Wednesday, 23 April, 2014

 
Published December 30, 2013
Dining
Let Ryan Clift shine
The leading light of Singapore's niche avant garde movement has a new platform to really dazzle his diners, writes JAIME EE
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In his element: In his spacious, laboratory-like kitchen Clift comes up with meticulously plated creations such as strawberry and cream candy; foie gras scented with cognac and Christmas spices, served with a curled crispy gaufrette; and two-textured omelette that sees creamy scrambled eggs magically encased in a layer of egg skin (above).

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NEW LOCATION

Tippling Club

38 Tanjong Pagar Road

Tel: 6475-2217

Open for lunch (starting later this week) Mon to Fri: 12pm to 3pm. Dinner from Mon to Sat: 6pm till late.

Online reservations at www.tipplingclub.com

WHEN it comes to avant garde cooking - note the likes of Adria, Blumenthal, Redzepi, Aduriz and, in the Singapore concept, perhaps Andre Chiang - the niggling question always is: how much of it is about making food that tastes good and how much is it about mucking with the diner's mind?

As it is, current trends already point to a general fatigue with trends - hence a return to the basics, sustainability, calling a fish a fish (not espuma of thermomixed cod gel)... you know where this is going. But while there's always room for the perfect roast chicken or a comforting apple pie, it's still the chefs who push the envelope that make the dining experience one of joyful discovery.

For the past five years, Ryan Clift has been doing just that in Tippling Club's original outpost in Dempsey. One of the pioneers of Singapore's tiny avant garde movement, Clift has always been more of a cult favourite than a mainstream "celebrity" chef. Although that has been a bit of a double-edged sword for him - the good thing being that he stays true to his own path without doing the PR schtick; on the other hand, he doesn't get the wider public acclaim that he deserves.

Part of that could also be due to Tippling's under-the-radar location in a hidden corner of the otherwise hopping Dempsey village. With its relocation to more visible premises in Tanjong Pagar, that could change. The new place is well, new, which means half the battle is won in terms of attracting buzz. It's also on trend - pleasing pastel green colour scheme, naked bulbs and semi-industrial look add up to a non-intimidating hangout that starts from the bar and leads into the main dining room-cum open kitchen and counter.

From the spacious, laboratory-like kitchen, Clift dispenses his meticulously plated creations that form the two tasting menu options at dinner, priced at $160 and $265 respectively without wine pairings. There are no a la carte options for dinner, as it was at the old place, but after the new year, they will introduce a lunch menu that's a more price-friendly $42 and $57 sampling of some of the dinner courses.

The certified techno-geek Clift is in his element at this new space, rolling out one quirky amuse bouche to another to prepare you for the more heavy-duty mind-challenging courses to follow.

His take on Singapore curry, for example, is a little glass jar filled with a dense, creamy foam that tastes unmistakably of the coconutty favourite, topped with crunchy puffed rice. That's quickly followed up with silken-textured roasted red peppers encased in black "carbon" tempura batter, that you dip into a sculpted sphere of miso-soy dipping cream with a shiny veneer almost like glazed chocolate. Wash that down with a test-tube of clear tomato water with a smear of basil essence on the inside of the tube.

All this is before the real meal begins - kicking off with an immaculate two-textured omelette that sees creamy scrambled eggs magically encased in a layer of egg skin, finished off with a top layer of smoked eel that almost emulates the texture of the egg. Even as he re-interprets breakfast, the sea gets filtered through Clift's brain and emerges as a creamy blend of milk and elephant garlic infused with razor clam juice, enveloping juicy chunks of shellfish and seaweed-tasting chlorophyll sheets.

Even if you've sworn off foie gras, you're likely to lapse once you've had a taste of the amazing whipped swirl of liver scented with cognac and Christmas spices, served with a curled crispy gaufrette (waffle cookie) and apples every which way - freeze-dried slice, dehydrated chunk and little cubes of apple gummy made using a special machine that cooks things in a vacuum at way below freezing temperatures. Suffice to say that the why and how of it would confuse anyone other than Clift, who has an arsenal of equipment from distillers to evaporators that would make anyone who recently bought a Thermomix cower in shame.

Yet, a lot of Clift's weird science works, because he approaches it from a technical, purpose-driven approach to achieving a certain texture or flavour, not because he had a dream about Mother Earth and tree spirits. For that reason, his food is clever without being pretentious and even if it seems unnecessary to take hours and expensive machinery just to make a garnish, that garnish completes the dish. A dish of crispy duck tongues probably wouldn't be complete if something was left out of the ensemble of flourless gnocchi, goat's curd, braised quinoa and celeriac; and you won't want to miss the little sweets like the strawberry and cream "candy" or cheesecake "pills" in a medicine bottle, and so on.

If anything, Clift is the leading light in Singapore's niche avant garde segment. Now that he's got a new platform, it's time for him to really shine.

Rating: 8

WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN

10: The ultimate dining experience

9-9.5: Sublime

8-8.5: Excellent

7-7.5: Good to very good

6-6.5: Promising

5-5.5: Average