It’s no secret that Singapore is a food lover’s dream: laksa, Hainan chicken rice, roti prata, chili crab…the list goes on. And that’s only at the hawker food market centers scattered around the city-state.
You’ll find more versions of an oyster omelette in one food center than fine dining restaurants with ambitious menus from innovative chefs in all of Singapore. However, there are certainly some restaurants that could easily be placed on par with the world’s best. These restaurants bring together unique dishes, beautiful rooms, and attentive service on a premier gastronomic scale without the snootiness of old-fashioned formality.
The cuisine isn’t home cooking but the restaurant can feel comfortable like home—even if the rooms sure don’t look like your dining room. Tippling Club certainly is one of the names at the top of the list in Singapore, recently gaining acclaim from the San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 as the 23rd best restaurant on the continent. At the same time, the World’s 50 Best Bars list for 2013 named Tippling Club as the 45th best in the world.
A world class restaurant. A world class bar.
And a stellar wine program by Marcus Boyle. It’s no small matter putting together a wine list or pairings with the complex creations of Chef Ryan Clift and being an island (at least a flight to Australia is only four hours away and there are tremendous wines to be found), strategy and a vast wine portfolio are paramount for a wine director. But Boyle has found the sweet spot for Tippling Club, canvassing the globe with a distinct Australian and French flare, but plenty of New World, Austria, Spain, and Italy too in a thoughtfully edited, tidy list. He’ll pair a venison dish accented by onion nettle and salsify, with the 2006 Casa Freschi Tippling Club release from Australia’s Langhorne Creek. An omelette with smoked eel, chives, and crispy shallot teams with a 2009 Bulle de Roche Saumur from Domaine des Roches Neuves.
Recently Tippling Club moved from the residential neighborhood of Dempsey after five years to Singapore’s Central Business District, a substantial move for an eating and drinking establishment as you’d imagine with a very different clientele and vibe. The two parts of Tippling Club beautifully reflect the equal importance of cuisine and drink for Clift, Boyle, and the rest of their team. You can relax at the front bar, sipping a cocktail (get the “Transatlanticism” blending Amaro, Whiskey, Angostura bitters, and citrus) and munching on charred padron peppers with a soy- wasabi dipping sauce. Or enjoy the full experience in the dining room, complete with chefs even personally delivering plates to your table (dinner tasting menus are $260 Singapore Dollars (about US$210) for the “Classic” with pairings or $415 Singapore Dollars (about US$333) for the “Gourmand” with pairings. Lunch is two courses for $42 Singapore Dollars (US$34) or three courses for $57 Singapore Dollars (US$46).
So skip that Singapore Sling (seriously), grab a glass of the Jean Paul Thevenet Beaujolais, and let’s hear about the influence of growing up in Australia on Boyle’s list, his thoughts on Champagne flutes and the “Chablis of Italy,” and…a shocking pick for the next major wine region to watch (hint: think World Cup 2014!).
Vino247: First of all, we all had that wine “epiphany” moment whether it was as a kid at home or a momentous taste at a winery or a restaurant. How did you discover wine and did you know you wanted this to be your career?
Marcus Boyle: I was drawn to wine because it involves all the senses, its part of the magic of wine. It’s a journey of discovery! Each bottle is different and each grape varies in its expression depending on its unique site and place in the world.
How did you and Chef Clift meet?
I came 8 months into Tippling Club’s opening through a friend living in Singapore at another restaurant and he was the one who introduced us. Ryan was looking for a manager at that point in time and it was just a great opportunity.
Congratulations on the big move to Tippling Club’s new location near Singapore’s CBD! For those unfamiliar to Singapore, this move was probably like going from Brooklyn to Manhattan or Oakland to San Francisco. What changes have you made to the food and wine program, if any, with the move?
The food, cocktails and wine have stepped up a notch but the move was all about a better location and better layout of the restaurant and bar.
Have you noticed a different audience in the early stages of the new location?
Our regulars have followed us but we have also hit a much broader market now that we are in the city in an area with more foot traffic and right in the middle of the hot spot of the F&B scene in Singapore right now.
With the creative talent of Chef Clift running the kitchen and a cocktail program that has garnered attention worldwide, how do you shape the wine program to fit in with the complete vision of Tippling Club? Since the food and cocktails are very modern and innovative, do you aspire for the wines to really push the envelope of diners’ wine knowledge or to be a little relaxed and less esoteric than many wine directors like to strive for today (more about traditional regions and wine-making methods, less about skin-fermented, unfiltered obscure varietals from a region like Michigan or Morocco)?
Just like the food and cocktails, our wine program is designed for our guests to experience something new and interesting. I cover some lesser known regions and smaller producers, but the most important part is to source the best quality wines that work with Chef Ryan’s food.
Can you walk us through the pairing process between you and Chef Clift on the two tasting menus? How does celeriac, crispy duck tongues and vegetable jus get matched with the Jean Paul Thévenet Beaujolais?
We keep it simple and break each component of the dish down, from here we evaluate what level of acidity, structure, weight and level of sugar is required from a wine to balance or compliment these flavors as a whole. In this case, the goats curd and crispy duck tongues need high acidity to compliment the acidity in the curd and cut through the richness of the tongues. The other components such as the salt baked celeriac and vegetable jus quinoa add an earthy vegetal salty complexity to the dish which would suit a mineral driven wine with savory characteristics. This allows us to narrow down to a few options before doing a final tasting to see what works. In this case the Jean Thévenet Morgon Vielle Vigne 2011 was perfect, high acidity medium body and a lot of savory characteristics showing from these old vines up to 110 years old. It’s important to think outside the box and sometimes we will be surprised with what works unexpectedly.
Tell us a bit more about Tippling Club’s own labels and vineyards with makers like Huber in Austria and Casa Freschi in Australia’s Langhorne Creek? This has to be a very exciting concept to work on…
Casa Freschi were always some of my favorite wines from Langhorne Creek in South Australia. David Freschi is the wine maker with a strong focus on creating artisanal wines from single vineyard sites leaning towards Italian varietals. Our Tippling Club label comes from his La Signora vineyard and is a 2006 vintage made from Nebbiolo, I think this is one of the best examples of a great Nebbiolo outside of Piemonte in Italy.
Our white wine is made by Markus Huber from Traisentel in Austria. Its a super cool climate region and Markus makes some of the purest Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners in Austria, with vibrant acid structure, minerality and intense power. Markus Huber has allocated a small parcel inside his best vineyard called Berg meaning mountain vineyard, from which our Tippling Club Grüner Veltliner selection is made.
Being from Australia (Melbourne) and with Singapore certainly closer to Aussie wine regions than California or Europe, there are not surprisingly some great Australian wines on Tippling Club’s list! And there are far more varietals than just Shiraz. Which of the labels are you particularly excited about?
Obviously Shiraz is probably the most famous wines in Australia but there is every grape you can imagine form Arnies to Albariño to Barbera to Gamay. I really like some of the Pinot Noirs from Macedon and Gippsland and there’s some great Chardonnay coming out of Beechworth. At the moment, I’m excited about selling and drinking Cloudburst from Margaret River, super small production, makes only a Cabernet and Chardonnay by Will Berlinger who makes his wines with so much love, passion and energy and it really shows in the bottle.
Speaking of Shiraz and Australia, what is your view on that relationship? Good? Negative? Both because of how the terroir is perfect for the grape but the commercial branding has gone overboard?
It was certainly well branded and known for big punchy spicy wines, the stigma seems to have settled and a lot different styles coming out of OZ from cooler climate areas. Some producers like Jamsheed calls it Syrah due to its style being more French Northern Rhône and using old world techniques like whole bunch press.
Back to the list, the first thing that jumped out to me was how compact and balanced it is. It’s clearly thoughtfully edited instead of being a trophy case book. You have a little of everything. Some daring wines, some comfort wines, some special occasion wines, some value wines…and yet maybe just 100 bottles listed?
Our list is quite small but is precise and balanced, there is something for everyone on the list.
What wines in your program are you particularly proud of right now? What would you personally have for a big celebration and for a casual dinner at home tonight?
We have an interesting Croatian Chardonnay Pinot Blanc from Istria by the glass, its 2009 by Meneghetti. We pour a grower Champagne by Laherte Frères Champagne ‘Les Vignes d’Autrefois’ its 100% Pinot Meunier old vines. For something really unique, Thousand Candles from Yarra Valley by William Downie is well worth a look; it’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc. For a casual dinner at home anything goes. Last night we drank a bottle of Benanti Pietramarina from Etna in Sicily. They call it the “Chablis of Italy.”
We talked about the strength the list has of French reds, especially Burgundy. What are the highlights there?
Burgundy produce some of my favorite wines, but of course these are well drank throughout restaurants around the world. We lightly touch on each region in Burgundy but don’t go too deep.
In terms of more “off the beaten path” wines, can you tell us a bit about the Huber Pinot Noir from Germany’s Baden region and Lebanon’s Chateau Kefraya Comte De M?
Huber is producing some very high quality Pinot Noir from Baden. These regions in Germany are up and coming fast for Pinot Noir arguably due to climate change which is allowing Germany to ripen red grapes to the required baume levels in recent years.
I know you’re a big fan of Switzerland wines…
Interesting but not a fan.
Only three wines from California (Calera Chardonnay, Stags Leap Cab Sauvignon and a Petite Syrah and a Mourvèdre from Dirty & Rowdy)? Are American wines very rare in Singapore?
Not at all, I’m expanding our American list at the moment. I haven’t been exposed to many American wines so still learning as I go towards North America.
What wines do you most often see imported to Singapore?
French and Italian.
How would you describe Singapore’s wine culture? Is wine a part of locals’ meals or is it more for visitors and immigrants?
Certainly not as much as in Europe but growing rapidly and the local market is a lot more open minded to try new things.
For a broad worldview now, are there any regions or varietals that will be “the next big thing?”
Your classic varietals and regions will and should always remain constant. However, the new trend will be a far more experimental market willing to try new wines from time to time.
Also sparkling wines from Brazil are fantastic quality and are bound to be the next big thing on niche wine lists!
In terms of wine service and glassware, do you have any opinions on what stemware should be used with various wines and thoughts on tasting notes? Are they important for education or an evil that makes drinkers feel pressured to taste certain flavors they can’t detect?
There are certainly basic rules but I always encourage trying wines in different glasses. It is amazing how much difference the shape of the wine glass makes. Blind tastings with the same wine in a series of different glasses is a great experiment. Another tip is to drink Champagne in a bigger white wine glass or if it is an older vintage try in a burgundy glass.
Finally, when will I be tasting a Singapore-grown wine? Maybe the Changi Chardonnay coming soon to Tippling Club?
Haha, definitely a Pipe dream in this climate!
Visit Marcus at:
38 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088461
+65 6475 2217
Open for Lunch Monday to Friday, Dinner Monday to Saturday