Chef David Myers on Adrift, cooking on wood, and his favourite food jaunts in Tokyo
The gypsy chef
It's been three incredible years since award-winning chef David Myers opened up his outpost Adrift, a California izakaya-style restaurant in Singapore, alongside his other restaurants in Japan, Hong Kong, and Dubai.
Comfortably sprawled at the prestigious Marina Bay Sands (a.k.a. the unofficial hall of fame to house a growing list of celebrity restaurants), the cavernous "East meets West" establishment is a tribute to Chef Myers' sojurns across Asia and Europe. Not to mention the top-notch produce from Asia and his native California dishes, which make it all too easy to forget our biased views towards anything "mod-Asian". There's nothing to be taken too seriously at Adrift — there are travel photographs of a geisha, the iconic Angkor Wat, and even momentos like a vintage Singer sewing machine meant to symbolise a fragment of Singapore's culture.
Simply put, it is Myers' way of escape, while summing up his travels. The menu flaunts masterfully composed hot and cold plates of meats, seafood, and produce from the robata grill (a Japanese way of slowly grilling food over hot charcoal), as well as a stellar Ginza-inspired bar programme.
While the nomadic chef was in town, we sat down and chatted about his undying love for Japan, current favourite food trends, and the emerging dining destinations we need to start looking into.
What do you think is special about Adrift?
When you come to Adrift, our experience is really about vibrant fun, with a bit of edge to it. So I think when guests come, they leave with this great memory of the uniqueness of the dishes. Like imagine this table is filled with 10 to 15 different plates. All of our plates are specifically curated for our type of experience, so it's very much like izakaya, where you have all these different plates and experiences — but in addition to that, they are all unique flavours and done in ways you've never experienced before. Couple that with our cocktail programme, a playlist that has the most followers of a restaurant playlist out there, and a team who is just here to make sure you have a good time. That's the mission.
How do you transform something as simple as yakitori (chicken on skewers) to something that's served in a restaurant like this?
We have a whole section of different skewers that we do that are different. It's kind of a spin-off on the yakitori or satay, which by the way, I happen to love here in Singapore. We do a veal tongue with pink lady apple, glazed with yuzu and miso, and it's insane. It's just a phenomenal flavour that we have but it is really sophisticated looking. We also do prawns that are wrapped in pancetta and we grill them over the binchotan as well. The flavours are unbelievable — that's how we take an idea and bring it into our own.
Let's address your love for Japan. You own several restaurants in Japan and the menu at Adrift also sings a certain adoration for it. What is it exactly about Japan that resounds with you?
There's definitely the culture, which plays a part — that's probably the heartbeat of the whole thing. But then from there, we get to the good stuff like food. Tokyo, for me, is such a dynamic city that's basically filled with hidden places. You've got bars that only have six seats to great sushi restaurants that are maybe eight seats, to yakitori joints. One of my favourite places right now plays the Beatles all the time and the staff are all decked out in a certain ceremonial costume. There's a guy there that's grilling the meats in a way that's so serious and intense. It is just magical, both visually and the eating experience.
Top three favourite places in Tokyo for food — go!
Let's start with drinks. Aliviar is one, in Ebisu. It's such a stunningly cool bar, which is hidden underneath an apartment building. The owner is super passionate and really just unbelievable when it comes to making a cocktail. When he makes a martini, he closes his eyes and stirs for almost three minutes — so that he can completely connect and know when the drink is perfectly stirred. I would say either have one of his martinis or his negronis — they are both incredible.
In terms of yakitori, it has to be Toritama. I know they have one in Singapore, but it's nothing like the one in Tokyo. The way that they do it is that they basically serve all the parts of the chicken, all the way down even to the premature eggs. Their boutique sake selection is also off the charts.
Apart from that, I love soba. There's a great soba restaurant that just absolutely blows me away every single time I go and it's called Tamawarai, in Jingumae. When you sit down it's totally quiet; maybe 15 seats in total. The owner grows the buckwheat everyday, grinds it himself, and makes everything from A to Z. He only has a very small menu but it is the best soba I've ever had.
If you could eat something for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Sushi. All kinds.
In terms of the food trends that are happening, what are your current favourites?
What I think is a trend, and will still continue to be a trend, is just cooking over live fires and ambers. To me, that is going back to basics and there is something so pure and primal about it but yet the flavour is still fantastic. 85% of our menu is cooked on wood now and so we love that flavour, we love that type of cooking, and I think that is going to continue. It's actually something that we've all cooked on a long time ago. We only had fire to cook so it's nice to go back to that.
I also think that, at least for us [at Adrift], we're going to be really focused on leading Japanese influence, and even Southeast Asian in what we do. We love the techniques, flavours, and the ingredients, so we want to play with that until we've had that mastered. We want to become like the Shokunin of Japan — people who take an idea and take it to the extreme, to the best level there is.
Lastly, let's talk emerging food destinations. Where should we really be travelling to, besides Japan?
I think Sri Lanka is coming up big time. The food there is epic. I mean, it's just phenomenal. It's like the best of India if you will, even though it is not India of course — but in the sense that they are very similar; the fact that their coconut oils, their seafood, the different levels of spice and curries are all really remarkable. Vietnam has also been on my list since forever. I've been there many times but I still think that they will continue to grow and get more mainstream out there. Not just pho and banh mis, but something deeper because the depth of flavour and how they make the foods is incredible.
Adrift by David Myers is located at 10 Bayfront Avenue, Hotel Lobby Tower 2, Marina Bay Sands, Tel: 6688 5657
Opening hours: 7am-2am