BARS nestled in the second storey of shophouses are usually packed rather tight. Real estate in preservation areas doesn’t come cheap, so it makes sense to line almost every foot with tables. Wring the space, ring the till. That doesn’t seem to apply at the gin-focused bar Begin (officially beGIN).
Up an unassuming flight of stairs from The Penny Black – one of the most venerable English pubs in town – lies a spacious den kitted out to resemble a decrepit warehouse right out of the Industrial Revolution.
TL:DR – Arresting, savoury drinks (Instastory material) | Industrial, exquisite detail in decor | Beginner-friendly gin flight | Haven for spiced food lovers | Spacious, prime location
Word is, to get around the restrictive Gin Act in 1751 – sort of the British predecessor to the Prohibition, but for gin in particular – bootleg gin was often cranked out in such warehouses. And so you have exposed wiring on unfinished walls, “tungsten” bulbs and abandoned sandbags and machinery typical of that era scattered about.
As you stride past the photowall-worthy mural, you’ll have plenty of time to take in the heady fumes wafting over from the bar.
The culprit? Almost of the cocktails we tried at Begin are plumbed with bold aromas, be it through the delivery tube of a smoke machine (Lavender) or by way of dried ice doused with curry water (Jagmohan). Ditto that for the food – it’s primarily Indian-influenced, and it’s unabashedly heavy on those flavours.
So our recommendation is to bring the right company – friends who dig spices, basically – and you’ll be able to clean out the generously-sized portions while covering the entire breadth of the bar bites menu. Seriously, none of the food options fall short.
In place of of the regular tidbits served elsewhere, start the night going with a heap of freshly-fried papadum, with an accompanying dip, to munch on while you mull over the drinks menu.
Those new to the story of gin should opt for the gin flight, if only to try the first two entrants, The Foundation of Gin and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. These pay homage to the recipes and methods used in the earliest versions of gin (it all started out with juniper-forward genever) and offer up intense noses of fruit and warm notes. The latter half of the gin flight is Tanqueray and Hendrick’s, served neat, so they’ll already be familiar to the average gin-lover.
You cannot, however, visit Begin without diving into their signature, the Jagmohan. Whip out your phones as it’s served with dry ice, then put them away and savour the rich aromas of Northern India issuing from the wisps of smoke. This preps you for warm, rich and honestly moreish sips from the tequila-based cocktail.
Put together the toasty, dulled edge of cinnamon with the mild astringency of cloves and the mellow sweetness of ripened pineapple – then toss curry spices into the mental cauldron. We’d have dipped naan into the handsome cup of beaten bronze. As a bonus, the cocktail comes with samosa-like crisps and a dollop of chutney.
Whatever transpires after the opening Jag (see below for food recommendations) is your call, but we strongly recommend ending the night with one of two “dessert” drinks.
The Yukie‘s for green tea lovers; gin’s washed with lemon and rendered creamier with egg white foam, and half of the glass is daubed with a thick layer of what appears to be roasted green tea leaves, coarsely ground – it sure isn’t matcha powder, as advertised, but so much the better. Drinking from the coated side of the cup is a far more interesting experience as the bitter notes and additional crunch supplied by the matcha gravel amps up the fragrance of the cocktail. You can always reverse the glass if you’re sold.
Alternatively, we’d advocate the complex Koko for rum lovers. In somewhat similar fashion, cocoa is lavished on the lip of the rocks glass, so you can get the smooth, bitter bite of cocoa to chase down the molasses. The rum’s already taken on orange liqueur and an espresso shot, and is cooled by a crystal clear, hand-cut ice block.
As if the concoction isn’t already our favourite of the night, it’s topped with a dehyrdated orange, which your server will spritz with absinthe, then set alight – all in the name of drama and sensoral experience.
In between all the quaffing, be sure to at least order the Nacho Del Goa and the Samboo-sa pastries. They’re essentially succulent chunks of butter prawn and chicken masala paired with their respective, expertly-fried pastries. We tried, too, the Beef Nigiri; while the generous slabs of beef cheek were absolutely divine, they were paired with glutinous rice we deemed rather sweet. Perhaps the original Japanese combination would have fared better here.
With such a stellar location and the obvious earnestness that went into the drink and food items, we can’t see this speakeasy remain a secret for long. Nor do we think the unused floor space in the middle of the bar will be long for this world – mark our words on that.