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Tamba serves up brave, Africa-inspired concoctions

Russell Marino Soh
Russell Marino Soh • 3 min read
Tamba serves up brave, Africa-inspired concoctions
Artworks lining the walls elevate the space in Tamba, with something new to gawk at with every turn (Pictures: Tamba)
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From the folks behind Tanjong Pagar favourite Kafe Utu, Tamba is a new outfit featuring a West African inspiration, and a boozier menu.

Entering the space at the junction of Duxton Road and Neil Road, it’s tough to not be taken aback by the stunning interiors. Like its sister concept, Tamba is homey and intimate — seats are available only on the second floor, and the space seats just about 20, by our estimate. Artworks lining the walls elevate the space, with something new to gawk at with every turn. 

Tamba’s cocktail menu, curated by general manager Joma Rivera, is Africa-inspired, but not comical or stereotypical by any measure; it’s sensible and approachable, with a focus on incorporating the continent’s ingredients and products to produce new twists on old classics. 

To that end, more than half of the bar’s stock is from Africa. We’re told it’s a careful, deliberate selection, and they’ve even secured two-thirds of a limited 1,200-bottle batch of Savanna HERR White Pure Single Rum. Many of the drinks also have a backstory or cheeky inspiration involving founder Kurt Wagner’s late brother, from whom the restaurant gets its name; Rivera is more than happy to be the guide on this cocktail safari as we sip away.

Among the offerings on Tamba’s menu is Dad’s Wallet, a zhuzhed-up Old Fashioned with bourbon, peated whiskey and Amaro Averna. Smoky, peaty and woody with the barest hint of sweetness, it perfectly conjures the image of a well-worn leather wallet. 

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Savoury drink lovers, meanwhile, will enjoy Dry Boney, a clarified twist on a Bloody Mary that replaces tomato juice with nearly colourless tomato vodka and infused water. Blended with the familiar flavours of celery, smoked salt, worcestershire and tabasco, we find ourselves not missing the body of the original at all. 

The road gets a little bumpy with The Next Pele. To be fair, this tangy mix is solid on its own; a surprisingly mild long pepper distillate pairs well with cachaca and tamarind; the mildly sweet, vegetal flavour comes through without the spice. What confuses us, though, is the rice paper that floats atop the drink. While we appreciate the Instagram-friendly Pele print, it adds little to the glass beyond window dressing. By the end, the football legend is little more than a flaccid skin at the bottom of the glass. 

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We then get back on solid footing with Bazuu, a new concoction of spiced rum, coffee distillate, sweet vermouth and roasted dates. The dates add a surprising sweetness to the drink; Rivera shares that no other sweeteners are added. A disc of date pulp atop the drink is exactly as one would expect — tooth-sticking indulgence — but there’s just enough of it to add richness without being cloying or overpowering.

Rivera’s enthusiasm for spirits is undeniably endearing; he’s incredibly knowledgeable, and tells the stories behind each bottle on the shelf with a humble earnestness that one sees only in those well at ease with their craft. In sum — a trip to Tamba promises African inspiration with a here-and-now twist; a seat at the bar means a chance to watch Rivera work his magic with spirits you likely won’t find anywhere else in Singapore.  

 

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