a most welcoming hideout: Side Door is like being hosted at home by an adept chef-and-bartender COUPLE
“Home” is an ambiguous sentiment that is tricky to crystallise into a tangible product. Many upstarts endeavour for it, with a few success stories, though most ultimately fall short. However, if there’s a bar that embodies the warmth of a “home”, it has to be Neil Road’s latest darling, Side Door.
Building a “home” is as much about the personalities as it is about the furnishing. That presents no problem for Side Door which, at its core, is built around one of the Singapore bar scene’s most dynamic partnerships — the husband-and-wife duo of Bannie Kang and Tryson Quek.
The couple has built a chemistry that was already marinating from as far back as half a decade ago when they respectively held pole positions as Head Bartender and Head Chef at Anti:Dote, in its heyday when 50 Best Bars placings were almost a foregone conclusion.
That level of ineffable talent and affinity could only translate to the most splendorous sparks when used to fuel a gastro bar concept such as this, where two virtuosos are entrusted with all aspects of their respective craft.
In fact, that partnership had already been put through the wringer with a stint in Taipei running now-defunct MU: that predated the genesis of Side Door, an erstwhile home dining experience that started soon after the pair’s return to Singapore due to a pandemic-driven winding up.
Ergo, there already was a wealth of thought that’s been invested into the concept as a whole, although Side Door might have only just witnessed its opening lion dance as an outfit along Neil Road.
Transplanting the seed of the home-dining concept into a public-facing establishment can be vexing but the experienced duo clearly had a vision. One that they executed beautifully with a welcoming space set that’s distinctly vogueish and unlike your usual indie bar, especially with its capacious tall ceilings and a Lego-laden display case meant for pastries.
The main dining area channels the feel and hospitality of their humble abode, featuring familiar exposed concrete and a tiled side counter reminiscent of HDB-centric fixtures, all built around the commanding vantage of the spacious open counter that houses both the bar and culinary preparation.
At the same time, a more exclusive omakase experience can be accessed through a slightly obfuscated back room that has been thoughtfully modelled to make diners feel akin to being hosted at the couple’s home.
Home is where the Fries is
As far as gastronomical endeavours go, Tryson Quek is a name that should instil confidence. His CV vouches articulately for him: first starting from the bottom before working his way up to recognition as Chef de Cuisine at Anti:Dote and later chef-owner in Taipei, he’s built up a strong arsenal of techniques and recipes which give life to some memorable ideas.
Currently, the full Side Door tasting menu experience is still in the midst of fine-tuning, awaiting a December launch. Nonetheless, Tryson’s culinary nous can still be tasted through the main menu, containing a stripped-down repository of sharing plates and uncomplicated bar bites, as you’d expect when being hosted as a friend’s residence.
At the same time though, you can expect a base level of creativity to be injected. Take the Double-Fried Fries ($15), for instance. As trite as fries tend to be, Side Door’s fries take on an unusual rugged form, sporting a double-fried batter layer with heft more akin to airy fish & chips than your regular fries.
All the flavours are then amped up with a double whammy of garlic aioli and crispy garlic endowing a rambunctious umami and fragrance, though at risk of surfeit with trailing pungency — at least for loners, but it’s a dish destined for the role of a crowd-pleasing sharing nibble in large groups.
Another aspect of a hosted home soiree is also well represented by one of the more interesting ideas here: Side Door’s DIY Charcuterie Board, which allows for building a board based on your mood and palatial prerogatives.
Starting with more basic cold cuts such as Chorizo ($8/30g) and Salami ($8/30g) to more exquisite Parma Ham ($15/30g), cheese lovers can pick and choose from Manchego ($10/80g), Cheddar ($12/80g) or Truffle Brie ($18/80g) if there’s a need for more opulence.
The cold cuts and cheeses are then chaperoned to the table with complimentary servings of honey, crackers, nuts, and dried fruits to provide a more holistic Charcuterie ensemble.
Besides that, pastries made in-house are also proudly displayed in a whimsical display case housing a Lego street and an assortment of vehicles and, since it’s Christmas, Santa’s sleigh — though these are under the purview of Side Door’s pastry chef, Jamie.
A side door into Bannie’s mixology
Piling on the prestige, Side Door’s other mastermind, Bannie Kang, is a veritable bartending superstar in her own right. She’s collected achievements such as an exultant first-place finish at the eminent bartending competition, Diageo World Class, and being lauded as Asia’s best bartender during the 2021 edition of Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
Without question, her intricacy and fastidiousness are never in question — though perennially wearing a face of geniality and poise, even when focusing on the shake or when the bar is flush with orders.
It’s also how she’s often caught playfully bantering with Tryson, or giggling at his quips, that makes the bar such as wonderful spot to reside at.
Hailing from South Korea, Bannie’s mixology is prone to incorporating Korean elements and the fashion these are used is often inconspicuous though pivotal to the profile. One particular stunner is the Non-Fruit Beer ($26) which assembles a motley of whisky, Fernet Branca, dry vermouth, lychee, and Korean barley.
As one of the most beguiling concoctions on Side Door’s menu, it faintly evokes the profile of a fruited sour ale. It’s similarly light, crisp, malty, fruity and refreshing but more lightly carbonated. Compared to your usual craft beers, it’s also more complex and easier to appreciate without the astringency of hops.
Moving onto the Holy Moly Mary ($20), Bannie redesigns the oft-dense Bloody Mary in chic highball spin that utilises fermented tomato and ginger ale, finishing with a sharp salted plum powder rim — refreshing and tangy with a little hint of savoury tomato funk.
Its low-ABV compatriot East Meets West ($20) comes with a more herbaceous profile ensuing from a St. Germain and osmanthus sencha base, though propped up with the spirited zing of passionfruit. A more esoteric garnish of a seaweed powder rim weaves in more interesting layers, accentuating the herbaceousness with light grassy umami.
On the other end of the potency spectrum, the similarly herbaceous but boozier Seaside ($26) also proved to be one of the best shows of finesse on Side Door’s menu — at least in my book.
Mixing coconut-washed tequila, watermelon, Fernet Hunter, lime, lemongrass and curry leaves, this concoction is mild with a slightly grassy and refreshing base, while the overall profile is lifted by a harmonious medley of spice scents.
After working my way through several cocktails, it feels like Bannie’s mixology tends towards easy to drink while incorporating more esoteric Asian-inspired nuances —especially the more herbaceous numbers— and still maintaining a level of accessibility, though never settling for exceedingly simple or enervated classic twists.
For my money’s worth, I think Side Door succeeds at one thing: inculcating a feeling of “home”. That is built on the basis of affable personalities, a cosy but unique design, and a simplified, easy-to-appreciate menu — though with touches of flair.
With more to come onto the menu and a promising private omakase in the wings, Side Door still has room to grow. I put my trust in this capable husband-and-wife duo — if anyone can raise this baby carefully and expertly, it’s them.
- Address: 3 Neil Road, Level 1, Singapore 088805
- Hours: (Tues–Sat) 3pm–12am