Five years haven’t dulled its cutting edge much. A stalwart in the ranks of The World’s 50 Best Bars (#30 in 2019’s list), Operation Dagger has carved out quite the name as a pioneer in tipple experimentation. Famed for its cloak-and-dagger vibes and its in-house fermented spirits, it’s been a consistent contender for The Bar Awards Singapore‘s Creative Cocktail Bar of the Year. Most recently, this speakeasy has seen an overhaul with Head Bartender Thomas Girard (formerly of London’s 69 Colebrooke Row and Paris’ Le Coq) now at the helm, who’s honed a fine new menu of tipples.
Lurking in the alleyway behind Oxwell & Co is a weathered black door – the unobtrusive entrance to this Ann Siang basement lair. If you’re puzzling over the inverted crown-and-rectangle scrawled above, it’s a cheeky cipher from the hobo code that translates to ‘owners will give (food and drink) to get rid of you’. You know how pesky those barflies can get.
Tumble your way underground and a dark, snug, mad mixologist’s lab awaits. Rows of unbranded bottles line the back bar, marked with more hobo glyphs that only the adroit bar team can decipher. Raw concrete surfaces and whiffs of burnt herbs accent the gritty charm of the space, which is overhung by a ghostly ‘cloud’ of thousands of lightbulbs.
Head Bartender Thomas has crafted a sharp lineup of six ‘Dangerous Drinking Water’ creations (S$25++ each), while retaining four crowd-pleasers (including Gomashio and Hot + Cold) from the previous range. Given the spirit of secrecy here, it’s no surprise the refreshed menu is a minefield of codes and inside jokes. Ask the affable bar staff about cryptic names like E-701 and prepare to be regaled.
Another longstanding quirk of the menu is that it keeps mum about the spirit bases of all drinks. This is done to suspend preconceived notions, allowing drinkers to savour the sensory experience with a fresh mind and palate. Here, it’s all about flavours first, spirits second.
Tipple pyrotechnics never get old, and Cheese, No Egg delivers quite the fragrant spectacle. Star anise is blowtorched in a jar, and the drink is placed within to let the smoke suffuse it for a few minutes. The bittersweet smokiness features mostly on the nose; palate-wise, savoury cheddar is well balanced with honey for a light, lusciously creamy cocktail. Served in a rustic wooden cup, it’s manna for the cheesecake lovers.
Another dairy-forward drink, the Purple Yamborghini is a nostalgic marriage of yam and pandan, reminiscent of the oozing goodness of a yam pau (or Chinese bun). Tangy yoghurt thickens the mixture and tempers its sweetness, and we enjoy crunching on the sweet potato crisp perched atop.
Carrying on Operation Dagger’s sustainable ethos, So It Wasn’t Coffee jazzes up your classic gin and tonic with charred notes from recycled coffee grounds and an astringent spritz from boiled lime husks. A tropical golden in looks, this artful number goes down like a bracing and especially herbaceous coffee. For those who take their cuppa sweet, there’s a sugared orange garnish you can dissolve in it.
If your tastes skew bitter, on the other hand, move right on to É KHổ QUA. A tribute to the, well, bitter ups and downs of the team’s creative process, this clear tipple fuses lacto-fermented bitter gourd, spinach, and whey into a grassy palate-cleanser.
Our liquid dessert of the night is the enigmatically-named E-701, a riff on red velvet cake. Concocted with beetroot, cacao, and cream cheese, this tipple captures the velvety, buttery flavours of its muse, enhanced with a satisfyingly zingy finish. It never gets cloying, though the salt and charcoal crisp atop offers a welcome foil.
It’s well worth switching up your cocktail exploits with in-house ferments from the updated Hooch menu (S$22++ each). Featuring canned lychees fermented in their syrup, the Lychee Martini starts out saccharine but blossoms into a surprisingly complex medley of stone fruit flavours. Our favourite was the TepatXe, a punchy take on the Mexican fermented-pineapple classic. Infused with sage and warming spices like cinnamon and cloves, it packs a tart, fizzy kick followed by plenty of fruity ripeness.
Address: 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01, Singapore 069791