Convivial, culinarily sound, And cultured in Wine: Praelum is The perfect wine bar
Casual wine bars are a confounding enigma to the masses. Primed by a deep-rooted perception of wine culture, it’s hard for the layperson to fathom wine as an ordinary indulgence. Most struggle to perceive wine as an unsolemn niche within the greater gourmet sphere — at least until being introduced to the Duxton gem, Praelum Wine Bistro.
Intimately known by most wine lovers, Praelum is a cosy wine sanctuary that has magically inculcated an distinct wide-ranging appeal.
Home to an impassioned motley crew of veteran and aspiring sommeliers, the experience is a one-of-a-kind mishmash of kooky antics, well-drilled wine expounding, and overall conviviality.
However, as effortless as it seems, unfettered free-spiritedness requires balance, especially in the face of a regular roster that counts many discerning connoisseurs amongst them.
Even with the gradual loosening of stuffy decorum for new wine bars in Singapore, it’s hard to find one armed with such all-encompassing charisma.
Maybe it’s the deep-seated culture or the training from director Gerald Lu, a veteran and prominent figure within Singaporean Sommelier circles, but Praelum manages to balance the levity of a house party with the gravitas of a specialist wine bar.
That’s almost antithetical to the unapologetic irreverence embraced by trendier natural wine bars and their ilk, which presents a greater seductive quality to the more bohemian, fun-loving bon vivant.
Instead, Praelum Wine Bistro feels unbothered by any extrinsic pressures and ready to welcome the everyman.
On any occasion, the makeup of diners can range from starry-eyed young adults on dates and casual professional get-togethers to zealous wine fanatic tastings.
There’s no predilected scene elitism nor the burden of knowledge here. Even after removing the nucleus of wine focus, it remains a fabulous casual French restaurant as well — perhaps one of Tanjong Pagar’s best food options, even.
Fight or Flight
Every visit to Praelum should trigger a “fight-or-flight instinct”: The instinctual mental dance around whether to give in to the revelry of an omakase wine flight or fight the urge and instead slowly sip on one sole label.
On many occasions though, the struggle is trying to find individual libations that could sate your curiosity throughout your stay — the exact reason that informs my regular decision to opt for the wine flights instead.
Essentially a blind matchmaking session, each Flight ($55 for 3 glasses, $80 for 5 glasses) would send the sommeliers scurrying to set you up with an array of wines, tailored to your disclosed desires.
Glasses are served in 75ml pours while every flight, contingent on your preferences, could be designed to feature specific varietals or styles — i.e. New World Wines, specific varietals, or even funky stuff.
If serendipity feels gracious, you could also chance upon true love, which happened to me on my second visit to Praelum. It was the exceedingly mesmerising Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc TEE, which traded the usual tannins for more unconventional tea tannins to imbue it with a dry, earthy dryness.
Coming in bigger groups, though, would be more advantageous as you can dive into the diverse curation of wines by the bottles. From there, you’ll find the brightest gems. For me, that magic happened with The Prisoner Wine Company “The Prisoner” — now one of my favourite reds owing to its sophisticated depth and sexy stone-fruited full body.
Food on Par With Wine
Praelum, to me, isn’t the perfect wine bar simply due to the wine. Apart from its wine focus, the quaint bistro is just as versed in the art of cooking, as well as the art of modest pricing.
Simplicity is often the most ruthless litmus test and the Swimmer Crab Cakes (S$18/3pcs) aced it. Each piece was as uncomplicated and classic as can be but portions were generous and there were no flaws — every parcel boasted the golden ratio of light batter to luscious shredded crab.
In continuance of the trend of simplistic seafood brilliance, there’s astoundingly fresh Char-Grilled Squid (S$26). Hard not to be mesmerised by the utterly delightful mix of tender bite and playful chew, steeped in moreish saffron cream and peppers for a potent dose of umami.
Veering away from the simple takes, Praelum also demonstrates the eclectism of its arsenal, doling out an ingenious reconstruction of the much-featured classic of Grilled Octopus (S$28).
For its foundation, the kitchen spares no modicum of intricacy, as the hashed octopus leg dazzled with its toothsome bouncy texture and trails of smoke. However, the crux lay in the accoutrements —sprightly spiced carrot puree, fragrant curry aioli and an avalanche of stupidly salty olive and caper crisps atop— that melded together and rushed forth in a wave of distinct richness.
Even as the deft seafood preparation had me bewitched, there’s no mistaking the piece de resistance at Praelum, the Braised Angus Beef Cheeks (S$40), which easily saunters onto the near-top of my list dedicated to the best beef dishes.
In many ways, it’s one that articulately demonstrates all the virtues of slow cooking. It doesn’t rely on bells and whistles — just pure euphoria derived from the plushest, most succulent, and scandalously melt-in-mouth texture.
On top of that, the exuberant brown sauce oozes all manner of bovine and vegetal richness, whereas the carrots also astounded, responding to my clamping teeth with the most impossibly soft textures every single time.
Fittingly, this magnum opus also ties back to Praelum Wine Bistro’s identity as a whole. This Duxton gem is simple. There are no airs. It can look unassuming but it is devoted to an understated brilliance. All that needs some time to sink in.
While on the outside, it might not appear to fit in with the archetype of more opulent wine bars, there’s no doubt in my mind that Praelum punches stratospherically above its weight class. Is it the perfect wine bar? Well, it seems that way to me right now, at least.
Make your reservations here.
Praelum Wine Bistro
- Address: 4 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089590
- Hours: (Mon–Sun) 6pm–12am