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We Stepped Into A Surreal Artist's Daydream: Punch Room Singapore

Combine the enrichment of a heritage museum with the allure of a glamorous cocktail bar and the feeling of peering into Anish Kapoor's blue sculptures.

 

 

Last week, I swung by Punch Room Singapore, a new spot that's been on my radar but hasn't been the talk of the town just yet. Known for its affiliation with The Edition luxury boutique hotel brand, co-created by Marriott and Ian Schrager (who popularised the boutique hotel concept), this place should be a hit with those in the know. Those who travel fashionably would be familiar with Edition Hotels’ bars in London and New York that have their own unique local flair and concept but always with a quiet, cosy atmosphere.

My curiosity was piqued when I learnt that Giovanni Graziadei – Jigger & Pony’s former Principal Bartender is the bar manager here. Despite its prestigious lineage, Punch Room Singapore’s debut seems intentionally very low-key, with only 3 Google Maps reviews at time of writing. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore this spot before it becomes the next big thing with Singaporeans.

The Edition Singapore sits the Orchard district on Cuscaden Road, already lined with a bevy of luxury hotels in the surrounding area. We took the elevator to the basement where Punch Room is located. The moment the doors open, we’re greeted by a pair of soft colour field paintings that would easily remind someone of Mark Rothko’s pieces. It felt like a friendly welcome, with the cheery orange and scarlet possibly meant to stir up warmth and passion.

 

Layout, Décor and Vibe

 

The entrance to Punch Room is marked only by an understated sign beside an inconspicuous entrance, like a doorway into a secret backroom.

 

 

Upon entering, I get an immediate sense of synaesthesia: the room, bathed in a deep, encompassing ultramarine, evokes a tangible sensation; it's as if I was physically immersed in another realm. This vivid, tactile experience kinda feels like when you stand really close to one of Anish Kapoor’s mesmerising blue sculptures and peer in, and the boundary between observer and art blurs.

 

(Source: YIP2/Anish Kapoor)

 

A large ceiling pendant hangs like a floating orb and illuminates the space with a soft white glow, giving it a Marc Chagall-esque otherworldly feel. You would think that the bold ultramarine theme could overwhelm, but the space actually feels cosy.

 

 

It helps that the room is quite small – roughly a 1:1 cube with a floorspace no bigger than a regular Starbucks. Textured oak panels line the walls and ceiling; so even though they’re blue, these natural elements introduce a tactile and warm contrast. These images I’m sharing don’t do the space justice until you step in here yourself. Its designer – French-born Eric Schmitt – has achieved a very impressive balance of colour, texture and lighting.

 

 

And this is it. This room is all there is of the bar which seats no more than 30 guests. It gives you a feeling of exclusivity and intimacy, almost as if you are at a private gathering in someone’s upscale home bar in Manhattan.

The music choice happened to be Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ten Crack Commandments," a little unexpected against the backdrop of the elegant setting. It does create a laid-back vibe, suggesting this place doesn’t take itself too seriously despite the luxe.

 

 
The complimentary snacks were surprisingly addictive.

Drinks Selection

 

The drinks menu begins with a curated anthology of 12 Signature Punches. Straight away, I notice that the spirits used for each cocktail are from branded titans – Macallan, Bruichladdich, Suntory, Remy Martin or Christian Drouin – all mingling with flavours and spices borrowed from the Malay Peninsula's pantry.

Each punch on the menu beckons with a spirited nod to an intriguing story from Singapore's tapestry of cultures. Take the Straits Punch for instance – it’s an ode to William Farquhar (actually pronounced “fah-ker”, no kidding) credited for helping to build British Singapore into the thriving port that it is today. Farquhar is a bit of a geek himself with a keen interest in the botanicals from the Malay Peninsula – when he returned to Britain, he brought with him a meticulously complied set of 477 drawings of the animals and botanicals of the Malay region.

 

 

Besides the Signature Punches, the bar boasts an array of spirits that would get a whisky or rum connoisseur excited. It ranges from high-end blended Scotch (such as Compass Box) to a discerning collection of single malts like Clynelish, Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, Glenlivet, Macallan, Waterford, a small selection of top American whiskey brands like Buffalo Trace and Michter’s, and a very respectable collection of rums from brands like Appleton, Long Pond, Foursquare, Hampden and Neisson, just to name a few.

The waitstaff might not have all the answers on the tip of their tongues, but they are earnest in their service as you might expect from a high end hotel, and willing to go back to fetch any detail that would help to answer your queries about the drinks here.

 

 

Our evening began with a complimentary Welcome Punch that comes in a cute 50ml serving.

The waitstaff insists that this drink is just a straightforward affair of Coca-Cola and Bacardi Rum. But this seems to tell a different story when I tasted it. It’s pleasantly boozy and quite complex, similar to a homemade fruit punch spiked with rum, lemon grass and a hint of ginger spice.

I remain highly skeptical that this was just rum and cola – there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

 

 

The first cocktail we ordered was the Straits Punch which as I mentioned is a nod to the historical figure William Farquhar. This comes served in a blue-white China tea cup that might make you sit a bit straighter and hold it with your pinkie out, momentarily feeling like the Queen of England. It comes also with the heady aroma of a smoking cinnamon stick.

The concoction is made with Botanist Gin, Suntory Kakubin Whisky, ruby port, pomegranate, spiced lemon and Ceylon tea.

Sipping the punch, the froth on top puzzles me a bit. It starts off like a sip of black tea, then twists into a refreshing dance of sweet pomegranate and spices, ending on a note that's floral and fruity, though the smoke from the cinnamon stick threatens to stage a coup from time to time.

I love the complexity and tea-like dryness of this cocktail, with its unfolding flavours of tea, fruit, and spice. That said, the smokiness seems to toe the line of excess – it can do with a smaller cinnamon stick with a less heady aroma.

 

 

Next up, there’s the Race Course Punch which pays homage to a milestone in Singapore's aviation history when the first aircraft landing happened at the old Race Course of Farrer Park in 1919. It’s presented in a vintage looking textured glass filled with a vibrant green liquid, and garnished with a blue pansy edible flower.

This one’s the kind of drink that makes you feel you've ordered a bouquet with a side of gin. It’s made with Citadelle Gin, Christian Drouin VSOP Calvados, falernum, grapefruit, blue spirulina algae powder. 

The sweetness of grapefruit is there, but it's like stepping into the florist’s and then a Traditional Chinese Medicine hall – it balances between a fresh floral experience, angelica root and a touch of cardamom from Citadelle Gin, then finishing on a long and lingering sweet-but-not-cloying floral note.

 

 

As I cradle the final cocktail - the Kusu Island Punch - the ritual feels almost ceremonial. Instead of a cup or glass, this comes in a white porcelain bowl. It’s the type you might find in a Cantonese martial arts film where the hero has to drink a certain medical elixir to recover his Chì. The clear, amber liquid garnished with a single pandan leaf in my bowl promises a different kind of cure – one for the day's worries.

This cocktail is a nod to the legend of a magical turtle that turned itself into Kusu Island south of Singapore to save a Malay and a Chinese shipwrecked fishermen. The tiny island today continues to receive devotes of Chinese and Malay folk religions paying respects to various deities.

This cocktail is the coolest-looking by far, and also the cleanest-tasting of the bunch. It’s made with Roku Gin, Hanatomoe ‘Splash’ Sparkling Sake, pandan, lemongrass, sencha tea. The flavours are layered and not so medicial as the others – citrus, honey, pepper and a whisper of sweet Nyonya coconut jelly, with a light yeasty farewell from the Hanatomoe sake.

I like that the Roku Gin and sparkling sake foundation seems to have delivered a crisp acidity without much effervescence, while the light sweetness of the pandan and lemongrass come in more balanced and subtle.

Overall Thoughts

(Source: GNY Pang)

 

Punch Room Singapore now has spot on my personal list of favourite watering holes in Singapore. It harmoniously combines the enriching experience of going to a local heritage museum with the allure of a glamorous cocktail bar. Leafing through the menu and deciding on our punches as we mull over tales of old Singapore also makes for effortless conversation with a first date and a chance to impress.

The place itself does feel like a well-kept secret; it’s more snug than a large private members club, with a more intimate and exclusive vibe without requiring a membership. I don’t have a great eye for design but it’s obvious to me that this unique vibe you experience in the space is truly a feat of design that's worthy of a modern art museum.

The respectable array of other drinks and spirits also makes it worthy of several more visits with different friends and acquaintances. As for the music, the blend of Biggie rapping "N*gga can't tell me nothing about this coke" against the backdrop of such a tasteful tableau still feels like a slightly dissonant mashup I didn't know I needed. But it does add a refreshingly casual and unpretentious contrast to the otherwise very polished atmosphere.

@CharsiuCharlie