TRAVEL with pat and lew

Singapore Sling at the Raffles

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Pat has but one objective in Singapore, a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel.

 

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles served the empire in Malacca and Java, where he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor. There were allegations of financial impropriety, and he returned to England, where he succeeded in clearing his name. On his way home, he is said to have visited Napoleon, then in exile at St. Helena, but found him unpleasant and unimpressive.

Raffles sailed to Calcutta in late 1818 and soon established a free-trade post at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Thus he discovered Singapore, they say, as if it wasn’t here before he arrived, securing the control of the island to the East India Company.

A web site called “Drink Boy” states that while no one disputes that the Singapore Sling was originally created by Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, that is where the agreements end. The exact date is in question, with some people claiming it was in 1915, some 1913, while the hotel itself claims that it was created sometime prior to 1910.

There is also plenty of disagreement as to how closely the current version of the drink served at Raffles conforms to what was originally served. Apparently the original recipe was lost and forgotten sometime in the 1930’s, and the drink currently served is based on memories of former bartenders, and some written notes of uncertain provenance.

We cab from the Marriott to the Raffles, moving backward in time from the 21st century to the 19th. We are in the Writer’s Bar, the waiter explains, but none of us are writers. Yes, one of us is, Pat says, and I try to explain The Heretic, but I’m not sure he gets it. The bar, also referred to as the Long Bar, is of course English colonial, with white pillars and dark wood beams.

We order our “slings.” Pat has read somewhere that they serve over 2000 a day in this hotel, although it seems unlikely they will meet that target today. The current recipe at the Raffles Hotel, listed on a little card they have, includes 30ml Gin, 15 ml Cherry Brandy, 120 ml Pineapple Juice, 15 ml Lime Juice, 7.5 ml Cointreau, 7.5 ml Dom Benedictine, 10 ml Grenadine, and a dash of Angostura Bitters. It is garnished with a slice of pineapple and a cherry.  

What are Angostura Bitters, you ask? Here’s what I learned on the web. First compounded from the bark of a South American tree, in Venezuela in 1824 by a German physician, who intended it as a remedy for stomach maladies, Angostura Bitters was soon exported to England, where it came to be used in a number of cocktails following its medicinal use by the British Navy in something called Pink Gin (the pink being provided by the bitters). It is currently used in both aperitifs and digestifs, and is alleged to settle one’s stomach before a meal, or as a preventive measure before a night of serious drinking.

 

Truth be told, our Singapore Slings tasted like mildly alcoholic fruit punch, nothing really to get excited about. But then, we don’t claim to have sophisticated palates.

 

When I stand to take a picture of Pat with her sling at the Raffles, an Australian from the next table offers to take both of us, and when he rejoins his wife, I reciprocate. He tells us that fifteen years ago, the hotel was quite rundown, but there is no evidence of that today.

 

In fact, the hotel itself is a glory to behold. The Long Bar, of course, is a major feature, but so are the grounds and the exquisite all-white veranda framing a tropical vista. While we’re there, several long black limousines pull up at the columned portico entrance. The shops adjacent to the hotel are elegant. The atmosphere bespeaks a different time, before the world wars, when British colonial power ruled uncontested.  

                 

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