“If you want simple, then do it yourself,” says Clift “What we do here is about giving an experience.". Photo: Ryan Clift/Facebook

The effects of the pandemic are just starting to fade, and as eateries take a sigh of relief they’re also taking stock of losses from the past two years. Some lost profits, others lost staff and customers, yet more lost confidence in the whole arrangement and decided to shutter for good.

But Ryan Clift has emerged relatively unscathed, having shed only all his a la carte options.

Now green-hued, eclectic-interiored Tanjong Pagar mainstay Tippling Club, where the Briton is chef-owner, offers just a tasting menu: available in regular or vegetarian. The lunch lineup changes every fortnight, and dinner quarterly. Both highlight seasonal Japanese produce.

Tippling Club
“New Age Bounty”. Photo: Anil Riard

For each dish, Clift uses his own style of mind map (a horizontal line, with vertical lines running through it – see the restaurant’s logo) to determine a focal ingredient and possible complementary pairings. He keeps a book full of ideas.

That might be nice, but without a la carte, won’t it make it more expensive to dine, and tougher for the office crowd to nip in for a bite? 

“If you want simple, then do it yourself,” the chef quips. “What we do here is about giving an experience. While some restaurants may be returning to a more simple approach, that isn’t the case for us.”

Tippling Club
Horse Mackerel. Photo: Anil Riard

Clift dares to do this because post-pandemic, fine dining is at its peak.  

“Haute cuisine is bigger than ever, with people back out enjoying restaurants. If anything, the pandemic has made people appreciate the finer things in life even more – appreciating what was taken away from them the last few years, and seeking out high quality experiences,” he says.

To stay afloat amid dining out restrictions, Tippling Club set up delivery and held masterclasses over Zoom. It has these intiatives to thank now for its happy situation, with many new customers it reached converting into regulars, younger guests in particular.

And as customers get more appreciative, the restaurant is taking more creative risks, adds Clift. “Something the pandemic has taught us has been the importance of creativity: finding ways to reinvent and adapt very quickly. People love the effort and artistry that goes into what we do.”

Tippling Club
The dining room. Photo: Tippling Club

For creativity to be one of the chef’s secrets to keeping Tippling Club going for 14 years is hardly surprising. The MasterChef SG guest judge, who started in the kitchen at 14 years old, has worked under names like Marco Pierre White and Emmanuel Renaut, and was among the first in Singapore to embrace molecular gastronomy, with all its foams and reductions and spheres. His is also the mind that brought us gummy bear cocktails and Big Mac risotto. 

It’s understood that Tippling Club will not serve anything its chefs have seen online, and Clift himself is open about his hatred for trends.

“People should take what they’ve learned in their career and put it on a plate in their own way,” he says. “We’re constantly searching for the best possible produce and new ways of preparing it, pushing it to the next level, and making sure we’re not just replicating what others are doing.”

Tippling Club
From Left: Tippling Club head bartender Andrew Loudon, chef-owner Ryan Clift, and head chef Ayo Adeyemi. Photo: Tippling Club

Case in point: from as early as 2008, the restaurant was using rotary evaporators to reduce sauces, dressings and infusions for food, and a sonifier to create soundwaves to stabilise vinaigrettes and oxygenate cocktails for its award-winning bar. 

It also boasted such tech as centrifuges and a Gastrovac then – equipment that’s only become popular in other local restaurants in recent years. So amid Covid, the lack of good launches in the last few years has Clift craning his neck: “we’re looking out for new tools that will excite us.”

Tippling Club

Contant improvement, it seems, is the chef’s mantra, and this spans food, suppliers, tableware, uniforms, and all the bits and bobs that make for smooth running of a fine dining restaurant, however connival Tippling Club’s vibe.

“We’re constantly pushing ourselves to come up with new ideas,” Clift explains. “Anything we do has a life span, and we’re always evolving year to year.” He brings up the example of the cocktail menu gummy bears, which were so popular, they were covered in the news. 

“The gummy bears were a big hit,” he admits. “But after that, it was time to evolve and move on.”

The stars of Tippling Club’s tasting menu

Tippling Club
Photo: Anil Riard

Hokkaido Scallop 

The restaurant’s most popular dish, this savoury, moreish soup comprises plump Japanese scallops and purple garlic cream, punctuated with crunchy textures from milk-braised parsley root. On top: dehydrated and fried parsley chlorophyll. “People complain when it’s removed from the menu,” Clift says.

Tippling Club
Photo: Anil Riard

Liquid Omelette

These velvety eggs – so smooth they’re almost rubbery – haven’t ever touched a frying pan. Instead, they’re cooked with “food science” to obtain a bouncy texture, which pairs perfectly with a tart white wine cream and luxe black truffles.

Photo: Anil Riard

Chicken Liver Parfait

A fun presentation: monaka wafer encases a rich, slightly bitter chicken liver, counterbalanced with crisp, light cubes of green apples, white port jelly, and bitter coca. A grown-up snack.

Tippling Club
Photo: Anil Riard

Foie Gras Cheesecake

A dish that’ll fool you with its dessert-like visual of fruit and Iranian pistachios, but mainly comprises a dense foie gras boasting strong notes of liver. Enjoy the various textures – candy, freeze dried, and so on – of Amaou strawberries, one of Japan’s most beloved varieties.

Tippling Club
Photo: Anil Riard

Wagyu Beef Tartare 

A5 wagyu tartare sits in a charcoal pastry tart, paired with confit egg yolk and balanced with the sharp tang of red wine-infused rakkyo zuke (Japanese pickled shallots), hazelnuts, and tarragon flower.

(Related: Try Ryan Clift’s version of chili crab at Tippling Club)