Dining Out 2 minutes 13 August 2016

Tippling Club's Secret to Nurturing Singapore's Leading Bar Personalities

Fortnightly staff quizzes and a 45-point recruitment questionnaire do a winning cocktail bar make, says chef-owner Ryan Clift.

Long before 'mixology' became an oft-bandied term in the local dining lexicon, modernist restaurant Tippling Club already understood the importance of having cocktails that can hold their own on a dinner menu - and knowledgeable barmen to sling them out to curious drinkers.

In the eight years since its opening, the restaurant has nurtured a steady stream of prominent bar personalities who have each gone on to front Singapore’s top drinking dens. We speak to Tippling Club owner Ryan Clift to unravel the magic that happens behind its doors (and beautiful bar counter).

Avant garde restaurant Tippling Club may be better known for its progressive, science-driven cooking by wonder chef Ryan Clift, but the same innovation and methodical attention to detail applies equally to Clift’s bar operations.

While cocktails were previously conceived to pair with Tippling Club's 30-course menus, they have been so well received that when the restaurant uprooted from its original digs in a leafy part of Orchard to the buzzy Tanjong Pagar dining strip, Clift created a dedicated bar section to put equal spotlight on the highly original potions stirred up by the restaurant’s stellar barmen.

(Related: Read what our inspectors have to say about Tippling Club)

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“We invest a lot of time in our bartenders,” says Clift when asked for Tippling Club’s recipe for hot-housing the brightest names on the cocktail circuit.

This means holding everything from weekly training sessions attended by bar and front of house staff, to wine tastings and talks by visiting spirits masters, and fortnightly exams on the topics covered (staff who don’t score 85 per cent and above have their tips for the period forfeited, says Clift).

Head bartenders are also regularly sent on expenses-covered guest bartending stints overseas, and get to tinker all they want with the fancy kitchen gadgetry in Clift’s research laboratory above the restaurant.

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“I’ve always been a big fan of people like Ferran Adria, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz and Juan Mari Arzak, and how they run a strict system in which everything is recorded, photographed. It’s about documenting everything so you can continue learning and improving,” says Clift (right), himself a protégé of culinary heavyweights such as Marco Pierre White, Peter Gordon and Emmanuel Renaut.

Though the hiring process for the top bar post at Tippling Club is a rigorous one that includes a 45-point questionnaire on cocktail theory and a practical test, Clift says he will takes chance on fresh faces for more junior positions.

“I’m not the kind of boss who restricts people from making a name for themselves. And as they do, they will inevitably get approached by others to work on other projects, and we’re happy for to them to go on and take it further,” he adds.

Together with current head bartender, Joe Schofield, who joined Tippling Club earlier this year from London’s The Savoy, Clift will be unveiling a brand new cocktail menu in early September that involves custom-made glassware and a partnership with a professional food research laboratory here. “It’s never been done anywhere in the world before,” Clift teases.

(Read more: 3 restaurants that are breeding grounds for Singapore's top culinary talents)

Accomplished Alumni:

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Joel Fraser

Fraser tended tables in London before doing pours for the likes of Wayne Rooney and David Beckham in a private members club.

He took on the top post in Tippling Club in 2009 and left in 2012 to set up the Cufflink Club in the Chinatown neighbourhood, followed by Latin American cocktail bar Vasco on Hong Kong Street.

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Luke Whearty

Tippling Club’s geeky obsession with science-driven flavour creation is still an evident influence at former barman Luke Whearty’s underground cocktail den, Operation Dagger, where steely rotary evaporators and sous vide machines are used in conjunction with age-old techniques such as bottle fermentation.

Whearty also owns a sister bar in South Africa, Outrage of Modesty, which opened last December.

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Zachary De Git

De Git honed his skills at some of Australia’s top watering holes Black Pearl and Gingerboy before joining Tippling Club as head barman in 2013.

He left for a stint as a brand ambassador for spirits brand William Grant and Sons, and will be opening cocktail bar Crackerjack with close pal and award-winning local bartender Peter Chua next month.

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Yugnes Susela

Singapore-born Susela started his F&B career as a humble dishwasher and eventually worked his way up to become Tippling Club’s Senior Bartender nine dedicated years later.

He now helms Smoke and Mirrors, a cocktail bar atop the recently restored National Gallery, stirring up concoctions inspired by art pieces displayed in the galleries a few floors below paired with unbeatable views over old and new Singapore.

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Kamil Foltan

Czech bartender joined Tippling Club in 2015 after a 13-year bartending career that stretched across Europe, and left late last year to join Bali-headquartered Potato Head Group, where he now drives rapid regional expansion as its Group Development Bar Manager.

“Tippling Club will be hosting Once Upon A Time with Tippling Club featuring Joel Fraser, Zachary de Git, Yugnes Susela and Kamil Foltan together with current head bartender, Joe Schofield on August 22. Tickets are priced at $155++ for five pairing cocktails with five plates. RSVP to enquiries@tipplingclub.com or 64752217.”

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