Words by Julia Chan
This gastrobar at Keong Saik Road impresses with both food and drinks
Where in Singapore can you find an eclectic mix of culture, history, food and drinks?
Located in Chinatown, Keong Saik Road’s reputation as a gastronomic cultural heaven is undisputed, its salacious history partly conserved in the three-story shophouses that line both sides of the iconic street.
Officially named in 1926 after a Malacca-born businessman who owned several houses in the vicinity, Keong Saik Road was infamous for being a red-light district. This was due to its proximity to Smith Street, an even more notorious red-light district—where brothels were situated in these three-story shophouses, although most had moved out at the turn of the Millennium.
In the early 1990s, the Urban Redevelopment Authority put up several shophouses for sale to be conserved and modified for commercial use. A local hotelier kickstarted the boutique hotel trend when he fell in love with a run-down building at Keong Saik Road during the Asian Financial Crisis and transformed it into a boutique hotel.
Subsequently, Keong Saik Road became renowned for its unique, boutique hotel properties and restaurants, set within restored heritage buildings.
One such restaurant at Keong Saik Road is Butcher Boy, an Asian-fusion gastronomy bar founded by chef-owner Andrew Walsh. Besides having an illustrious career in the international culinary realm, Walsh had worked in a few Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. He also used to helm the kitchen at Catalan restaurant, Esquina, and launched his own restaurant Cure, both located along the same stretch of road.
This gastrobar specialises in cuts of grilled meat along with Asian sauces, meat-filled bao-s (soft buns), and unique cocktails developed via in-house research and development.
“Butcher Boy has an Asian-inspired bar and grill theme for social gatherings, feeling good and having fun. We have a bevy of classic cocktails reinvented with an Asian spin within the region, as well as our unique food menu which includes Sunday roast as one of the highlights, for a chill out lazy relaxing Sunday. Guests can also enjoy an amazing genre of music with unpretentious and super friendly service,” said Mr Amir Solay, Group General Manager of Cure Concepts, about the uniqueness of Butcher Boy’s offerings.
During a Thirsty Tuesday visit, visiting bartenders discussed Bartender 4.0 skills, such as technical skills of food and cocktail pairing and radical cocktail innovation using urban foraging and culinary methods.
Solay emphasised on the future skills he foresees a bartender needs. “Firstly, they need to have the basic fundamentals, starting from the basics like the total upkeep of the bar. A bartender should have a good personality, always on the go, and be great with people. Even if one makes a mistake during service, if the bartender genuinely has a warm personality, the guests will be more accommodating.”.
“Hard-work and dedication—these two steps are the hardest to pull through, but if a young bartender can overcome these, then the sky’s the limit. A bartender is always researching and developing. Nothing beats trying out new cocktails, utilising new and different products, using amazing garnishes. One must keep on doing R&D. Lastly, as social media is the new era, good photography from your phone can play a vital role for your bar once you start loading it on Instagram, for example,” he adds.
The visiting group also learnt adaptive skills, such as understanding the cultural influences of location and history on bar trends and hotspots, and business strategies to carve niches using unique brand and service offerings.
The cultural history of the Keong Saik area and subsequent transformation to a trendy commercial district was eloquently shared by Solay.
“Understanding the culture and history of the location that a bar operates in is important as providing guests with information about the surroundings will definitely elevate the dining experience. One might never know there is a little spot where bartenders can forage, then that will be a winner story. As for culture, one can add in a few nostalgic elements in the concoction, to leave a huge impression on guests,” he said.
Ms Mei Lian, a visiting bartender, shared her thoughts on the Thirsty Tuesday session,” I feel that all the cocktails go very well with their Asian fusion cuisine! I believe I can try to come up with cocktails that pair well with the food that my bar is selling, in hope to elevate the dining experience.”.
“I also hope that the future bartending scene can be more vibrant! Such as more creative drinks made from unique ingredients or homemade syrups! Hopefully a drink as big as the Singapore Sling!” she shared.
The visit to Butcher Boy was eye-opening, as we not only learnt about the art of food and cocktail pairing, but also the importance of understanding the cultural context and location which the bar operates in.
Butcher Boy’s Cocktail Menu
- Romero: Mezcal, rosemary, citrus, grapefruit
- Irish Ball V2: Jameson, Umeshu, ginger, citrus, soda
- Holy Smokes: coffee-infused Monkey Shoulder, bitters, smoke
- 47: Monkey 47 Sloe, Aperol, Sweet Vermouth, grapefruit
- La Flora: vodka, cassis, violette liqueur, citrus
- G & Tea: chamomile-infused Hendricks, organic honey, egg white
- Cymbo: jalapeno lemongrass-infused Altos Blanco, Agave, citrus
- Crème de la Crème: rum, crème brûlée, maple, citrus, egg white
For more information on Butcher Boy, please visit butcherboy.com.sg
About Bartender 4.0
In 2019, a survey of over 100 professionals revealed the key skills that bartenders ready for the Industry 4.0 should possess, among which were customer interaction (adaptive), molecular mixology beverages and familiarity of cocktail components (technical).
Hence Bartender 4.0 was launched as an initiative by e2i to upgrade bartenders’ adaptive, technical and technological skills to be prepared for Industry 4.0.
About Thirsty Tuesday
Thirsty Tuesday is a series of visits to Singapore bars which exemplify skills in Bartender 4.0.
These visits, customised for visiting bartenders from various backgrounds, are arranged by Mr David Chan, Honorary Secretary (General) of the Association of Bartenders and Sommeliers Singapore (ABSS), and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
The aim of Thirsty Tuesday is to expose Singapore’s bartenders to skills under the Bartender 4.0 initiative, and build a network of bartenders across Singapore.