The Spirited Singapore team – and some trusted media friends – come together and compiled the inaugural edition of Spirited Awards to recognise the venues and things we enjoyed in 2022.
Sometimes the most fun ideas come out of drunken conversation. One night over copious drinks I foisted a thought to some fellow media friends who cover the drinks and dining scene in Singapore – what if we got together and worked on a casual awards list?
The idea was simple. Over the course of the year we’d each have visited and reviewed a multitude of good bars and restaurants. We’d have traveled on a few fun trips. And between us we certainly would have drunk more than our fair share of interesting wines and spirits! Why not share those findings with each other and our readers?
This first-ever Spirited Awards is the result.
Our illustrious fun-loving panel consists of Kim Choong (editor of online drinks publication ThirstMag.com), Dannon Har (editor of online drinks magazine Spill Mag), David Fuhrmann-Lim (editor of online drinks publication Parched), Shawn Loh (editor of travel and hospitality review site Secret Life of Fatbacks), Adrian Eugene Seet (editor of online lifestyle site Superadrianme.com), freelance drinks and dining editor June Lee, freelance lifestyle writer Ben Chin, and the team at Spirited Singapore.
The categories are:
- Favourite New Bar or Drinks Concept
- Best Drinks Programme
- Bartender or Person of the Year
- Best Cocktail of the Year
- Best Bar
- Favourite New Restaurant
- Best Dining Ambience
- Best New Dining Concept or Experience
- Favourite Travel Destination of the Year
- Best Hotel Experience
- Best Bottle
A caveat. The nomination and voting system for Spirited Awards is admittedly rudimentary, and needed only to be robust enough to withstand spirited, drunken debate. Each panelist simply nominated the experiences they enjoyed in 2022 by category, and the results compiled and debated upon until a winner is found. This is by no means, it must be emphasised, an exhaustive or comprehensive list.
But it made for an incredibly fun exercise.
And here are our winners.
FAVOURITE NEW BAR or DRINKS CONCEPT
Top 5 Nominees:
Hemlig, Last Word, Night Hawk, Papa Doble, Ginger.Lily
Popping up in Singapore’s bar scene in 2022 was a veritable slew of unique bar concepts, each of them special in their own way. The ones that stood out for the panel though? They were mostly cocktail bars. Leading the pack were Scandinavian gastrobar Hemlig, elegantly uncomplicated cocktail bar Last Word, retro-futuristic pocket bar Night Hawk, whimsical hotel lounge Ginger.Lily, and Hemingway-inspired Papa Doble (what was previously The Old Man Singapore but pivoted early 2022).
Winner: Last Word.
A clear favourite among our drinks-loving panel. Named after the classic Last Word, the minimalist Zen-like bar impresses with its swathe of perfectly-composed classic cocktails, especially if you like them strong. The Last Word also proves that you don’t need complicated bar equipment to make a good drink.
“I like that the team took over six months to ensure their classic cocktails are tastefully sound and yet still have a touch of whimsy,” says David Fuhrmann-Lim, the editor of Parched. “The presentation is fuss-free but the flavours are full-on. I always look forward to each visit and being surprised.”
BEST DRINKS PROGRAMME
Top 5 Nominees:
Flow Bar, Jigger & Pony, Junior The Pocket Bar, Origin Bar, Stay Gold Flamingo
Central to a great watering hole is a creative drinks programme. A good bar worth its salt needs to offer a menu that tells a story but also put together offerings that are concise for that theme. These five made our cut – cosy and homey Flow Bar with its work and play themed cocktail menu, Jigger & Pony’s encyclopaedic magazine-like ‘A Decent Menu’, Junior The Pocket Bar’s irreverently fun revolving themes (such as its highly-anticipated Chinese New Year popups), Origin Bar’s massive rum collection and inventive storied cocktails, and the rule-of-three, technique-driven menu of Stay Gold Flamingo.
Winner: Origin Bar.
Our panel agreed that Origin Bar’s drinks programme has only gone from strength to strength since the Shangri-La Singapore hotel bar burst onto Singapore’s cocktail bar scene. Its latest cocktail menu combines clever mixology, cheeky garnishes, and great storytelling to titillate your senses.
BARTENDER or PERSON OF THE YEAR
Top 5 Nominees:
Adrian Besa, Adrian Goh, Brendon Khoo, Ricky Paiva, Shelley Tai
The best bars are nothing without the people who conceive, make, and serve your drinks with a smile. But behind those bartenders and bar managers are also an entire legion of industry professionals – drinks distributors and brand ambassadors, for example – that keep the industry machinery running. We want to recognise all these individuals. For the panel, bar managers Adrian Besa of MO Bar and Nutmeg & Clove’s Shelley Tai, Flow Bar owner Ricky Paiva, spirits brand ambassador Brendon Khoo, sake distribution company InterRice Asia director and sake expert Adrian Goh, readily impressed us in 2022.
Winner: Brendon Khoo.
In our jaunts to many bars around town, we’d almost always run into one person – Brendon Khoo, previously the brand ambassador for Pernod Ricard Asia’s stable of gins and rum (Ki No Bi Gin, Monkey 47 Gin, and Havana Club Rum, among others), but who is now representing William Grant & Son’s Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky.
“I truly loved Brendon Khoo in his Monkey 47 Gin role where he brought the brand to deserving heights during his tenure, including Gin Odyssey which was so fun I went twice! Also, he was the hardest working brand ambassador putting together multiple collaborations and keeping the brands under his care forefront with his presence,” says freelance drinks and food writer June Lee. “He was definitely the person I saw the most out and about.”
BEST COCKTAIL OF THE YEAR
Top 5 Nominees:
3000 (Manhattan), Gibson (Gibson), Intro to Absinthe (Stay Gold Flamingo), Last Word (Last Word), Satisfaction (Republic Bar)
Our panel tasted many a good cocktail over the course of the past year while reviewing bars. Really great cocktails? Those are few and far between. But what defines a great cocktail? For us a winner needs to be made with a combination of quality ingredients, impeccable technique, has boatloads of character yet respect the classics. For us these were the ones that rose to the top: 3000 at Manhattan and Satisfaction at Republic Bar (both of which are delicious twists on the Irish Coffee), and the mind-blowing absinthe-laced coconut water highball that’s Intro to Absinthe at Stay Gold Flamingo. There are two namesake classics as well – the Gibson at Gibson, and the Last Word at Last Word.
Winner: Gibson (Gibson).
The Gibson at Gibson takes top honours here with its faithful adherence to the classic, precisely made with top shelf booze and served at the perfect temperature. Where it is creative? A Gibson is really a Martini that’s garnished simply with a cocktail onion, but at Gibson you also get a smoked quail egg and a seasonal pickle.
“If you’re going to name your bar after a cocktail, you had better get it right,” Adrian Eugene Seet, editor of Superadrianme.com. “There are three such namesake bars currently, and Gibson is one of them. The Gibson here absolutely delivers.”
Top 5 Nominees:
Barbary Coast, Jigger & Pony, Sugarhall, The Elephant Room, Republic Bar
What makes a great bar? A great bar can mean different things to different people. Some judge a bar on its drinks list. Others look at the ambience or the service. We consider it all. But each of us on the panel had our own favourites, these are the five that floated to the top: dual concept Barbary Coast with dive-y Deadfall and fancy lounge Ballroom, India-inspired culture-centric The Elephant Room, multiple award-winning classic cocktail bar Jigger & Pony, Ritz-Carlton Millennia Singapore’s glitzy 60’s themed lounge Republic Bar, and rum-centric cocktail pub Sugarhall.
Winner: Jigger & Pony.
There are reasons why Jigger & Pony has won so many awards and is widely considered Singapore’s top cocktail bar (it is Singapore’s best performing bar on the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2022, landing at the No.12 spot). And we on the panel agree with most of those reasons. Jigger & Pony is trailblazing in so many ways, combining a classy convivial atmosphere with some of the best classic cocktails you’ll find in town. It’s also the place in Singapore to drop in for exciting guest shifts by visiting bartenders. We can’t wait for its new menu to be unveiled.
FAVOURITE NEW RESTAURANT
Top 5 Nominees:
Altro Zafferano, COL, Forma, La D’Oro, Kaarla
We all have our favourite restaurants, including those that have newly burst onto Singapore’s dining scene. The panel picked out those we visited in 2022 that have vaulted to the top of our must-dine list; our favourites include contemporary Italian restaurant Altro Zafferano, convivial Keong Saik kitchen and bar COL, contemporary trattoria Forma in Joo Chiat, 1-Group’s modern Australian restaurant Kaarla, and Japanese-Italian restaurant La D’Oro in Mandarin Gallery.
COL, named for its chef-owner Colin Buchan who’s worked in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants and even served as private chef for David and Victoria Beckham, offers an uncomplicated yet refined menu that celebrates seasonal ingredients in a relaxed yet edgy setting. According to those among the panel who have visited, the burrata and bucatini are must-orders.
“Elegant, uncomplicated fare that invites convivial communal dining, coupled with its casual East London charm, Colin Buchan’s COL is almost too easy to like,” affirms freelance lifestyle writer Ben Chin.
BEST DINING AMBIENCE
Top 5 Nominees:
Claudine, COL, Pangium, Nobu Singapore, Taiga Dining
For many diners, a restaurant’s ambience can makes a dining experience complete. But good-looking restaurants are a dime a dozen in Singapore, and so we’ve set out to pick our favourite beautiful spots. We narrowed them down to five exquisite venues – Claudine on Dempsey Hill, contemporary Straits Chinese restaurant Pangium by chef-owner Malcolm Lee of Candlenut fame, celebrity Japanese restaurant Nobu Singapore in Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, “hidden” fine-dining Japanese omakase joint Taiga Dining, and casual contemporary bar restaurant COL on Keong Saik Road.
Claudine on Dempsey Hill takes top honours. Julien Royer’s new dining concept – named after the Michelin-starred chef’s grandmother – takes over the beautifully restored 1930s chapel that used to house White Rabbit, and offers tasteful modern European sophistication with a touch of whimsy for its interiors. The ambience differs depending on the time of day – cheery and airy during the day, and cosy and romantic when the sun goes down. It’s a space most brides would kill for to host their wedding lunch reception.
“Claudine took over one of the most iconic venues in Singapore and gave it a much needed edgier identity without losing the vibe of that setting,” freelance food and drinks writer June Lee explains of Claudine’s win.
BEST NEW DINING CONCEPT or EXPERIENCE
Top 5 Nominees:
COL, Forma, Kaarla, Maison Shuko, Yantra
2022 marked a watershed year for dining in Singapore with many new concepts opening up. These ran the gamut of cuisines and dining styles, but the more unique ones that we think will carve out their place in Singapore’s ultra-competitive dining scene? Elegant neighbourhood restaurant and bar COL again gets its nomination in, but also pasta-centric restaurant Forma, modern Australian Kaarla (which sources some locally-grown ingredients from 1-Arden’s Food Forest), Mod-Asian omakase restaurant Maison Shuko with its three star chefs and a focus on locally-farmed produce, as well as fine-dining Indian restaurant Yantra, with its exploration of India’s rich culinary heritage across its different regions and cultures.
While there were many worthy contenders for this category, we’re most excited by Yantra’s dedication in elevating humble village fare from the many different regions and subcultures of South Asia. Its Chef-in-Residence programme, for example, recently brought in New Delhi-based private dining chef Prima Kurien for an exceptional pop-up experience around traditional Kerala cuisine.
“For too long, Indian food in Singapore has been oversimplified into two categories – spicy south Indian fare, and the richer creamier cuisines from country’s north,” shares Spirited’s food contributor Esther Lim. “Yantra’s Chef Pinaki Ray works closely with culinary historian Pritha Sen to explore less common, regional cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, and in the process teasing palates and opening our eyes to India’s culinary diversity.”
FAVOURITE TRAVEL DESTINATION OF THE YEAR
Top 5 Nominees:
Bangkok (Thailand), California (US), Jeju (South Korea), Margaret River (Western Australia), Tokyo (Japan)
Travel. With travel opening up now that the global pandemic is *largely* behind us, all of us have been looking forward to finally hopping into a plane and getting to our favourite destinations. And while the panel hasn’t collectively travelled to many countries in the past year, these are the five destinations stamped into our passports – Bangkok for its amazing street food, California with its perpetually benign weather, the natural beauty of South Korea’s Jeju island, the scenic vineyards of Western Australia’s Margaret River, and the bustling metropolis that is Tokyo – that stood out the most.
Winner: Margaret River (Western Australia).
Margaret River emerged as the panel’s favourite travel destination, but that may be due to the fact that at least half of us did visit that fine Western Australian winemaking region in 2022. It also helps that Margaret River is one of the closest winemaking regions to Singapore, with many connecting flights in and out of Perth and then just a three-hour car ride to some of the most breathtaking scenic landscapes – beaches, natural caverns, and wildlife reserves – and not to mention some of the best vineyards and wine tasting rooms Australia has to offer.
“Margaret River is winning in so many ways, but I love how family-friendly it is for wine country,” points out Spirited Singapore’s business lead, Aaron Kong. “Most F&B establishments here welcome children, and some breweries and wineries in the region even have dedicated play areas for the young ones. Plus fine wine, good food, beautiful sights and great hospitality; what is there not to like?”
BEST HOTEL EXPERIENCE
Top 5 Nominees:
InterContinental Singapore (Singapore), The Outpost Hotel (Singapore), Regent Singapore (Singapore), Rosewood Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Smiths Beach Resort (Western Australia)
Like travel the panel hasn’t yet visited many hotels overseas this year, but we did many a domestic staycation. And like restaurant experiences, our panel members have varying expectations of what determines a stellar stay – nice clean rooms, proximity to amenities, great F&B concepts, and excellent impeccable hospitality are just some of our criteria. InterContinental Singapore impressed with a new suite of dining concepts such as LUCE by Davide Giacomelli and Tenuta by Park 90, while Regent Singapore’s pet-friendly staycation package – complete with a high tea set for the furkid – was a unique offering. The Outpost Hotel on Sentosa differentiated with its outdoor experiences. Overseas, the ultra-luxurious Rosewood Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Margaret River’s Smiths Beach Resort stood out.
Winner: Tie – The Outpost Hotel (Singapore) and Smiths Beach Resort (Margaret River).
The Outpost Hotel on Sentosa and Margaret River’s Smiths Beach Resort – both listed on Small Luxury Hotels of the World – tied for the top spot. The latter impressed for its concierge service and proximity to beautiful sandy white beaches, while The Outpost Hotel offers an experience package that allows access to various activities including a choice of cable car dining, a speedboat ride, or bike trail and picnic.
“Increasingly, more hotels are partnering with external vendors to offer experiential packages, and The Outpost Hotel’s Coast-to-Coast package which includes an exhilarating ride around the Southern Islands on a military-style inflatable boat is one not to be missed,” shares Shawn Loh of Secret Life of Fatbacks.
“For right-on-the-beach luxury accommodations, it’s impossible to beat Margaret River’s stunning Smith Beach Resort. Stellar brekkie at Lamont’s Restaurant on its premises too,” insists freelance lifestyle writer Ben Chin.
Top 5 Nominees:
Billcart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon 2009, Bowmore ARC-52, Bruichladdich Black Art 9.1, Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004 Plénitude 2, IWA 5 Assemblage 3
There were an abundance of bottles we’ve tasted throughout 2022. Whiskies, rums, sakes, gins, champagnes, still wines, and even beers, we’ve set our lips to them all. And while many impressed, there were some that were outstanding. The elegant liveliness of both the Billcart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon 2009 and Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004 Plénitude 2 champagnes, the layered complexities of the whiskies that are the Bowmore ARC-52 and Bruichladdich Black Art 9.1, as well as the sophisticated IWA 5 Assemblage 3 sake, all stood out for the panel.
Winner: Bowmore ARC-52.
The Bowmore ARC-52, a collaboration with luxury car maker Aston Martin, was the undisputed winner. It wasn’t the most expensive or oldest vintage the panel had tasted this year, but those of us who sampled it agreed that it trumped all else with its incredible complexity.
“For such an old whisky, the thing that impresses most about the Bowmore Arc-52 is how it’s so remarkably bright and alive,” tells Dannon Har, editor of Spill Mag. “We simply adore how there is an array of flavour dualities – creamy yet zesty, ripe yet fresh, deep yet ethereal – that keeps you engaged and interested as you go in for sip after sip.” The rest of us couldn’t agree more. A true taste of time.
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