May

One too many drinks with various groups of friends have been had at Martini Bar @ Mezza 9 ;) Years ago, one of my friends raved about its signature bar snack of black pepper cashew nuts, but I only got round to checking out the place last year. And since then, it has become my go to bar for meet ups with friends during pre-dinner/happy hour drinks in town.

As it’s a martini bar, there is an amazing variety of martinis (more than 30), including many fruit and dessert-y flavours and they all sound so incredibly delish. The best thing is that they have a happy hour promotion called Mezzatime from 6-9pm, Monday to Saturday where the martinis go for 50% off! It’s really value for money, considering the quality you get.

I must have sampled at least 15-20 flavours over my multiple trips here. I’m more partial to fruit based and vodka based martinis and my favourites, including some of the more exotic flavours are the rockmelon, ice wine (made with real ice wine!), grape, midori green, grapefruit, dragonfruit, citrus, coconut and sugarcane. Of course you can also stick to the usual lychee and apple but here I prefer to be adventurous here since there are so many more exciting sounding options and the quality is generally there. I think it’s great that they have incorporated so many tropical fruit/exotic fruit flavours (like coconut and dragonfruit) in their martinis. Some of the more premium flavours (like ice wine) are slightly more expensive.

Though the martinis go at 50% off during happy hour, they certainly don’t stinge on the quality and still taste similar to during non-happy hours. They are made with plenty of fresh juices, fresh fruit and copious amounts of alcohol. There’s none of that syrupy crap often found in bad cocktails that leaves an aftertaste – not at least for the flavours that I’ve listed above!

If you come on a Friday, chances are the bar would be packed to the brim with people (a lot of expats and tourists come here too) so you might have to stand, wait very long for someone to take your order and deliver your drinks. Also do check your bill as I have been billed wrongly before as the bar is really busy. On other days, I usually have no problem getting a table especially if you come early. But you know, everything seems funny and bearable after a few delicious martinis! :) *hic*

And let’s not forget about the nuts – they are really as good as my friend said they were! The wait staff here are quite generous in topping up our bowls too :)

Martini Bar offers consistently decent quality cocktails at reasonably prices, and is a great place in town for groups of friends who just want to have a good time together over drinks (it’s totally not a stylish decor and see and be seen kind of place). Sometimes I wonder why do I bother with the repetitive and posey bespoke cocktail bar scene…

Price: $-$$
Location: Inside Mezza 9, Grand Hyatt Hotel, 10 Scotts Road, S (228211)
Tel: +65 6732 1234

Singapore: Divine Wine Bar

15 May

I was with a friend in the Arab Street area and we wanted to grab a drink at Piedra Negra since I’m too old for shisha and too lazy to pose at Bar Stories. Unfortunately it was closed (on a Sunday?!) but my genius friend suddenly remembered a wine bar in the lobby of the infamous “Gotham building” (aka Parkview Square) along North Bridge Road. Yes, I’m referring to that building that sorely sticks out like a sore thumb in the City Hall/Bugis area and was the talk of town when it was built for its Gotham City-esque architecture.

Sculpture of a crane in the courtyard pointing to Wuhan’s Yellow Crane Tower (!)

“Are you kidding? There is a wine bar there? It can’t be possible as I’ve never EVER heard of it.” I insisted to my friend since I usually know maybe 90% of all F&B places in Singapore, and that building isn’t new. *shameless* But she dragged me to it and I can safely say it was one of the most bizarre experiences and secret hideouts in Singapore. If you’re looking for a place for a secret rendezvous, I can safely say you won’t meet anyone you know at Divine Wine Bar. Bonus: it serves some seriously good wine too (with 3 thick menus worth you’re bound to find something you like).

I’m just going to let my pictures do the talking but it was a very opulent wine bar with a detailed, over the top art deco interior that corresponds to the building’s exterior. It occupies an extremely large and tall loft space, which makes it look very grand and surreal. It felt a little like a 1920s version of Grand Central Terminal that got transplanted all the way to er, Bugis. There wasn’t much of a crowd as it was a late Sunday night but the people who were there looked older, foreign (Chinese) and moneyed.

Even its ceilings are covered with murals (we spotted Asian symbols though)

But the highlight of the place, has to be the 12m wine rack at one of the bar counters that houses bottles of wine that a waitress who doubles up as “a wine angel” (complete with winged-costume) and has to “fly up” while hooked on a pulley system to manually search for your wine bottle and retrieve it. How bizarre is that?

Since we were only there for a quick drink, we got the house wines by the glass so we missed the spectacle. The wines were surprisingly good though slightly pricey – an Italian Chianti and a Aussie Chardonnay if I’m not wrong ($22-28 per glass). I can safely say that I’m coming back to order a bottle or two to watch (bottles from $80 and up), because it will be worth it.

The whole time we were there I was just giggling and bemused by the place as it felt so otherworldly. But jokes aside, I think it’s great that we have something so unique and hidden in Singapore. Mad props to my friend for the recc!

Price: $$ and up
Location: 600 North Bridge Road S(188778)
Tel: +65 6396 4466

Singapore: Farmers’ Market at Loewen Gardens

16 Mar

I was lucky enough that my stay in Singapore coincided with one of the Farmers’ Market sessions at Loewen Gardens. Yes if you’re wondering, Singapore actually has a “farmers’ market” but naturally it’s doesn’t have much fresh produce, instead there’re mostly baked goods, gourmet products, beer and wine etc. It’s held on the first and third Saturday of every month, you can check here for the upcoming dates. I had to drag my friend there before our lunch because I’ve been wanting to go for ages.

It’s definitely no Borough Market. There weren’t many people nor stalls and we managed to browse through the whole thing in maybe 5 minutes? Sadly, I didn’t see the paella stall or Popaganda popsicles that I’ve seen on many older blogposts on the market. The ulu location (in Dempsey but a more secluded corner) doesn’t help the human traffic either, you definitely need a car to get here. There were quite a lot of people eating at adjacent The Pantry cafe though, heard the food’s pretty good but we had dim sum reservations after so we couldn’t try.

Despite the mini scale of the market, of course I still found things that I wanted to buy. I walked away with some delicious mushroom and truffle spread and a gorgeous wine bucket with a leather handle, and that was after exercising restraint as I didn’t want to lug too much stuff around for the whole day (had a long day ahead). Support local vendors!

My real reason for coming to the market was to try the new gourmet pie outfit, Windowsill Pies. It’s started by the very talented and young Gwee Brothers who used to run a private dining outfit in their house which I had the opportunity to try once – the whole experience from the menu, execution, service was absolutely amazing! So when I read that they had started a new pie venture, I had to check it out.

There were only 3 pies on sale that day – Morello Cherry Pie, Pecan Pie and Upside Down Pineapple Tart and we got the Pecan Pie ($6.2/slice). It was probably the best pecan pie I’ve had in Singapore! The filling was so delicious and moist and I thought the pecan:filling ratio was just nice. It wasn’t too sweet either. We also sampled the cherry pie which was good too but a bit too tart for me to eat the whole thing. They have other yummy sounding flavours like Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whip and Banana Cognac Almond Brittle Pie that I’m just dying to try. If only they weren’t located at the other side of Singapore!

As we were melting in the heat, this particular signboard caught my eye. We chatted with the owner and learnt that Jungle Beer is actually a new local microbrewery that specialises in fusion beers – international styles with tropical flavours. You can find them on tap or their bottles at some local bars and restaurants now, and they also provide kegs for parties!

Pretty intrigued by their delicious brews (they also have one called Kiasu Stout) but I only had tummy space for one!

This was the Flirty Fruit Mango Rose Beer ($5/cup) that I tried, it was soo good! It wasn’t overtly sweet like the Taiwanese Lychee/Melon beers but the fruit flavours were still very pronounced. Yums!

Buildings in the area

What a gorgeous day :)

If you’re interested in the Farmers’ Market, I would suggest for you to go for it to try out what our local vendors have to offer, and then end it with lunch at maybe The Panty or a Dempsey eatery so as to make your trip there worthwhile. The vendors seem to change a bit so do check their individual FB pages to see whether they will be at the next market!

Farmers’ Market at Lowen Gardens
Location: 75 Loewen Road, Singapore 248844
When: 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month, 8.30am to 2pm
Tel: +65 6474 0441

Windowsill Pies
Location: 2 Pandan Valley, #01-206, Singapore 597626
Tel: +65 9004 7827

Jungle Beer
Location: Check their website for where they are stocked

Singapore: Drink Culture

14 Mar

The artisan cocktail bar fever has hit Singapore hard. Nektar, Bar Stories, Drink Culture, B28, The Studio, Barkode, Maison Ikkoku’s Cocktail Bar to name a few. While I’ve only managed to try only the first four so far, Drink Culture in Kreta Ayer, Chinatown really stands out in terms of the cocktail quality, creativity and service. Every cocktail we had was good, and Zach my bartender of choice knows how to entertain, wow and pamper us. They also make their own infusions, and don’t stinge on the ingredients, from what I’ve tried. We heard that this was opened by an ex-partner of Bar Stories, though they did leave the attitude behind, so thank goodness for that.

Tables are for bottle service and cocktails are only served at the bar counters. Drink Culture has a very OTT white, sexy theme complete with hot door bitches.

You can let the bartender know if you’re feeling for a particular fruit, flavour (e.g. sweet, sour, fruity, etc.) or liquor and they will customise something for you. Ask for what fresh fruits are available. It’s always a pleasant surprise. I’ll let my pictures do the talking here.

Kyoho Grape Martini

Banana Split (Caramelised banana, vanilla ice cream, banana liquor and shot of Baileys)

Zach burning up some rosemary to release the flavour

Passion Sunset (Passion fruit, citrus, rosemary) – Good use of the herb here

Dawa (Cachaca, honey, lime) – Supposedly award winning!

Honeydew Saketini – One of my favourites, balanced and delicate

Apple Cinammon Martini – Who needs dessert?

Burning up the orange peel studded with cloves, star anise to release the flavours

“The Zhihong” – As on the receipt, named after our friend who ordered it. Don Draper would be proud.

Citrus Paradise Martini

Pear Basil Martini – Love herbs + fruit esp pear!

Flambeing at work

Chocolate Flambe Martini – Delicious!

Tutti Frutti (whiskey with berries) – Interesting pairing for whiskey, me likey!

Watermelon Martini – One of my faves too. Simple and refreshing!

Starfruit Martini – Also good!

Strawberry Baileys Martini

Kiwi & Thyme Martini – Interesting and it worked!

Apple Hazelnut Martini – That’s cinnamon sugar on the rim

Winter Gooseberry (apricot liquor, gooseberries) – To wind down the night with something light

I love Drink Culture!

Complimentary fruits, flamed and drizzled with chocolate sauce and served on ice :)

Complimentary Jenever (juniper flavoured) raspberry shot

Complimentary strawberry white chocolate shot – this was yummy!!

I also love the fact that its low key, unposeurish and not crowded. It’s definitely my favourite bar at the moment.

Price: $$-$$$ (cocktails from $20++)
Location: 51 Kreta Ayer Road, Singapore 089007
Tel: 6557 0538, 8222 8181 (SMS)

Singapore: The Good Beer Company

13 Mar

Whenever I’m back home, I always have a preferred spot to hangout for drinks with friends that I keep going back. During summer it was Martini Bar at Mezza 9 for its killer happy hour (I must have gone there at least 10 times), and this time, it was The Good Beer Company at Chinatown Complex Market & Hawker Centre. Yes, it’s a little unconventional and a bit of a juxtaposition – a hawker stall in Chinatown selling craft beers and ciders from all over the world – but I love it. Just like how fashionistas like to mix high fashion with thrift store pieces, I like the concept of doing gourmet beer tasting a la wine tasting in our humble hawker centre, or pairing my claypot rice with some golden ale. Yup, that’s the way I roll.

Owner Daniel told me that the tagline “Uncommon. Epic. Legendary Beers.” was inspired by computer games.

The big fridge of beer that may induce confusion as everything looks so drinkable. Look out also for the smaller one on the right. If you’re a beer novice, owner Daniel is always around to offer some suggestions according to your preferences. They constantly brings in new beers (Rekordelig!) and retire old ones so there are always new options to try.

I’ve been a fan of the Swedish Koppaberg’s Pear Cider and Apple Cider ever since they were stocked at Ikea, but they have the Strawberry & Lime and Elderflower & Lime flavours here which are both so good. The former is very sweet and bursting with flavours of ripe strawberries, while the elderflower is herbaceous and more complex.

The ever popular Lychee Beer from Taiwan is available here too. This is definitely a ladies’ favourite and tastes intensely of sweet lychees.

Did you know the brand also has a Honeydew Melon Beer that is equally delicious? It’s hard to lay your hands on either of them as they are sold out fast! Tip: Check out The Good Beer Company’s Facebook page for updates on when they get stocks of it.

This Golden Ale from the Japanese Morita Kinshachi Brewery had a pronounced and unique tea and floral flavour that was lovely, especially when accompanied with some Indian muruku (I got lucky that night).

The popular Hitachino Nest White Ale from Japan has notes of nutmeg, coriander and orange peel and has a clean, dry finish. They usually stock a few other Hitachino Nest beers as well, including an interesting Espresso Stout.

Aside from the girly fruit beers I’m partial to, the Trappistes Rochefort 8 from Belgium was really something. A very dark beer with notes of dates and chocolate. Velvety and luscious! At 8%, you might get a little buzzed after a few of these.

Other beers that I’ve tried elsewhere and liked that are also carried there are the Brother’s Toffee Apple (UK) (another ladies fave that really tastes of toffee apples), Negra Modelo (Mexico), Krounenberg 1664 (France), Little Creatures Pale Ale (Australia), Lindemann’s Apple (Belgium), Wittekerke Rose/Orange Passionfruit (Belgium). Do note that these are the lighter/fruity beers that I’m partial too and they also carry many other manlier options! They also carry Jungle Beer, a Singapore microbrewery that I also spotted at the Farmers’ Market at Loewen Gardens.

Things got so crazy that I ever bought take-away beer (heavy bottles…bad idea) to drink at home since I didn’t have time to keep making trips down. I honestly can’t wait for my next trip back home already – the Rekordelig series is calling out to me!

Price: $ (from $8 a bottle)
Location: BLK 335 Smith Street, #02-58, Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre, Singapore 050335

Shanghai: The Public [formerly Apothecary]

24 Nov

[Edit: As of Dec 2011, Apothecary has been rebranded as The Public due to split in partnership. This visit was made before the change happened. I will try to make another visit to see if there have been any changes to the menu, F&B quality, etc.]

I didn’t plan to come to Apothecary as part of my Shanghai cocktail bar crawl since the original branch is from Beijing and I read better reviews about El Coctel and Alchemist. But a new friend I made in Shanghai raved about its cocktails so off we went, after an awesome meal at Mr & Mrs Bund. It also serves New Orelans Creole style cuisine so they have fried chicken nights on Sunday and other delicious sounding bites like homemade maple-smoked bacon and beignets.

The bar was about half full when we arrived at 10ish but slowly filled up. It felt quite cosy in general but I thought the furniture and the turquoise sofa I was sitting on looked a little…cheap and incongruent with the rest of the decor. If interior is not a key factor for you, then that’s fine. There was also an outdoor patio area.

Like our Mr & Mrs Bund, it has an extremely long menu so it felt like a night of mugging for exams. You can tell the folks behind Apothecary take their drinks very seriously from the way they try to recreate the really classic cocktail recipes, down to the littlest details, yet serve up many interesting modern takes on the originals and also make their own ice, bitters, sodas etc. For the indecisive (like me), cocktail-noob or the plain can’t-be-bothered, you can take your pick from the shortlisted “Auspicious Eight”.

One of their most popular cocktails is The Kind (70 RMB), which is described as a “Tiki-style Moscow Mule variation” made with Ketel One vodka, grapfruit and lime juice, a tad of black pepper, cinammon and lime syrup, house-made ginger beer and soda. I was a little apprehensive about the black pepper as I generally don’t go for cocktails with savoury elements, but decided to try after the waiter egged me on. All the elements came together surprisingly well and the black pepper and cinammon provided a light spicy zing that elevated it from good to great. It’s definitely more exciting and delicious than your regular Moscow Mule.

The hubs had a Dark and Stormy (70 RMB), which was dark rum, house-made ginger beer and lime since he wanted something ginger-ish for digestion. The dark rum tasted of caramel and the ginger beer taste packed a punch and was quite spicy. I thought it was a very good cocktail as well but it’s not for people who dislike the taste of ginger.

We encountered good and earnest service even though they have quite a few bad reviews online, perhaps because we went slightly earlier than peak hour or simply improved. The drinks here were slightly cheaper than Alchemist and El Coctel but they don’t give out complimentary snacks and also rank lowest on ambience, but I did feel their main attraction – the drinks – delivered.

Price: $-$$
Location: Sinan Mansions, Block 2, 4/F, Lane 507 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Chongqing Lu