In Food + Drink

The Singapore Bar Striving For Complete Sustainability

We chat to the founder of the World’s 13th Best Bar for the low-down on how he’s bringing sustainability to Australia’s bar scene one cocktail at a time.

Vijay Mudaliar, founder of award-winning bar NATIVE in Singapore, has made it his personal mission to bring location and sustainability into the bar scene – one cocktail at a time.

Sustainability is a word at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days, particularly when it comes to food. Whether buying organic or sourcing directly from producers at local farmers markets, many of us are seeking a return to location and quality over mass quantity.

Yet, for reasons such as price and convenience, that mindset hasn’t been as widely adopted with the alcohols we consume. Bourbon from the United States and rum from Puerto Rico are the norm, however, there is a growing shift towards a more local-minded approach.

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Vijay Mudaliar is the founder of NATIVE in Singapore. Image: NATIVE Singapore   

After a decade working in some of the world’s best bars prior to opening NATIVE, Mudaliar felt it was important for the bar to reflect where he comes from and the world around him.

Now ranked number 13 in the annual World’s 50 Best Bars, as voted on by a panel of 500 industry experts worldwide, NATIVE has a reputation for keeping things strictly regional – crafting cocktails with a human connection based on location, tradition and flavour.

Rather than simply re-creating classics such as the Manhattan and Singapore Sling using local ingredients, Mudaliar has gone a step further by designing a cocktail list that not only features locally-sourced and foraged ingredients but also celebrates the bar’s location.

Urban foraging is one of the key foundations of NATIVE, with ingredients such as wild sorrel, pink jasmine and tamarind sourced from within a 400-metre radius of the bar used in its concoctions. While it may be a novelty, this approach shines a light on how much can be found locally if you look.

“Singapore is such a multicultural society with a rich history,” says Mudaliar. “As a bar, we have a platform to connect with our customers and educate them about our unique philosophy.

“We enjoy taking simple ingredients that are often found in our daily cuisine such as pandan, laksa leaves, candlenuts and jackfruit, and giving them a new form of life.”

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NATIVE serves only local and regional liquors. Image: NATIVE Singapore

Though these flavours are not as well-known here in Australia, they are key elements of Peranakan cuisine, a fusion of Straits Chinese and Malay culture common in Singapore.

NATIVE also doesn’t stock common spirits, choosing instead to serve local and regional liquors such as Singapore gin, Indian whisky and Filipino rum. The idea also extends to the bar’s eclectic furnishings and accessories, including aprons, ceramics, artwork and music.

“People want to have a sense of their location and to adventure out of their comfort zone. In order to bring unique local flavours into our drinks, we link up directly with the source,” says Mudaliar.

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Mudaliar will be bringing a taste of NATIVE to Australia as part of Singapore Social. Image: NATIVE Singapore

Reducing its carbon footprint is another key consideration of the bar. Napkins are linen, coasters are lotus leaves, and straws are lotus stems sourced from a local florist. Rather than using lemons or lime, which would result in a pile of rinds at closing time, the team instead uses homemade vinegars, yoghurt whey, and ants for tartness and acidity.

Mudaliar will be bringing a taste of NATIVE to Australia later this month as part of Singapore Social, a unique event designed to shine a light on the diversity of Singapore’s nightlife.

Held at The Rooftop Sydney on February 20 and 21 and The Albion Rooftop in South Melbourne on February 23 and 24, the event will be a celebration of Singapore with mouth-watering cocktails and a degustation dining experience from Masterchef Australia 2018 winner and Singapore native Sashi Cheliah, together with live music and DJ sets.

Showcasing the depth and diversity of Singapore’s bar scene won’t rest solely on Mudaliar’s shoulders. He’ll be joined by Luke Whearty from world number 23 bar OPERATION DAGGER, renowned for their inventive seasonal menus and cocktails that push the boundaries.

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Coasters are made from lotus leaves and straws from lotus stems. Image: NATIVE Singapore

The duo has each crafted two unique cocktails especially for the event, including Mudaliar’s Forager’s Garden, a refreshing blend of Singapore’s Brass Lion gin, blue pea flowers, pandan kombucha, and wild torch ginger. Whearty’s Pork Soda, a dim-sum inspired drink of Distilled 7X vodka, roast pork belly, apple, and creaming soda, is also sure to be a big hit.

“We’re very excited to be giving Aussies a taste of Singapore nightlife and to be pairing our cocktails with Sashi Cheliah’s menu,” says Mudaliar. “It will provide a unique contrast of tradition and modern techniques, which is very Singapore.”

Learn more about Sydney and Melbourne’s Singapore Social events here.

(Lead image: NATIVE Singapore / supplied) 

Published 12 February, 2019