Ryan Clift | Mover & Shaker

24 Apr 2015
6 min read
Avant-garde chef Ryan Clift has been stirring up Singapore’s fine dining scene since landing there in 2008 with his fist solo project, the Tippling Club-an ultra-progressive restaurant with a unique cocktail pairing concept, set in the heart of the city’s central business district. Written exclusively for our FOUR Asia Spring 2015 edition, Simone Miché explores…

For the past six years British-born chef Ryan Clift has been busy. Not just setting up his successful restaurant, The Tippling Club, which after a recent move is now located in the heart of Singapore’s business district. That would be far too simple for this high-flyer. Instead, he’s been working flat out changing the face of the city’s fine dining scene, with his innovative fare and a unique cocktail pairing concept that’s got everyone’s head turned.

Ryan made his move to Singapore in 2008, following a few years in the kitchens of Marco Pierre White, Peter Gordon and Shannon Bennett in England and Australia. Like most chefs, he had the dream of having his own restaurant and it just took his all-out passion, bright ideas and determination to make it happen. Ryan found a Singaporean investor and took a leap of faith, moving to Singapore to embark on his first solo adventure and open a restaurant that today is not only the jewel in his own culinary crown but Singapore’s, too.

Following a move from the city’s Dempsey Hill, The Tippling Club now sits on Tangjong Pagar Road, occupying three units of double story shop-house space. If the restaurant’s move towards the city’s epicentre symbolises anything, it’s its move up the ranks. The restaurant now comprises of a 12-seat chef’s table and a lounge on the upper floor, dining room and private dining room on the ground floor, all of which are fitted out with lashings of up-cycled wood furnishings, fresh green hues and hanging lamps. It’s minimalist chic at its best and is where Ryan has continued his work in one of Asia’s best restaurants, serving a selection of cocktails with its 12-course classic and 25-course gourmand tasting menu, instead of the usual wine only pairing.

The unique combination of cuisine and mixology has been responsible for Ryan’s swift climb to chef royalty, seeing him garner numerous awards, including a spot on the annual Miele Guide compilation of Asia’s Top 20 Restaurants and most recently a ranking of number 23 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. His proudest moment so far, he confesses, was being patted on the back by Juan Roca and hugged by Martín Berasategui in congratulations for his great demonstration as he walked off the stage at the global culinary event Madrid Fusion in 2011. “That’s when I realised we were on the same platform as restaurants I’d admired growing up as a young chef. It was a very exciting realisation.”

Reaching the higher echelons has come as no surprises to guests and culinary commentators. His style is an eclectic mix of Asian flavours and inspirations drawn from his travels, which he artfully combines with an interesting twist of science and technology. His kitchen is filled with the latest mod-cons, distillers, evaporators and sound wave sonifiers, all used to create dishes that are truly unique. Take his Mrs Potter’s Cauliflower Cheese dish (pictured), one of Ryan’s earliest technologically and scientifically infused dishes. Instead of making a traditional cheese sauce with flour, butter, milk and cheese, Ryan makes a mixture of milk, cheese, black truffle and thyme and hits it with a sound homogenizer with a really high frequency sound wave. The sound shatters and disrupts the cells of all the ingredients and brings them together to form a smooth, rich never-before-tasted cheese sauce.

The rest of Tippling Club’s menu will have mouths salivating at the mention of foie gras, cold confit apple and spiced biscuit and cured omi wagyu, artichoke, dashi vinegar, burrata and horseradish, which come served with creative cocktails such as cane oil and orchards (Bacardi carta blanca, dolin rouge, cider, citrus) and shizuoko slipper (umeshu, olorosso, strawberries and balsamic) rustled up by Tippling Club mixologist Kamil Foltan. But most of all, it will explain to those wondering just why this culinary whizz has caught the attention of so many in the last few years and how he’s come to find his place at the forefront of the world of gastronomy. It demonstrates Ryan’s seriously experimental approach to food, his desire to push boundaries and give his guests something utterly unexpected.

Beginning his career at the very early age of 14 in a one-Michelin-star restaurant near his hometown in Devizes in the UK, Ryan used his formative years to really get to grips with the fundamentals of food and build a strong repertoire of exciting recipes, which he’s now applied with his own signature style and experience of global cuisines. “I suppose the fact that I started so early just cemented a deeper grounding, knowledge and understanding of the industry. I love taking things from my childhood that evoke happy memories in some of my dishes, like my Terry’s chocolate orange dessert that we serve at the moment. The travel I’ve done has also played a huge part in my food, especially my trips to Japan with my wife. Japanese flavours and ingredients have become quite a large part of my cuisine.”

At level pegging with its food, Tippling Club’s bar has won numerous awards for its innovative cocktail creations, including a spot on the list of World’s Top 50 Bars. Ryan reveals how he’s managed to fuse cocktails with cuisine so effortlessly. “We spend a lot of hours each day with the bar team sampling the dishes and drinks to make sure the marriage is perfect… That’s why we’re famous for such outstanding pairing combinations.”

Pushing something unknown is always a challenge. Especially when it comes to the important factor of appealing to local diners who have certain tastes and expectations. A cocktail-driven menu certainly isn’t something that’s seen very often. Interestingly, it’s Singapore’s shift towards becoming more of a global city, with fine dining and innovative cuisine becoming far more widespread that has helped Tippling Club’s rise to culinary glory. “We’ve seen a massive increase in local diners. I have to say it wasn’t easy at the start. People would come and in and expect the menu to be paired with the usual wine. Not really knowing the concept that well, they would panic when they saw they were about to drink 12 cocktails with their meal. But the best thing is when they did try it they were completely blown away.”

Success at Tippling Club has meant Ryan has had time to venture out and try his hand at other projects, too. In 2011 he launched his own TV show on the National Geographic Channel calledChef on the Road, which followed him on a journey through India and Korea’s captivating culinary cultures.Mobile Chef, an eight-episode show, which aired in 2012, saw him cook at various locations in Singapore, including the zoo and Gardens by the Bay. That same year Ryan flew to Austria to be a guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus in the Red Bull Hangar-7 in Salzburg, a restaurant that runs on a unique system of showcasing a different top international chef every month and saw him present his own signature Tippling Club creations. For Ryan, these side ventures are exciting but they’re also a great way of getting the word out about his pride and joy. “Extra projects are really important to keep getting the Tippling Club name out there. I’m very fortunate that I have such a strong and large team that allows me to leave the restaurant to do all these events. Hanger-7 was by far the coolest event I’ve done. The infrastructure and set-up there is world-class. It was an eye-opener to see how dedicated the team is there. 2015 is already looking pretty crazy, too. We’re booked for Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, The World of Flavours Congress in Napa Valley, Noosa Food and Wine Festival and the Portugal Food Congress in Lisbon.”

2015 is also set to be a busy year due to the fact that the tail-end of 2014 saw Ryan launch Bin 38 in collaboration with Australian winery Penfolds. A luxurious private dining and research and development space situated above Tipping Club, Bin 38 comprises of three different spaces: a state-of-the-art R&D test kitchen, R&D cocktail bar and lounge, and private dining facilities, where Ryan can continue his crusade for ever-evolving food and cocktails to present to his guests. Dishes come paired with aged and rare wines sourced directly from the Penfolds cellars and, of course, innovative, Tippling Club-style cocktails. “The style of our food and drinks is continuously evolving. We needed a dedicated R&D space to constantly create without distraction. When making Bin 38, I wanted a space that was every chef’s dream kitchen – a space where the design and equipment can’t help but breed creativity and inspiration on a daily basis”.

With Ryan’s Singapore-based projects well and truly off to a flying start, it’s only a matter of time before he takes his concept to new, international shores. “With my investor being Singaporean, the deal was always to do Singapore first and then afterwards start looking overseas if all went well.“Now we are looking at other cities. I would love to do something in my old stomping ground [the UK?] — wat­ch this space!”

“It wasn’t easy at the start. People would come and in and expect the menu to be paired with the usual wine. Not really knowing the concept that well, they would panic when they saw they were about to drink 12 cocktails with their meal. But the best thing is when they did try it they were completely blown away.”

Photography | Todd Beltz