Last Updated: October 11, 2018
I’m all about hidden gems of hipster restaurants in Singapore, but because a lot are masters of the hide-and-seek game, it’s a challenge to discover these places when we’re roaming the streets, desperately searching with a brewing curiosity.
Case in point: Employees Only located in Telok Ayer was indeed a feat to track down.
Established in downtown New York City in December 2004, the restaurant and bar has continuously been commended with countless awards by the global bar community and won the fourth spot on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars.
Us locals were blessed when Employees Only (EO) touched down in Singapore in June 2016, finally giving us a taste of their legendary cocktails. But in order to take a sip of their drinks, you’ll obviously have to find the place first.
Thanks to Google Maps, I halted my footsteps in front of a black framed store with draping curtains and a neon sign reading ‘psychic’… where a fortune teller resides?
Don’t be fooled like I was because you won’t find the iconic Employees Only sign anywhere, but this is the place!
The only sign you will see is the small lettering above a red door curtain that will indicate that you’ve made it to your destination.
Step inside and you’ll immediately enter a whole different world where a bar counter encircles an array of bottles of spirits on the shelves in the back, dimly lit by the antique lights hanging from a patterned ceiling.
Spearheaded by the charismatic Igor Hadzismajlovic, one of the founding five of the original Employees Only in New York, the bar exhibited a down to earth flair with young bar apprentices swiftly moving about, concocting drinks while the jazzy music mingled with the low murmurs of fellow customers nearby.
Venture further into the space and you’ll find an elevated platform furnished with red square tables and metal chairs, delineating both sides of the area designed for a casual dine-in.
While some of you might jump straight into drinks, I had to resist the urge and first entertain my growling stomach with the Hand-Cut Steak Tartare (S$27).
The dish came with a bottle of Worcestershire sauce and a house-made hot sauce along with three condiments of truffle capers, chopped shallots and sea salt.
The tartare was topped with a raw egg yolk dusted with pepper and garnished with a slice of lemon on the side. Up till that point, I’d never tried the famous raw meat dish before, so I excitedly gaped as the tartare was mixed thoroughly with dashes of the condiments and drizzles of sauces.
After being mixed into a paste, the tartare was then placed next to the mixed greens salad and crostini.
Smearing a spoonful of the tartare on the thin slices of toasted bread, I took a bite and revelled in the tangy yet spicy flavours as the soft meat paired perfectly with crunchy fresh shallots. For those who like it spicy, feel free to add more hot sauce.
Some of you might have tried tartare before, but it’s unlikely that you’ve had Bone Marrow Poppers (S$15) because I for one haven’t heard of such a thing!
The trio of pastry shells was topped with the bone marrow, and you should literally pop them in your mouth in one go because they melted immediately with the savoury Bordelaise sauce.
A single popper was rich and buttery enough to be slightly jelak and the pastry shell could have been less dense. But then again, when else would I have tried these one-of-a-kind poppers?
I couldn’t wait any longer and had to get my first drink. The Fraise Savage (S$25) is concocted with Tanqueray Gin, Wild Strawberries & Tahitian Vanilla and finished with EO Prosecco.
The cocktail was tart and sweet, which completely won over my sweet tooth.
For the entree, I ordered the Truffled Grilled Cheese (S$20) which came with a generous portion of parmesan fries and dollops of truffle aioli and good ol’ ketchup.
I love all things truffle (who doesn’t?) but the grilled cheese didn’t give off that pleasant fragrance and was too burnt and oily for my liking. Thankfully, the fries were thick and crispy, and the truffle aioli was truffle-y enough.
Served straight-up, the Manhattan Cocktail (S$25) came stirred with Rittenhouse Rye, Italian Vermouth, Grand Marnier and dashes of Angostura Bitters.
For strong cocktail connoisseurs, this drink would be delightfully smooth and herbal-like. But if you’re not a fan of such intense notes, it might be overwhelming but worth a try.
By that point of the evening, the Bone-in 800g Prime Ribeye (S$130) was a welcome sight. When the dish was placed on the table, my jaw dropped at the sheer size of the juicy ribeye lying on the wooden tray.
It also came with dijon mustard, a wedge of lemon, slices of jalapeno, sea salt as well as a mini pot of potato gratin.
While I could rave about the creamy slices of potato buried underneath the crispy layer of the gratin, the main highlight of the dish was the steak.
The medium-rare slices of the ribeye looked promising, glistening under the light. My high expectations weren’t really met with the first slice as it was difficult to chew but moving along the steak, the meat was more tender and juicy.
In hindsight, I wouldn’t normally go for this due to its price and slightly disappointing texture of the meat unless it was a special occasion.
Yet another drink I had was the Amelia (S$25) which is a blend of Tito’s Vodka & St Germain Elderflower Liqueur shaken with pureed blackberries and fresh lemon juice.
I’d have to say that this was my favourite cocktail of the day as it was refreshing from the minty notes and zesty from the berries, finished with vodka accents.
My excessively full stomach made room for the Butterscotch & Mascarpone Cheesecake (S$12) and I was so glad it did. Butterscotch sauce lazily dripped down the cake sprinkled with sea salt, making me drool as if I’ve starved for days.
With the first spoonful of the cheesecake, my mouth was coated in a mousse-like sweetness and dashes of salt, which reminded me of a bag of caramel popcorn.
The cheesecake was melt-in-the-mouth through and through, with a spongy instead of crumbly bottom layer. I’d go back for this treat any day.
To end the night with a bang, I had the Ready Fire Aim (S$26) which was served straight-up with Del Maguey VIDA Mezcal, Fresh Lime Juice and House-made Honey-Pineapple Syrup with dashes of Bittermens Hellfire Bitters.
Well, it certainly did light my tastebuds on fire with the spice from the dusting of pink peppercorn and pungent herbal-like flavours.
The essence of Employees Only lies in offering flawless cocktails and hearty food, with zero pretences.
My indulgent night at Employees Only Singapore could certainly attest to impeccably executed cocktails and generally toothsome fare – proof that you should seek out this hidden spot for a night to remember.
Expected Damage: S$15 – S$130 per pax