It is not often that a visit to the bar is like a performance. From the expertly crafted cocktails by the 28 year old Vijay Mudaliar, to the stories and inspiration behind each and every drink, NATIVE bar has crafted an experience that will leave you thirsty for more.
Mudaliar’s philosophy revolves around the ethos of embracing the different cultures around the region
“We decided to start NATIVE based on who we are, where we are from, and what’s around us.”
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures. However, you would be hard-pressed to find establishments that really embrace the Asian culture. Hence, NATIVE was formed to help mitigate this issue.
Kicking off with their Grass Hopper cocktail, I was treated to a plethora of taste profiles throughout the whole drink. The first taste that you get upon your first sip has a strong flavour of Wheatgrass. As the drink settles, and the coconut ice-cream melts, the drink slowly evolves to being a decadent dessert- akin to ’drinking sticky rice’. The spirit used here is a rum from the Chalong Bay distillery in Phuket.
And yes, this drink contains real grasshoppers foraged from sustainable sources. However, the insect is blended into the drink so it does not look as daunting as it sounds.
The sensorial experience that Thailand has to offer was beautifully encapsulated in this cocktail that paid homage to the country.
Behind every drink that you sip at NATIVE has its own story that led to its creation
“All the drinks on the menu are conceived from Stories”
Every drink that you order here comes with its own story of its inception. The waiters get intimate by explaining to me how the ingredients made their way into the drink and how the flavours connect to different cultures.
Coming from humble beginnings, Mudaliar shared with me his story of how he started his journey into the cocktail industry. Starting by working various part time gigs, he then worked his way up and joined the pioneer team of Jason Atherton’s Pollen before moving on to opening up his own bar. His claim to fame was after winning the Diplomatico World Tournament Final in Singapore in 2015. His winning drink? Jewel of the East – a rum-based cocktail that paid homage to the Japanese Occupation.
“Before we embark on using a new ingredient for a drink we always ask questions like where it is from, who makes it or which culture uses it. From there we will work on connecting the flavours naturally to create something that is in your cup right now,”
Chai, a drink ubiquitous in India, is also present on the menu. Served in an intricately designed earthen pot, Mudaliar uses spices such as cardamoms and Old Monk Rum from India to capture the taste reminiscent of Masala Chai. It was honestly quite a mind blowing experience considering that it is a cocktail but the taste was so spot on.
NATIVE bar believes in pushing boundaries when it comes to its drinks and showcasing the different tastes that Asia and Nature has to offer
“Just because they (the distilleries) are from this part of the world, they are often stigmatised and associated with creating moonshine. Hence, I hope that with NATIVE I will be able to change the mindset of the people,”.
I for one am guilty of this. Hence, it is admirable that he has embarked on this challenge. You can see the gumption and grit emanating from his words as he tells me this. This is further reflected in his carefully crafted concoctions.
NATIVE’s raison d’être is the embracement of sustainably sourced ingredients and produce from around the region. From the spirits and liquor used for their drinks, to their spices – everything that goes into your drink has been sourced within a 5000km radius of the bar.
Being the pioneer of ‘Urban foraging’, a modern form of foraging, Mudaliar challenges his guests by incorporating insects into some of his cocktails. Apart from the Grass Hopper drink as mentioned above, he made NATIVE social media famous by using ants as a garnish to one of his cocktails. Served on a basil leaf and frozen with liquid nitrogen, guests are encouraged to consume the whole leaf along with the ants before sipping on the yoghurt-based cocktail.
Apart from sourcing ingredients from around the region, Mudaliar has also made it a point to apply that same principle to the furniture that you will find at the bar. Some of the chairs that you sit on have been recycled from your local Kopitiam. With locally-made furniture being a dying trade, Mudaliar hopes to save it.
If you thought that Mudaliar did not have any more tricks up his sleeve you thought wrong. Even though he has an eclectic range of liquor sourced around the region in his collection, the closest source of one would be his gin – distilled right in his bar. He also infuses the gin with aromatic flavours such as Mandarin to elevate the taste profile and to provide his patrons with more choice.
Mudaliar’s unique take on cocktails has made waves internationally
It is evident that his creations have struck a chord with the average joe and cocktail connoisseurs alike. From being a humble Bar on the 2nd level of Amoy Street, NATIVE is now ranked 20th in Asia and 47th in the world. If you are on the lookout for something meaningful and unique, you should definitely pay NATIVE a visit for an unforgettable cocktail experience that is sure to keep you coming back for more.