Despite all the accolades – they’ve been on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars for two consecutive years and taking The Bar Awards Singapore 2016’s Most Creative Cocktail Bar – Operation Dagger still feels like the cool kid that does well in school, but refuses to conform. And although they’ve (finally) put up a sign outside their door, the building’s seemingly vacant state makes walking downstairs into the bar feel like you’re in the know of an exciting secret.
If some time has passed since your last visit to Operation Dagger, the interiors have undergone a bit of a revamp. What used to be the research lab of sorts sees a different use for the space – an extended counter with more seats added, backed by a small prep area. Thankfully, those magical apothecary-like vibes from the unbranded bottles on the back bar and the cloud formation of light bulbs above the bar have been retained.
Longtime fans would be familiar with the adroitness with which creative bartender-owner Luke Whearty utilises culinary influences and techniques in Operation Dagger creations. So it’s not surprising that an new addition to the menu is the Omakase ($95 for three courses and $150 for five courses), which presents the flavours and techniques the team in a series of food and cocktail pairings.
The start to our three-course omakase was a serve of sparkling junmai sake to cleanse the palate and whet the appetite for the first pairing of Peas + Flowers, a tipple of gin and peach beautified with fresh peas, pea flowers (foraged from Ann Siang Hill) and pea shoots. The herbaceous notes from the greenery were tempered by the lemon myrtle vinegar and honey. What might potentially have been a one-dimensional dish of flaxseeds crisps is spiced up and given a tart twist with a lovely tomato jam (made with heirloom tomatoes and dried Korean chili powder) and cucumber vinegar. If you’re having this, don’t leave out the garlic chive flower sourced from local farm Edible Garden.
While the first course went for light and refreshing, the middle of the meal successfully zoomed in on the singular Macadamia. The flavours of the cocktail was, funnily enough, inspired by a brunch dish Luke had that involved white asparagus and hollandaise. We’re not quite sure how that worked but we were definitely enjoying the dish of stracciatella (stretched buffalo mozzarella) and salad dressed with a white truffle apple cider vinegar topped with roasted macadamia. Garnished simply with macadamia dust, the cocktail is certainly a punchy one as the house-produced macadamia distillate comes off at 45% ABV.
The nutty connection continues with the next plate, where Luke’s stance on sustainability and minimal wastage also becomes evident. The macadamia pulp left behind after distillation with caramel vinegar is turned into a fortified macadamia cream via cooking with sherry vinegar, soy, and sherry. The puree is accompanied by pan fried broccoli with nothing but salt and pepper. It’s paired with the Kakigori, which is also meant to be dessert since it was named for the Japanese shaved ice sweet treat. The alcoholic version at Operation Dagger sees white chocolate liqueur instead of the classic heavy condense milk base with distilled matcha, and fresh honey lemon. The vanilla bean straw enhances the light and playful flavour profile.
When Luke arrived in Singapore with the opening of Operation Dagger slightly over two years ago, he started pushing boundaries in the local cocktail scene. Although others bars have caught up and are using similar equipment and techniques, Operation Dagger is still a place I’d go to and highly recommend when avoiding a dull night out.
Operation Dagger is located at 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01, Singapore 069791, +65 6438 4057. Open Tue-Sat 6pm-12am.