It is, perhaps, fitting that Joel Fraser’s new outpost should find itself sandwiched between a Hotel 81 and a KTV bar. The ex-Tippling Club mixologist has lofty ambitions for his flashy bar on cosy Jiak Chuan (also home to boutique tenants Oriole and Esquina). The flagship for his own consultancy enterprise, he calls it ‘an integrated concept of charcuterie and cocktails’. Yet a laddish-verging-onbawdy aura is pervasive – from the high-bpm playlist and cocktail menu lionising Fraser’s booze-addled idol Ernest Hemingway, right through to the backrooms, where the ladies’ toilets are indicated by wallmounted wooden figurines, one busty and one flat-chested.
This is a boozer run by the boys, for the boys: its name practically declares it outright. One weeknight we were even visited by a scarlet-clad member of the oldest profession (which, to be fair, might be more indicative of the area). The bleak humour of Steve Coogan, in his guise as failed TV personality Alan Partridge, is piped in through speakers in the toilets.
Fraser makes a charismatic host, even if his chummy style verges on overbearing at times. He went to some lengths to explain how his former employer’s molecular experiments, for many, carry the whiff of exclusivity – and though he didn’t quite describe The Tippling Club as ‘poncey’, you can be sure some of Cufflink’s clients would. Hence the cocktails on offer here have a palpable sense of fun – cheeky, pop-culture-savvy creations like Walking Dead (a fresh take on the Zombie, with a gobstopper resembling an eyeball, $25); The Girl from Ipanema (referencing the Orchard Towers club, $20); and For Whom the Bell Tolls (the aforementioned Hemingway daiquiri update, $21), topped with a paper plane folded from a page of its namesake book.
Taken purely on aesthetic appeal, it’s hard to find fault. Dark green tiles adorn the lengthy bar, where baristas cheerily concoct the potions at admirable speed, while a zigzagging floor pattern enlivens the entire joint. Two smoking tables outside greet those seeking a tranquil puff, while jetblack tables and wall seating line the interior, lending TCC an air of spacious, polished comfort.
We’ve no issues with the imported cold cuts, either: the saucisson sec (only $11) makes a classy drinks accompaniment, presented in copious thin slices alongside wafers, gherkins and quince paste. Sadly though, some cocktails, while perfectly palatable, just don’t hit the mark. Walking Dead is a rare tall-glass option whose secret blend of 13 rums drowns under a fruit overload; the shaken egg white that tops Philadelphia Inquirer 1910 ($21) has a foamy mouth-feel detracting from its gin and vermouth; Pesto in the Hard Drive ($22), again, overdoes the watermelon, lemon and lime, killing the vodka stone dead, and is barely redeemed by a sprig of Thai basil straddling the glass.
These are pricey, style-over-substance concoctions that smack of fragrant novelty rather than the work of a seasoned pro. The silver lining is The Cocktail Formerly Known as Quince ($20) – though one of the less popular choices, it’s a creative masterstroke. A genius-level combination of hard-hitting pisco and quince liqueur, it’s tempered to bittersweet perfection by fig jam, citrus, honey, bitters and egg white.
At weekends Fraser hopes to lure punters with cold-cuts lunches and post-prandial tipples. The plan worked in its first fortnight, with party bookings and sales aplenty. A bigger priority should be fine-tuning the drinks – in a city now awash with superb specialist bars, it’ll be interesting to see whether The Cufflink Club’s boisterous bonhomie prevails despite its largely ho-hum cocktails. Jonathan Evans
Prices: Cocktails $18-$26; wines by the glass $13; bottled beers $12-$15; cold cuts $6-$11.
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