Don’t go overboard with the bread. You’re going to do it anyway, and for good reason, but it’s necessary to get that warning out of the way first.
In early 2019, Drunken Farmer was the name of a new venture by Spa Esprit Group, a nomadic travelling pop-up bar championing natural, “raw” wines. Taking their show around Singapore, the concept hopped in and out of places like Tiong Bahru Bakery Safari and Le Vin, Levain every night. Drunken Farmer’s wines stood—and stand—out for their low environmental impact as well as their amazing taste. Natural wines have no additives and preservatives, and are grown without pesticides or chemical fertilisers, making them one of the purest, cleanest beverages on the planet, with enough antioxidants and resveratrol to spare.
Having made landfall at 11 Stanley Street, Drunken Farmer finally looks like it’s going to be sticking around in one brick-and-mortar location for a while. Sharing a space with Common Man Stan (and never fear, caffeine addicts; the cafe will still run normal operations during daylight hours), every evening colourful Japanese noren curtains are pulled down, neon lights are lit, seat cushions are swapped out, and silent movie clips from the hammiest kung-fu movies of the 1970s and ‘80s are projected onto the walls over diners’ heads.
Behold, the transformation at the heart of Drunken Farmer’s blueprint: a natural wine bar and bistro that celebrates the concepts of terroir, wild fermentation, and locally sourced ingredients. Coming into play, too, are the elements of age-old culinary techniques, the luxury of time to let ingredients develop, and a minimal waste philosophy. All of this combines into a certain kind of magic that has allowed the food at Drunken Farmer to blossom into some of the best in the CBD; it all looks good, tastes better, and is pretty great for your gut to boot.
Helming the ship at the Stanley Street joint is chef de cuisine Paul Albert, formerly of Le Vin, Levain, another sunset takeover housed at Tiong Bahru Bakery’s flagship locale. Albert’s handiwork shines through on the menu, having concocted every dish entirely from scratch, often with the help of a 159-year-old sourdough starter he brought over from Brazil when he moved to Singapore back in 2019.
That starter is added to the time-honoured traditional mixture of water, flour, air, and patience, in order to “lay the table” with the evening’s first dish: a bread basket of sourdough loaves and focaccia. This is a course unto itself. You’ll want to slather the warm, crusty slices in house-churned butter, smoked Maldon salt, and the house-fermented pickles served on the side.
Any sourdough baker worth her salt is going to have a certain amount of “sourdough discard”—what’s left over after you’re done feeding your starter. Rather than scrape that into the bins in the back alley, Albert has elected to upcycle his discard to flavour and boost the nutritional content of the next dish on the menu: a Sourdough Karaage. Call it fried chicken and you’d be doing it a disservice; these are plump, juicy thighs soused in tangy batter and deep-fried to a crisp finish, with house-fermented kimchi mayonnaise for dipping.
Around this point, it’ll be time to place an order for either the Blue Prawn Rolls or the Squid Ink Crackers. The former is a laksa sambal slathered delight, the latter a jet-black cracker set with a papadum-like texture. And, as is the case for every item on Drunken Farmer’s menu, one dish naturally rolls into another. In the instance, the heads and shells of the prawns that adorn the Blue Prawn Rolls are crushed and sprinkled over the Squid Ink Crackers for a unique texture and mouth-watering crustacean aroma. What remains of this is then turned into a briny prawn dip, topped with sago pearls made to look like caviar, seasoned with seaweed and fresh coriander tartare.
“It’s only apt that Drunken Farmer’s permanent home is a reflection of that, where we continue to spread the gospel of gut-pleasing grapes and grains through a top notch menu that is full of personality and unadulterated flavours”
The crown jewel of the night’s affair, however, has to be the sourdough pizza. Whether it’s the classic Margherita—locally topped with giant basil leaves from the Open Farm Community and stracciatella made with cow’s milk from Viknesh Dairy Farm—or the grand Ricotta and Dried Tomatoes, each pizza pie undergoes a 30-hour fermentation process that brings about a chewy, airy crust and Neapolitan tang. (Don’t forget the fragrant garlic flakes.)
Hopefully you still have a little room left in your stomach for dessert. If not, you’d better be willing to make some, because the Belgian sourdough waffles are absolutely unmissable. Made Liege-style (with yeast dough and a coarse pearl sugar rather than a standard batter), the waffles are two days in the fermenting, and, once again, 159 years in the starting. Topping it all off is salted caramel made with gula jawa and pandan-infused cream, and banana ice cream made only with frozen bananas and crispy flaxseed tuille.
Should you be thirsty at any point in your gastronomic journey at Drunken Farmer, its resident “wine guy,” Eduardo Bayo, with more than 20 years’ experience as a sommelier, is readily on hand and available to make a pairing recommendation. What goes wonderfully with the Squid Ink Crackers, for example, might be the medium body Blanc de Noirs Fleury, an expressive and elegant bouquet of white peach and iris that gorgeously balances out the sea aromas of the prawn dip. Another suggestion is the Supernova 2019, from Roussillon, France, a devilishly aromatic and rich orange wine that goes well with any tomato or cheese dish. Its herbaceous aroma is tempered by its hints of bergamot, vervain, and just a hint of Ylang Ylang, making it the perfect entry bottle for any natural or orange wine novice.
The strongest recommendation, however, might come from the founder and chairman of Spa Esprit Group herself, Cynthia Chua. Her personal favourite label is the Si Rose 2017-2018. Produced by Domaine Christian Binner in Alsace, France, the wine’s intense coppery colour and fruity flavour is just spiced enough to pair perfectly with the Sourdough Karaage.
Chua says her company created Drunken Farmer initially to better the way that people drink, in a minimally interventionist fashion that allows natural wines to settle easily into a newcomer’s night. “It’s only apt that Drunken Farmer’s permanent home is a reflection of that,” she adds, “where we continue to spread the gospel of gut-pleasing grapes and grains through a top notch menu that is full of personality and unadulterated flavours.”
Drunken Farmer, 11 Stanley Street, Singapore 06873
Drunken Farmer is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 6pm to 10:30pm.