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Bars that serve dinner
Photograph: 28 HongKong Street & The Elephant Room

Hungry? Head to these bars for dinner instead

More watering holes in Singapore have rolled out new menus and bigger plates – a bid to beat safe distancing restrictions and encourage people to swing by earlier

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Written by
Fabian Loo
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The night might be still young, but it’s already time to call it a night. Under the safe distancing rules of Phase 2, no food and beverage (F&B) establishments are allowed to serve alcohol after 10.30pm. Nighttime drink sessions are inevitably cut short – alongside the profits of the local bars.

But Singaporeans are an adaptable bunch; an increasing number of people have pushed forward their happy hour in a bid to beat the early last order. Bars, too, are pivoting the way they operate in order to attract more daytime drinkers. From hearty food options to more savoury additions, what were once just drinking destinations are now transformed into full-fledged dining options, complete with quality tipples and scrumptious bites to boot.

RECOMMENDED: The best alfresco bars in Singapore

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Over at Manhattan, floor manager Zuzana Cerven estimates a 20 to 30 percent increase in people dropping by earlier for drinks. “This is especially true on weekdays, where they will often dine with us and stay till closing,” she adds. “Most also have dinner at the bar.”

While bars were previously an after-dinner destination, Zuzana has observed more people are choosing to spend a night out at a single location instead. “The trend now seems to gear towards guests choosing to have dinner and drinks simultaneously, without having to adjourn to a second to third place,” she notes.

As a result, the timely launch of Manhattan’s new food and drink menu is specially designed to expand beyond just tipples – and “cover all grounds”. Light bites and aperitivo-style cocktails are available to help whet the appetites, before transitioning to fuller bites of Redemption Burger ($24), including the Angus beef patty which comes stuffed between paprika brioche; and rib-eye steak frites ($38) served alongside fries and bourbon-infused steak sauce. Dessert options have increased too, up from the previous two to the current five.

According to Zuzana, the new drinks program, New York Personified, also provides room for progression throughout the night. Its third menu celebrates six iconic Manhattanites, from the likes of Anthony Bourdain to Vera Wang, and features some 18 cocktails and six zero proof beverages that tap on the colourful lives and rich history of these larger-than-life personalities.

She recommends starting light, then moving on to The Rickhouse line-up of barrel-aged, spirit-forward concoctions. Round the night off with the Robert Downey Jr-inspired 3000 ($26), with flavours of Neapolitan ice cream captured within Flor de Caña 12-year rum, chocolate, vanilla cream, and strawberry dust. “It is warm, sweet, and just the right level of boozy to end the evening with,” she says.

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When curating The Elephant Room’s sophomore menu, founder Yugnes Susela didn’t want to serve up typical bar snacks. Instead, he turned to his family recipe to add in a dish of chicken curry – one based on his mother’s recipe. But the decision was met with disbelief; even his mother questioned: “Are you sure you want to serve that?”

But Yugnes was never one to follow the rulebooks anyway. His bar, The Elephant Room, is unlike any other out there. The space is a personal ode to his Indian culture and heritage – one where he distills the sights, sounds, and memories of growing up in Little India into novel concoctions. On the new menu, some 10 colourful cocktails ($23) help tell the story of Yugnes’ Little India.

In Banana King, the drink pays homage to the tropical fruit that holds special significance to the culture. “Banana is everywhere in Tekka Market,” shares the drink maker. Every part of the fruit is used: roasted banana gin is mixed with banana oleo and juice from the stem (which impart a refreshing acidity). Sandalwood, a common smell in Little India, is turned into liqueur to perfume the drink. A banana sugar shard garnish completes the cocktail, and everything is served on a banana leaf coaster sourced from a stall in Tekka.

Naturally, the colourful inspiration creeps into the food menu as well. Spicy curry chicken or coconut sambal comes served alongside putu mayam ($21), and gunpowder calamari ($17) offers a toothsome snack to munch on between sips of tipples. “People come for drinks, but they stay for dinner,” notes Yugnes. “The kitchen is busier too.”

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While bartenders typically get the most attention in a drinking den, a new food-focused offering at 28 HongKong Street is now shining a spotlight on the kitchen crew instead. Its aptly named Proper Dinner series, available from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 5pm to 7pm, will feature hearty dinner plates and curated cocktails to pair.

To put together the thematic menu, 28 HongKong Street has turned to various American watering holes to tap into their winning menu. For instance, the first edition of the Proper Dinner series will see the local bar spotlighting Southern plates from Miami’s Sweet Liberty. “It’s great that we can offer something unique to our guests, while allowing us to collaborate with our friends across the sea,” shares general manager Justin Pallack on this international collaboration. Signature cocktails from Sweet Liberty will also be available as part of the line-up.

Recipes are based on recipes by James Beard Award winner, chef Michelle Bernstein, and will include her famed fried chicken ($26) with mashed potato and feta watermelon salad. “Authentic American comfort food is something that we are eager to share here in our Singaporean community,” adds Justin.

Another benefit of the partnership: injecting a sense of excitement among the kitchen team. “They have embraced the challenge of virtual collaboration and innovation,” he notes. “I truly believe that this has unlocked a level up on their creativity and excitement for their craft. They are more than eager to showcase their talents to ever more guests and their enthusiasm is contagious to the rest of our team.”

Sip and savour

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Orchard

EAT THIS You can’t go wrong with the Truffle Mac ’N’ Cheese ($20). The classic dish is a favourite guilty pleasure of the late Anthony Bourdain, and over at Manhattan, its rendition comes with creamy aged Fontina cheese, while porcini mushroom and parmesan truffle crumble helps pack an umami punch. 

DRINK THIS Before ending the night with the crowd-pleasing 3000, start off with the refreshing Hey Ho Let’s Go! ($26). Inspired by The Ramones’ hit song, Blitzkrieg Bop, this beer-based concoction is an energetic, bubbly mix of lager, whiskey, mezcal, ginger syrup, and citrus vinegar.  

  • Bars and pubs
  • Chinatown

EAT THIS The recipe of Ter Chicken Curry ($21) comes courtesy of Yugnes’ mother. Here, the slick spicy curry, with hearty chunks of chicken, comes served alongside putu mayam, or steamed rice noodles. It's typically eaten with coconut and sugar, but the highly woven strands are equally adept at soaking up the luscious gravy. 

DRINK THIS The Mango ($23) is a boozy rendition of the classic mango lassi. Fresh mangoes get distilled in gin, and it gets a creamy finish from the addition of toasted milk liqueur. A crowning of homemade ginger meringue adds a sharp, spicy contrast to the otherwise fizzy, carbonated drink. 

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Raffles Place

EAT THIS The buttermilk fried sea bass ($28) sounds heavier as a meal than it lets up. A chunk of fish comes coated in a light batter, and sides of fennel slaw and roasted tomatoes help cut through the grease.

DRINK THIS Opt for the ginger highball ($24) to add some spice to your usual cocktail order. Mitcher’s bourbon is mixed with ginger and lime to lend a spicy, zesty note. 

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