The Proof and the Pudding: The New Rules of Food and Cocktail Matching
Teacup, Riedel glass… martini coupe? Cocktails aren’t just for after-hours anymore. Across Singapore, a growing number of restaurants are playing matchmaker between food and spirits with pleasing results. At Madame Fan at the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach, imaginative cocktails and contemporary Chinese cooking bring out the best in one another.
“Madame Fan is the link,” says June Baek, the award-winning bartender of the JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach’s opulent modern Chinese restaurant and the first southeast Asian venue from restaurateur Alan Yau of Hakkasan fame. “Dim sum is from the East and cocktails are from the West. We sit in the middle, connecting the two.”
Mike Tan, head chef at Madame Fan, also understands the power of crossing cultures. Over his 30 year career, he has cooked in both east and west and was recruited by Yau from Hong Kong to start Hakkasan Miami. He came back to Singapore in 2015 to work elsewhere before being reunited with Yau in 2018 to helm the Madame Fan kitchen. While Tan believes in safeguarding the essence of classic Cantonese cuisine, he also acknowledges the importance of progress and continuous improvement. From decor to operational flow and menu to ingredients, the concept of modern authenticity is the foundation of Madame Fan.
Since its introduction in August 2020, Madame Fan’s dim sum cocktail brunch offering has proven popular with young Singaporeans as well as expats. It helps, of course, that Singaporeans have a taste for cocktails, plus that Baek uses culinary ingredients and kitchen techniques to create drinks that work with food.
For the most part, this process of food-and-cocktail matching starts in the kitchen. Tan and his team develop a recipe before conducting a tasting with Baek who in turn concocts a cocktail based on the dish’s ingredients, flavour and mouthfeel. More tastings and fine-tuning take place before guests get their chance to try these new creations.
Some ingredients work better with certain drink styles. Prawns, says Tan, are often used in dim sum for its texture and subtle flavour. In Baek’s eyes, prawn dishes often call for drinks that are fresh and feature flashes of acidity. Richer pork recipes, on the other hand, require something heftier to match the dish’s weight. Cooking techniques also come into consideration: lighter, steamed dim sum call for a different flavour profile than their fried counterparts.
When the discussion turns to the duo’s favourite dim sum and cocktail pairings, Tan recommends his crispy duck roll best enjoyed with the Sichuan margarita, Baek’s riff on the tequila classic that uses Sichuan pepper and star anise to steer the Mexican drink towards Asia. A dash of mezcal adds depth, clarification renders the drink crystal clear, while purple cabbage adds colour. The tang and spice of the margarita help refresh the palate while eating and the drink is equally suited to other rich dishes.
Baek, meanwhile, likes pairing the shumai with the Madame 2.0: her riff on the White Lady that is made with the botanically packed Monkey 47 gin, apricot mead wine, osmanthus tea syrup, gentian liqueur, lemon juice and egg white. Another of her go-tos: the classic char siu bao with a bourbon whiskey sour. Stronger flavours in the dish call for stronger flavours in the glass.
Moving forwards, Tan and Baek will continue to draw on east and west, past and present for their crafts, as well as collaborate with like-minded brands. With plans to emphasise cocktail-and food pairing on future menus, both the kitchen and bar teams at Madame Fan will have ample opportunities to flex their muscle. And although trends and rules are constantly in flux, one truism remains: flavour first above all else.