Located right smack on Tanjong Pagar road, the open-kitchen restaurant with its adjoining bar is hip and trendy - none of the stuffy, starched napkins and thrice-ironed tablecloths you'd normally expect from fine dining establishments. That's totally fine with us, though; Gives us the chance to just enjoy the food without worrying about which fork to use next or whether we inadvertently commit any dining faux pas.
As is pretty much the norm, dinner prices are out of the reach of our limited dining budget, so we pay a visit during lunchtime for the much cheaper $43 (two-courses) or $58 (three-courses) set lunch. Not mentioned on the menu are a couple of "complimentary" amuse-bouche type snacks, starting with Chef's rendition of the Singapore Curry: Puffed rice (like unflavoured rice krispies) on a light, fluffy, airy curry paste. It's an interesting, yet altogether unfamiliar taste & texture combination.
Second snack: Smoked and charred peppers with a soy wasabi dip. The black char is, of course, an illusion -- these slices of capsicum aren't actually burnt black. Rather it's in a very light, crispy batter (not unlike a good tempura), blackened perhaps by charcoal or some other food colouring. We liked this quite a bit, but the uneven sprinkling of salt combined with the very salty soy/miso-flavoured dip meant some nibbles were a lot saltier than others.
Before the actual food comes, we're given a palate-cleansing tomato, basil and olive oil ... concoction (for lack of a better word). It's cold, tangy, and very refreshing.
On to the (main) food, then! The first appetizer is the Wagyu Beef Tartare with hazelnuts, mustard paper, truffled egg yolk and a crispy bread that's reminiscent of 油条 (you tiao, dough fritters). While we loved the plating, the presentation and the flavours, we thought that the egg yolk muddied the texture a little bit. In hindsight we might have eaten the beef with just the brioche and ignored the yolk.
The Pan Seared Foie Gras is a $15 supplement, which we gladly paid because we almost always order foie gras if we see it on the menu. In this rendition the sweetness comes from peach puree (delicious, perfectly balanced with the fat from the liver) and slices of white peach (disappointingly mushy ... but then again we haven't been able to get a single nice, firm, sweet peach in this country up until now).
On the recommendation of the (particularly aloof) waiter, I order the Slow Roasted Mangalica Pork Collar with chanterelles and milk skin. Another imperfect dish: flavours were good, and I thought the milk skin was interesting, but the pork itself was so dry in some parts that I had to lather it liberally with the gravy to compensate.
The inconsistency carries over to the Tarragon & Prawn Risotto. The balance of flavours, and the chunky prawns, crispy shrimp and prawn paper were absolutely spot on, but I was disappointed that the rice itself was a tad bit undercooked. It strikes me as a strangely rookie mistake to serve risotto whose rice grains are still a little hard / powdery in the center.
Anyways, all is forgiven with the desserts! The Cherry Ripe Souffle comes with a cherry-flavoured chocolate souffle - delicious fluffy cherry-chocolate mousse, and a eye-wateringly sour mini cherry sorbet magnum. I adore sour things so I totally loved it, but if you're not so big a fan then this might not be the best choice of dessert.
Pear Tart 2015 is a delightful play on the senses. You get two slices of (real) pear, and a mock pear sitting on a bed of crushed puff pastry. Well maybe it can't even really be called a mock pear. It's a mound of caramel ice cream / gelee encased by green gel made to look like a pear. We like this a lot - it's playful, it's delightful, but most importantly still tastes delicious.
The meal ends with assorted petit fours - the most notable of which was a rectangle of sweet tofu. Which totally worked and was totally delicious!
Overall, we come away with mixed feelings. While some of the dishes were very imaginative, and the food was overall very good, we were a bit let down by the few shortcomings here and there. Whether it's dry pork, crappy peach or undercooked rice, we felt these were mistakes that a restaurant of this calibre simply shouldn't be making.
Perhaps we could chalk it up to just a 'bad day in the office' for whichever chef cooked up our food?
The Tippling Club is on 38 Tanjong Pagar Road and is open for lunch and dinner on weekdays, and dinner only on Saturday. Reservations recommended. Non-halal.