Non-alcoholic (NA) beverage pairings – as opposed to alcoholic beverage pairings that might encompass wines, sakes, and even cocktails – are nothing new to the dining scene. Trail-blazing Copenhagen restaurant Noma pioneered the concept more than a decade ago, offering diners a curated flight of juice and infusions specially created by their kitchen to pair with their tasting menu. The trend has since successfully spread to acclaimed restaurants in Europe, US and Australia.
However, here in Singapore, after chef Andre Chiang debut his fermented juice pairings at the now-defunct Restaurant Andre in 2016, restaurants have been slow to pick up the concept.
Encouragingly for teetotallers, designated drivers or diners with medical reasons to abstain from alcohol, this past year has seen a few notable restaurants introducing NA beverage pairings.
The basis for pairing beverages with food boils down to chemistry, where certain elements in both interact with each other to enhance flavour and texture, thus unlocking more layers of enjoyment throughout the meal. Diners should look at beverage pairings, whether alcoholic or not, as extensions of the respective dishes on the menu.
With that in mind, restaurants are investing more time, effort and creativity to produce unique NA beverage pairings. Across the forward-thinking restaurants that have adopted NA pairings, the beverages go beyond just fruit juices, running the gamut of craft mocktails, exclusive tea blends, and even unique Kombucha brews.
For those who have ended up with high levels of inebriation after multi-course wine pairing dinners, the NA beverage options even provide an avenue to keep the dining experience less physiologically taxing—restaurants are able to offer up mixed beverage pairings.
Here are a handful of establishments where you can drink up, without getting inebriated.
Together with their most-recent Spring menu, CURE, the restaurant on Keong Saik Road headed by Chef-owner Andrew Walsh, introduced an invigorating range of five Kombuchas to be paired alongside the dishes. Fermented for three to four weeks, the different kombuchas are developed to complement the overall composition of each corresponding dish, as well as to enhance the profile of the dish’s key ingredient.
Of the kombuchas, the Charred Corn with Kaffir is a smoky and slightly savoury concoction is paired with the Prawn and Corn dish to enhance the flavours of the accompanying corn espuma and miso glazed corn; while the Allspice with Apple’s spiced and warm notes of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and star anise marry well with the Roast Pigeon for 2.
As a passionate tea lover, Chef Shigeru Koizumi of ESORA wanted to build a tea-drinking culture here in Singapore by creating a unique tea-pairing programme. “It was important for me to create our own tea blends in order to ensure that each pairing is able to specifically accentuate certain flavour profiles of the accompanying dish. We want to let the tea pairings add a different dimension to the dining experience and devise new ways for our diners to enjoy our dishes,” he shares.
A cold Gyokuro blend is chosen to complement the Kinmedai course because of its notably sweet, savoury flavours and rich, briny seaweed notes that accentuate the flavour of the fish. The Gyokuro is blended with yuzu for its the bitter-citrus flavour, which makes for a natural match for the fish. Accompanying the unctuous Omi Wagyu from Shiga Prefecture is a blend of Hōjicha, iribancha with a touch of kampot pepper. Served warm, the tea’s smokiness is reminiscent of whisky peaty undertones and helps cuts through the richness of the beef with its gentle peppery heat.
Rather than sticking to one category of beverage for his NA pairings, beverage director Chip Steel of Preludio employs a wide range of liquid bases, from teas and popular NA spirit Seedlip, to sweet hot chocolate to savoury tomato relishes and vegetable broth.
The Savoury Pandan Chiffon, a green tea-based tipple with pandan, incorporates layers of savoury notes with the addition of warming vegetable stock and mushroom powder, in turn elevating the umami of its paired dish of wood ear mushrooms, bone marrow, thyme croutons, mushroom potato mousse and Oscietra Sturia caviar. Likewise, playing off the Datterini tomato relish used in the Pata Negra main of Iberico pork pressa, the Bloody Mary sees the same relish double strained and toned down with added spice and ginger ale.
General manager Aaron Jacobson shares that the team at Zén decided to do the NA pairing because it was being done in its sister restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm to much fanfare and success, and that they would approach everything the Stockholm kitchen did similarly but with the creativity of the local staff and with ingredients that were readily available here. The NA beverage pairing is designed as a continuation of the restaurant group’s imaginative and produce-driven culinary philosophy.
One of their more eclectic pairings is the main course of BBQ pigeon atop a bed of wasabi infused turnip puree, jamon iberico de bellota, and morel mushrooms; paired with smoked beetroot juice with wild blackberry, red currant and mushroom tea. The smokiness of the pigeon marries with the smoke from the beets, and the natural sweetness of the berries and the beets complement the heady and spicy aromas of pungent wasabi in the turnip puree. The mushroom tea, beets and berries together form a black fruited umami profile that complements the quail and brings out subtle hints of flavour of the bird otherwise barely perceptible on its own.