Operation Dagger’s latest seasonal menu is a whimsical journey down co-owner and creative director Luke Whearty’s memory lane.
Chances are that when you visit Operation Dagger you won’t find Luke Whearty there. The co-owner and creative director of the award-winning bar – it was again listed in this year’s Asia’s Best 50 Bars – shuttles back and forth to Melbourne constantly to visit family and follow up on plans to open a bar there. He also travels often for guest bartending shifts around the world to places such as Cyprus and Moscow.
The plus point of Whearty’s extensive travels is that he comes back with ideas and experiences that often get translated into his menus. The latest seasonal menu at Operation Dagger is a good example of Whearty’s recent globe-trotting, as well as the memories of places and experiences he holds dear.
Unlike the previous menu which was more experimental with sustainability as a focus, this season’s offerings feels and tastes better curated. Operation Dagger’s in-house ferment program – they create a number of different “natural” wines by fermenting different fruits and vegetables – is finally coming into its own too; don’t be put off by the sound of it though, the Orange ($22++) which sees orange, carrot, melon, and honey fermented together for a week – is a delicious alcoholic version of cold-pressed juice you imbibe for a detox session.
But it’s the “dangerous drinking water”, or cocktails, that will take you on a cocktail journey around the Whearty’s world. The Moscow Mule ($25++) for example is nothing like the classic vodka-based beverage; this rendition is inspired by Whearty’s visit to the Russian capital, where he had dark rye bread with coriander seeds as well as his first taste of traditional Kvass. That experience translated into this tipple that fuses the flavours of blackcurrant, fermented rye, and coriander seeds.
A recent trip back home to Australia – and a visit to award-winning Melbourne restaurant Brae – culminated in the culinarily quaint Oyster Ice Cream ($25++), a creamy concoction with fino sherry, house-distilled matcha, citrus cream, and matcha sherbet. It’s topped off with oyster leaf, a species of borage that tastes eerily of the briny bivalve.
We’re big fans of the No. 17/18 Cyprus Hill ($25++, above), a refreshing yet complex drink that combines the flavours of figs, mandarins, jasmine. The name of the drink was inspired by the address of the home in his mother’s place of birth of Cyprus, which he visited on a recent trip. The house garden of the property was ripe with the smell of – yes, you guessed it – fig, mandarin, and jasmine.
Then there’s the Caramelo Koala ($25++), which chocolate fans would know refers to a brand of candy bars that’s popular across Australia and is a personal childhood favourite of Whearty’s. Here the drink is reinterpreted with a blend of cacao, eucalyptus, and garnished with a vinegar caramel-filled olive, which sounds totally bizarre but somehow works on the palate if a little bit on the sweet side.
Whearty’s nostalgia also extends to the food offerings in the new seasonal menu. Yesterday’s Mashed Potato ($12++) is a recipe Whearty’s shamelessly borrowed off his mother-in-law and then reinterpreted. This is mash potato pan-fried with brown butter, truffle oil and finished with crispy kale; it tends to be a bit gluggy, but oh-so-good if you’re nursing a hangover. There’s also the Fromage ($14++), where buttery sheep’s milk cheese foam and fig leaf milk served with freshly baked bread sticks and tarragon flowers, a tribute to his trips to France where he tasted various signature French cheeses.
Now it’s relatively unlikely that a regular cocktail punter will inquire into Whearty’s various inspirations behind each menu entry, but it doesn’t really matter – individually they are gastronomic interpretations of the globe-setting bartender’s travel experiences, and together express his approach to and philosophy in life.
That they happen to also taste good is simply a bonus.
Address 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01, Singapore 069791 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 6pm to 12am Tuesdays to Saturdays, closed on Sundays and Mondays
Tel (65) 6438 4057