The Elephant Room brings the flavour of Little India to Keong Saik Road.
One of our favourite hip neighbourhoods has to be Keong Saik. Afterall, it’s home to the whimsical Potato Head, New York-chic Pasta Bar, Ernest Hemingway-inspired Old Man and many more. There is always something new or cool to check out in this ‘hood and this month, we walked into The Elephant Room.
Tucked away on the second floor, right atop one Michelin-starred Burnt Ends, The Elephant Room joins the long list of bars in the vicinity. The brainchild of owner-bartender Yugnes Susela of Smoke and Mirrors fame, this bar pays homage to the culturally-rich country of India.
Picking up subtle nuances of the Indian culture what with its vermillion-coloured walls, lattice or jaali-patterned surfaces, traditional sarong or lungi-embroidered coasters and almost-psychedelic tunes by Indian diasporas playing in the ground. We asked and it turns out, The Elephant Room’s muse is a little close to home – Little India.
Culture in a cocktail glass
Little India’s influence can also be noticed in its seven-drink menu like the refreshing Buffalo Road, an Indian take on the classic G&T, featuring housemade pink guava gin and vetiver. Then there’s Tekka, spiked with rum and topped with a deep-fried banana skin with blobs of lime cream and specks of chicken65 powder. If you find yourself reaching for unique cocktails, chances are Beeda Man will hit the spot. It’s a mix of sour mango rum and caraway, and it comes with a sweet sugar glass garnish made to resemble paan (an Indian after-dinner mouth refresher).
Oh and there’s Jothi’s Flower Shop, named after an establishment that needs no introduction to those who frequent Little India.Yugnes manages to capture the essence of this iconic flower shop in a glass. The namesake cocktail is a sweet concoction of jasmine gin, lime, honey and davanam.
All the cocktails are priced at $22+.
Desi bar bites that are not limited to chaat
Their bar snacks are equally stellar. We started with Desker Road, a plate of pani puri (crispy Indian street snack) filled with avial (a South Indian vegetable dish) and coconut moringa crumble. We’d suggest you to just pop the entire crunchy piece in your mouth to experience an explosion of flavours.
Oh, the Tamarind Curry Prawns was a table favourite. The grilled tiger prawns (sourced from Tekka Market, of course) were juicy and, for lack of a better word, delish. Flatbread will be served with this dish, so don’t forget to mop up the luscious sauce.
Butcher’s Lamb Broth is an ode to the popular mutton soup in Tekka Market. Instead of the questionable goat parts, you’ll get a bowl of artfully plated spiced lamb shoulder reminiscent of flat iron steak, atop a pool of almost kambing soup-like sauce.
The man behind the bar
Intrigued to know more? We had a chat with the man of the hour, Yugnes Susela about his vision, his favourite cocktail and what’s next for The Elephant Room.
Hi Yugnes! Tell us, how did the bar come to be?
I’m someone who cannot sit still. I need to keep building and growing. Cocktails and concepts have always been a passion of mine and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to explore this in some of the best places around – The Tippling Club and Smoke & Mirrors especially. It gave me many experiences and sources of inspiration, but one day it hit me; what’s the next milestone for me?
I set certain goals and targets for the things I want to achieve in my career in this industry and it immediately became clear to me that maybe it was time I started my own bar, fresh in its concept and unwavering in its offerings. And voila! The Elephant Room was born!
What’s the concept behind The Elephant Room and what inspired you to create this space?
The Elephant Room is a space where my team and I look to express our ideas and creativity through tipples and bites, at its very essence. Inspired by both the flavours and culture of India, along with my personal influences and experiences right here in Singapore’s Little India, I grew increasingly passionate about sharing this rich tapestry of culture and heritage with my consumers. So I decided, what better way than to do it through the craft I dedicated much of my life to honing!
How has your experience in the industry influenced The Elephant Room?
I think many experiences I’ve had – beyond just places and establishments in the industry – have shaped and influenced the way I envision my future in the space. From building a strong foundation for myself with The Tippling Club, to learning about the art of building remarkable garnish-forward cocktails with Smoke & Mirrors, they all helped to shape the way my own bar has panned out. The one that gave me the biggest inspiration and influence is, without a doubt, the recent stagiaire gig I had in The Aviary, Chicago, last September.
Apart from the brilliant drinks menu, how else does The Elephant Room pay homage to Indian heritage and culture?
God is in the details for me. All the little nuances and details that we thoughtfully weave into the bar go towards the bigger story I look to tell my customers. Let’s start with the name itself – the elephant is a symbol of intellectual and earthly mental strength in the Indian culture. It is a sacred animal and carries a symbolism of patience and loyalty too. It is almost a spirit animal for me. The elephant paths the ways in jungles, the same way I envision my concept to path the way for consumers to a modern-day appreciation of my culture and heritage.
The colours I used in the space are vermilion and gold and are widely used in India, especially for grand celebrations and functions. They’re widely associated with popular Indian architecture and pottery too! The bar counter is built on vent blocks, also known as Jaali in India. Needless to say, we proudly embraced the earthy and raw look, without forgetting that at its very core, what we wanted to create was a homely vibe for our patrons.
Let’s dive right into the drinks! Tell us about the exclusive seven-drink menu. Any interesting moments that happened during the R&D process?
This menu is definitely not your ordinary drink menu – it seriously pushed me out of my comfort zone! The R&D process saw us go through so many rounds of experimentation, as we tried to infuse all sorts of different flavours into what would be considered traditional flavours. I’m glad we managed to pull off an unapologetically unique and different variety of flavours that you won’t find every day.
Which drink did you have the most fun creating?
That’s easy – the Kamasutra! It is undoubtedly one of our most exotic cocktails, made with highly complex ingredients including garlic, ginger and fenugreek leaves. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill cocktail for everyone, but certainly enjoyable for any bartender to fix!
What’s the star tipple that everyone should try?
It would definitely be the Tekka – this has been a crowd favourite! Based on the iconic hawker and wet market, we put together something that is characteristic of all the popular flavours in our idea of the Indian culture. Vibrant and bold, yet incredibly comforting and homely, the Tekka is an ambrosial concoction of coconut rum, spiced palm and banana skin. It’s a spirit-forward drink that carries a full-bodied flavour of coconut with savoury notes, with a cheeky use of lacto-fermented bananas. We even used the skin as an edible garnish. Trust us, you won’t want to miss out on this one!
Are more cocktails in the works?
Most definitely! There is a prequel to the current cocktail menu and I can’t wait to share more information with you guys soon. Trust me, truly exciting things are in the works.
What would you like guests to take away from their visit to The Elephant Room?
I hope every guest that visits us takes home with them a deeper understanding and appreciation for the rich Indian culture and heritage, as well as the vibrant and warm character Little India is known for.
Tell us about a drink that caught you off-guard.
I was on the judging panel for a cocktail competition. I was presented with the opportunity to try a salmon foam cocktail – one of the oddest ideas, I thought. But believe it or not, it was absolutely delicious. Totally blew my mind!
Your least favourite cocktail to make?
I love bartending too much for there to be a least favourite. I enjoy every single drink I make behind the bar – even a simple shot! They all tell a person’s story (without them even realising it) and that’s what keeps my passion burning for the craft.
Tell us about your favourite Indian dish. Has it been incorporated into your drinks?
Hands down; biryani. I couldn’t pass up on the chance to have that incorporated into my menu for sure, so if you ever pop by The Elephant Room again, try ordering the Beer Garden and you’ll have all your questions about this answered!
What makes for a great night out in Singapore?
The perfect night is sampling a plethora of different cocktail bars, all of which have their own style and sell their own idea of creative expression. You get to taste a variety of different stories and there is great excitement in switching it up every few hours throughout the night.
But I think every Singaporean night out has to end with a scrumptious supper. Whether it’s roti prata or dim sum, it’s not a night out in Singapore if you don’t go home completely stuffed from a great meal!
Where are your post-shift supper (or breakfast) hangouts?
Maxwell Food Centre has been my stomping ground for a long time now. Hard to compete with that, in my opinion!
Finally, what’s your secret remedy for a hangover?
Ah, the age-old question. Every bartender will give you a different answer, but if you ask me, I’d say a run, followed by a cold shower and as much water as you can stomach. You’d be surprised how quickly you turn that hangover around.
The Elephant Room, 20A Teck Lim Road, Singapore 088391