Native by Vijay Mudaliar: Saving the World One Drink at a Time

While in the restaurant industry passionate foragers and chefs like Elijah Holland of Botanik in Shanghai are leading the existing trend and discussion on “locavorism” and sustainable eating with the support of several big names in the fine dining scene like Rene Redzepi of the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen, the bar industry is still just getting started.

The sustainable cocktail movement is pioneered by the efforts of Vijay Mudaliar of Native in Singapore, who has spent the past couple of years building and refining his bar’s close-loop no-waste system of recycling and upcycling. The leaf coasters, for example, are re-used to make apron fabric and wall art. Food waste is composted, infused or powdered to make interesting new flavors for their cocktails. Much of the herbs needed for the drinks are foraged in their own garden, and the alcohol is either distilled in-house or procured from local and regional artisans.

Native Cocktail Bar Singapore
Behind: Ashish Sharma of Bar Trigona, KL, on the left; Vijay Mudaliar of Native, SG, on the right. Front: Cristina Ng of That’s Shanghai, left; Elysia Bagley of DRiNK Magazine, middle; myself, right.

The environment at Native strangely reminds in both decor and feel of an old pirate ship, with simple wooden tables and seating, quite rough and unfinished, like you could bang a rusty mug of rum loudly on the counter and yell “Aarrrghh!”. But no, don’t do it, and don’t quote me on that.

The sophistication comes through as soon as the menus are handed over by their cheerful staff who are super keen in introducing the seven very distinct and complex signature cocktails, all priced at S$23++.

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Among my favorites, the Peranakan cocktail is a tribute to the Malay-Chinese culture in Singapore. It’s a culture that’s greatly represented by its delicious and unique cuisine, which inspired Vijay to make a beautiful concoction of ingredients, featuring laksa leaf infused jackfruit rum, gula melaka, candlenut and goat milk. The leftover curds are made into a yummy snack, so it’s zero waste and 100% happiness.

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Another hit was the unique Oysters from Ubin, a savory drink that mixes a distillate of Singapore’s own local oysters, miso cured eggs, Kampot pepper from an organic Cambodian plantation, coriander shoots and a fresh touch of calamansi. This cocktail is pretty much the definition of umami, it’s soupy-like in density and Vijay says “you either love it, or you hate it!”. I’m among the former.

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The Kristang is a tribute to the creole ethnic group of people of mixed Malaccan and Portuguese descent predominantly based in Malaysia. It’s a spicy “Devil’s distillate” with candlenut infused milk kafir. The pickled ginger gives a kick to the subtle spicy profile, while the wild nutmeg allows for a respectful reminiscence of the typical Eurasian cuisine fragrance.

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Going back to Singapore traditions, the Sarapan is the ultimate homage to the typical local breakfast made of strong kopi, soft boiled eggs and kaya jam butter toast. It’s pretty much all of it in a sip, featuring coconut distillate, toasted bred crumbs, butter roasted coffee, soy gula melaka and pandan egg strings. It actually reminds me of the pudding dessert at The Guild!

The other cocktails also have their own story to tell about the region: the Pineapple Arrack is a tribute to Sri Lanka, featuring the Ceylonese coconut distillate, the Medini is a modern concoction inspired by futuristic Malaysian urban development Medini Iskandar, while Concrete Jungle features local mead, bringing the attention back to Singapore itself.

Overall Native delivers under all aspects: it’s got delicious drinks with a story to tell, it’s got great ambiance and hospitality, and it’s got a mission: saving the world, one drink at a time.

Native is #13 on the 2018 World’s 50 Best Bars, winning The Highest Climber Award (was #47 in the 2017 list). They have also just been awarded #4 on the 2019 Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

Address: 52A Amoy Street, 069878 Singapore

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