Anti:dote earlier this year replaced jazzy lounge lizard dive Ink Bar in the lobby of the hotel, and combines the concept of a mixology cocktail bar and an open kitchen modern tapas restaurant for a welcome respite from the busyness of the city.
Let’s be open - the food offered by most bars, many which lack proper space for food preparations, are downright abysmal. At best the bar ties up with neighbouring restaurants to provide some food to go along with your drinks, and at its worst you’re likely to get the ubiquitous pub grub courtesy of a deep-fryer (possibly the only kitchen appliance on the premise).
So you know you’re in an uncommon bar when even the bar snacks on offer differs from the norm. Take the Potato Crisps ($12) at Anti:dote, for example, which are handcut and deepfried to order. It’s served alongside a lovely potato and white truffle puree for you to dip in.
Then there’s the Crispy Anchovy Sticks ($8), which thankfully tastes a whole lot better than it sounds. The anchovy-studded bread sticks are lovely to nibble on as you wait for Anti:dote’s award-winning bartender extraordinaire Tom Hogan to mix your drinks.
For something more substantial, there’s the Paleta Iberica de Bellota ($18), a plate of beautifully cured meat from the acorn-fed Iberican black pig which is served alongside crystal bread - we first encountered the crispy bread at Open Door Policy - as well as with a rather curious tomato essence that you can dip the jamon into.
Alternatively you can opt for the Sully’s Oysters ($16), the raw oysters topped off with a rather interesting wasabi passionfruit jelly. It’s the first time we’ve ever experienced such an interesting combination but it works, with the fruity spiciness of the jelly helping to cut through the creamy saltiness of the mollusc meat.
The truth is, one does not quite expect that a cocktail bar - and a hotel one, at that - to boast an experienced and properly trained chef helming its kitchen, but Anti:dote’s Barcelona-born head chef Carlos Montobbio is exactly that. The Hofmann School trained chef has over ten years experience under his belt, serving stints in restaurants across Spain including the famous Cinc Sentits in Barcelona before venturing to Singapore.
At Anti:dote you can see the shy Montobbio (above) quietly running the kitchen, personally putting together some of his pretty amazing modern tapas to accompany your tipple.
Take the perfectly-executed 72-hour Braised Short Rib ($19), for example, at once tender melt-in-your-mouth and yet retaining enough bite for bursts of flavour at every chew that shows off Montobbio’s easy mastery of the modern molecular gastronomy sous vide technique.
Employing the modern gelification technique is the Clam Sphere ($14), a bite-size gelatinous globule version and an updated interpretation of the homely clam chowder topped with crumbled bacon and chives that tastes altogether familiar yet different.
And consider the Crisp Parmesan Pizza ($12), a crispy, fall-apart cheese-based cracker atop which sits powdered tomato and cheese, basil cress pesto and olive oil caviar (essentially gellified high quality Spanish olive oil). It’s hardly substantial for an empty stomach and nothing like the Italian classic, but totally delivers on creativity and flavour.
Montobbio isn’t averse to learning from his peers as well - his technique for Caramelised Foie Gras ($18), even in its presentation, is heavily borrowed from fellow chef Moon Kyung Soo of Mikuni. And there’s no shame in that, when the final product is a tasty reproduction of the Mikuni classic.
Montobbio’s foray to Singapore also means he gets a lot more exposure to Asian flavours as compared to his time back in his homeland, and on the grazing menu you can find some dishes where he mashes East-meets-West techniques and ingredients. The Japanese-inspired Akami Tuna ($18), marinated in a soy dressing and topped with Avruga caviar, sees the curious use of finely diced apple in the creation, as well as a jalapeno-infused ponzu sauce that you can add for a spicy kick.
How about the Langoustine Tartare ($16), with the diced raw prawn sitting atop a egg tofu cube and doused in a spicy-sweet peanut tom yum dressing? It’s not only surprising but also delicious, although it may not suit those with less adventurous palates.
But even the most unadventurous would find the decadent Black Truffle Bao ($20, main picture), with the fluffy bun wrapped around braised veal cheek, foie gras and shallots that’s been caramelized in Madeira sherry, and then graced with a generous slice of black truffle on top, a culinary masterpiece.
When it comes to drinks, Anti:dote has a rather compact but solid menu that ranges from cocktails to tonics that offer a refreshing respite. And having tried a few of Tom Hogan’s creations - such as the Corpse Reviver ($23) and a herb-infused Tonic #1 ($19) - you’ll be in good bartending hands. And many are great pairings with the food on offer.
Indeed the best pairing you’ll find at Anti:dote is actually the dual bar and kitchen mastery offered by both the affable Tom Hogan and his more introverted counterpart Carlos Montobbio. Both Hogan and Montobbio understand how flavours work, and Hogan is able to effortlessly recommend drink pairings for items on the menu. It’s not beneath Hogan to recommend a Triple Karmeliet beer to pair with a particular dish, for example, which shows how - unlike some other more self-absorbed bartenders - he’s more interested in making a pairing work than showing off his own mixology expertise. And that’s a good thing.
In a throw-down challenge I asked Hogan, formerly of Bernard’s Bar at Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria, to make me an Old Fashioned worthy of repute, the American offered me not one but two versions - a classic and a more modern interpretation - to sample. I loved both.
Many of my more culinary-inclined friends have recommended Anti:dote highly, and likewise many of those we’ve recommended Anti:dote to have come back to say they’ve loved the experience. For those of us who’ve always believed that hotel bars aren’t worthy of note, Anti:dote will likely disavail you of such a perspective.
Anti:dote is at Level 1 Fairmont Singapore, 80 Bras Basah Rd 189560.