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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Sipping pretty

Cocktails are slinking from the bar to the table as diners turn to aperitifs to whet their appetite.
The Straits Times - August 17, 2012
By: Melissa Kok
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Sipping pretty Restaurants such as Catalunya and Osteria Mozza offer diners a choice of aperitif cocktails such as Singapore Sling 1913, Negroni and Mistery Backyard (above). -- PHOTOS: CATALUNYA, MARINA BAY SANDS

Wine is a common accompaniment to meals. But what about an alcoholic drink that stimulates the appetite or aids digestion? Restaurants and bars now serve a wide range of aperitifs and digestifs - alcoholic drinks to stoke the desire to eat or help digest your food.

Driving this burgeoning trend is a culture among discerning diners who want quality drinks before or after their meals.

Mrs Adeline Lee, 30, a housewife who dines out regularly, said she learnt about aperitifs and digestifs while travelling through Italy with her husband a few years ago.

She orders a shot of limoncello or grappa - both digestifs - occasionally after her dinner. She said: "I'm not sure how far it goes in helping me digest my food, but it's a nice way to end a full meal with friends."

Aperitif liqueurs are usually bitter in taste - such as spicy Aperol, bitter Campari and aromatic vermouths.

Mr Marcus Boyle, 30, general manager of the Tippling Club restaurant in Dempsey Hill, said: "Customers are growing accustomed to mild, bitter style flavours which are a staple in most aperitifs. This movement is encouraging people to explore these flavours and results in people acquiring a taste for bitter flavour profiles as a base."

At least six bars and restaurants have rolled out an aperitif cocktail menu in the last few months. Italian restaurant Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands introduced an aperitif menu in May, with classics such as Aperol Spritz, Bellini, Negroni and Caipiroska.

Its bar manager Lucas Swallows, 29, said: "The aperitif is meant to open the appetite and lighten the mood for the meal to come. A lot of Singaporeans are open and excited to try these new concepts which help to progress and evolve their dining abilities."

Mr Ethan Leslie Leong, 36, head of bar operations and resident mixologist of cocktail bar Maison Ikkoku, introduced aperitif and digestif cocktails in March due to growing demand from customers.

He said a year ago, he used to get 10 requests for such cocktails in a week, but these days, he can get up to 10 requests in a day.

Mr Indra Kantono, 29, and Gan Kwok Yi, 28, founders of bar Jigger & Pony, introduced an aperitif cocktail menu last month after learning more about aperitifs and digestifs on recent travels to Milan and Barcelona.

Mr Kantono's bar serves cocktails such as the classic Gin Fizz (gin, lemon, sugar syrup, club soda) and Rebujito (Tio Pepe Sherry, lemon-lime soda) between 6 and 8pm at $14 each with free canapes. They are still served after 8pm, but cost $20.

He said that Singaporeans may feel squeamish drinking such liqueurs neat, but awareness is growing especially since bars are incorporating the liqueurs into cocktails.

Bars and eateries are also stocking a decent selection of digestifs - from fragrant, grape-based grappas to herbal-based amaro to homemade zesty limoncello.

With an alcoholic content that is quite strong (usually 15 to 35 per cent), these drinks are best served after a meal - probably because that is when the stomach is full enough to handle its potency and the alcohol helps digestion after a heavy meal.

Mr Kantono added: "A dash of Fernet Branca in our King Cole cocktail, for example, makes the drink much more palatable while retaining that minty aftertaste that is so good after dinner."

Over at the newly opened Spanish restaurant Catalunya, award-winning Italian mixologist Dario Nocentini, 26, is breathing new life into aperitifs with his unique concoctions.

The bar has a variety of aperitivo cocktails including the Drewski (aperol, Carpano Antica, Buffalo Trace bourbon, chocolate, Angostura bitters, orange and grapefruit peel) and the Mistery Backyard (Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, passion fruit puree, mint leaves, lime juice, honey, Angostura bitter, Tio Pepe fino).

Those who want a shot of grappa can also head down to Ristorante Da Valentino, which offers a selection of more than 25 types of Italian grappa.

The rustic Italian restaurant, which recently relaunched at its new home at Turf City three weeks ago with a new bar, has also just started serving aperitif cocktails.

Said its executive chef Valentino Valtulina, 38: "There are more people enjoying digestifs. I have gone through 10 to 12 bottles of grappa in my third week here already. Customers buy bottles of it (they cost between $140 and $888) and some store the bottles here too."

Among those who swear by aperitifs and digestifs is sales executive Bernice Hidajat, 29, who enjoys a Negroni (gin, Campari and sweet vermouth), a classic, as a pre-dinner drink.

She said: "You may not like the bitter taste of Negroni at first, but it has got a pick-me-up kind of effect and really wakes up your palate, yet it's not heavy. It's worth a try."


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