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Q&A: Adrian Besa from Singapore’s MO Bar on what it takes to win the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2021

Cocktails might form the backbone of a bar, but it’s really hospitality that lies at the heart of it.

Singapore’s well-versed in the art of nightlife, and it’s this very competition amongst establishments here — both old and new — that has pushed the limits to create a world-famous bar scene.

One such name that has evidently gone above and beyond the guest experience in the last 18 months is our very own MO Bar. Awarded the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award as part of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021, the bar was voted for by the same 220-member Academy that determines the prestigious list. This award is also the first in a series of special awards that will be announced before the annual and highly anticipated countdown begins on 6 May 2021, which will take place virtually on Facebook and YouTube.

The winning team at MO Bar.

Located on the fourth floor of the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, MO Bar takes cues from the Pacific Ocean with its warm, luxurious interiors and nautical touches, immersing you in the rich culture of Asia’s ports and its travellers. Its seasonal menus, inspired by nomadic voyagers, personal travels, and international bartenders, are passports to countries both near and far, and familiar and foreign — an especially welcomed concept since travel has come to a screeching halt today.

These are indeed different times and the cocktail experience is still far from what it used to be. But while the pandemic has seen many establishments struggle, a handful have managed to not only rise above, but make us rethink the way we can and should enjoy these delicious tipples.

MO Bar’s unceasing quest for innovation and out-of-the-box ideas have made it a tough contender in the scene and a natural winner for the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award. We speak to its bar manager, Adrian Besa, to find out what it is exactly that makes the MO Bar experience so special, and why hospitality is just as big a deal as crafting a good cocktail.

The ‘Thunder’ cocktail, inspired by the Hakka thunder tea rice. (Image credit: MO Bar)

What does hospitality mean to you and MO BAR?

Hospitality is all about empathy and recognising each individual guest. We provide every guest who walks through the door with rewarding experiences every time and will always go above and beyond during special occasions.

With such a competitive bar scene in Singapore, how do you stay ahead of the competition?

It’s again all about recognising each guest and personalising each visit. And of course, once we know that guests are celebrating special occasions, the team pulls out all the special tricks and if you want to know more, we welcome you to come and experience it for yourself!

You’ve had to get creative with initiatives such as the virtual bar tour and digital menu, how have they been received by the public?

Since the virtual tasting sessions were well received by the organisers and guests, we started with the virtual bar take-overs after the reopening of F&B services in Singapore, where we featured bartender from around the region by preparing their signature cocktails at MO Bar and vice versa.

After the launch of the new Volume 3 Menu, it was noticed quickly that a Virtual Menu would be useful to be able to give guests an enhanced experience at MO Bar, but also provide the opportunity to showcase our team and concept to a wider audience, outside of Singapore.

The third volume sees creations such as the Sarimanok, a rum- and mango-based cocktail inspired by the majestic rooster of Maranoas.
What is the bespoke programme of treats and how do they elevate the cocktail experience?

We do this by sharing small tasters of upcoming menu experiments from both the physical and interactive virtual tour, as well as other sort of fun treats. Again, it is all about recognising each guest and personalising each visit.

How do you think these concepts will change the way people enjoy their cocktails in the future?

Guests have been exposed to more home-made cocktails during circuit breaker and has increased their understanding and awareness. Therefore, delivering true hospitality together with the creative cocktails will be even more appreciated by our guests.

The ‘Chamoe’ cocktail, created in collaboration with Bar Cham in Seoul. (Image credit: MO Bar Singapore)
Where do you find the inspiration to create these beautiful cocktails and theatrical experiences?

During the concept design process, we started with the nomadic forager series with the Volume 1 Menu, where we travelled across South East Asia to explore new techniques, ingredients, and flavour profiles. For the Volume 2 Menu, the focus was the physical collaborations around the region whereby the team and I visited about a dozen different locations in Asia to bring back inspiration and ideas.

As for the current Volume 3 menu, this was conceptualised during the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 and we had to shift from all physical collaborations to a mix of physical and virtual collaborations.

In terms of the selection and layout of the drinks, we ensure there is a drink for everyone on the menu. From non-alcoholic options — which are developed with equal attention to detail — to the traditional alcoholic versions. As for the flavour range, we also try to encompass the full spectrum from light and citrus to fruity and full-bodied profiles, such as savoury, spicy and bitter.

In terms of techniques, we used traditional methods that we learnt during our travels to extract flavours, which we now enhance with the use of modern equipment such as our Rotovap and Sonic Wave machine. While using these new and modern techniques, we continue to be aware of how each ingredient can be used to its fullest.

How have you had to adapt over the past year to ensure your guests enjoy the same standard of service even after the pandemic?

As soon as Singapore went into the Circuit Breaker, the team and I explored opportunities immediately and were able to launch the first bottled cocktails in Singapore on our take-away website, all within 36 hours of the start of the lock-down.

The positive feedback from our guests, as well as the collaboration with the local community such as the taxi drivers, gave us the energy to continue developing this further and we came up with a full range of MO Bar Signature and Classic cocktails.

Besides the take-away cocktails, we also engaged with our regular guests and clients to organise virtual cocktail classes and tastings.

What can we look forward to at MO BAR in the coming months?

Since the Volume 3 Menu is now out and well received, development of Volume 4 Menu is well-underway as we continue to work closely with local producers and incorporate regional spirits.

Q&A: Adrian Besa from Singapore’s MO Bar on what it takes to win the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2021

Shatricia Nair

Managing Editor

Shatricia Nair has a passion for motoring, beauty, and wellness, and is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, retinols, and latest fitness trends. She has nine years of experience writing for digital media, and her bylines have appeared in Prestige, and Augustman. She'll do (almost) anything for good chocolate chip cookies.

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