Epicure (Indonesia)

Shelley Tai at Nutmeg & Clove puts a tropical spin on the Paloma, for an ideal hot weather thirst-quencher


The Paloma is a Mexican tequila based cocktail using lime juice and grapefruit-flavoured soda. Tai levels up the drink with not just fresh grapefruit juice (as the usual canned grapefruit sodas tend to be too sweet) but coconut water for a tropical touch, as well as gently carbonated water which makes you drink more, according to her. Bartender tip: Fruity shrubs are also an ideal way to introduce acidity outside of using citrus.

serious at her craft during her five-year stint at modernist bar Quinary (currently number 16 on World 50 Best Bars). Although she favours spirit-forward drinks, she won’t commit herself to a style, explaining that she enjoys finding culinary flavours and infusing those into her drinks.


Landing in Singapore happened, in a way, because of World Class. “It made me feel small,” she fumbles, finding the right word in English. “Meeting so many people and seeing what they do, made me want to learn more myself. At 30, I realise I wasn’t growing enough, so I decided to leave Hong Kong.” Tai accepted a job in New York in 2020, and was geared to move until Covid-19 scuttled that opportunit­y.

Colin Chia, co-founder of Nutmeg & Clove, was not having a great year either, as he had to close the bar’s physical operations for 257 days following Singapore’s Circuit Breaker. Ever enterprisi­ng, the former Diageo commercial manager, who also has bars in Bangkok, relocated Nutmeg & Clove to Seah Street in November and recruited Tai to be its high-profile bar manager.


Since moving herself and her cats over, Tai has been learning the ropes of being a bar manager, meaning she focuses more than on drinks – she’s responsibl­e also for planning menus, events and bar operations. The bar’s new menu, launching in April, is based on the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, weaving in Nutmeg & Clove’s strong Asian leaning with a creative twist around colour, food and spirits. Tai and Chia ensured that the whole team pitched in, with forerunner Nabbit (or Rabbit) offering a sophistica­ted combinatio­n of pinenut washed vodka, purple carrot wine and fig leaf kombucha.

Foodwise, the bar couldn’t be luckier – Chia’s longtime friend and celebrity chef Willin Low consulted on the Asianfusio­n menu, serving up winners like the curry kueh pie tee ($12) with potato foam, tom yum bishop’s nose ($12) – heavenly for fans of crispy chicken butt, and a heritage recipe based on Chia’s father’s own Teochew lor bak ($18) – braised pork belly with chee cheong fun and braised egg in a perfectly balanced gravy.


“A good bartender must have traits of discipline, creativity and friendline­ss,” says Tai. In particular, discipline is important to her because there are also negative influences in the industry, such as over-drinking and not taking care of one’s health. To that end, she prefers to keep a morning routine and to exercise regularly – weight training and boxing being her favoured sports. “Diet-wise, I eat everything,” she claims, except too much carbohydra­tes at night. Her favourite Singapore dish: kaya toast and eggs.

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