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There are some who bemoan that Singapore is all concrete jungle and no actual jungle. But what we lack in true wilderness, we more than make up for in man-manipulated foliage that has been manicured, trimmed, and landscaped into spectacular gardens. Forget toasting marshmallows over a campfire or a picnic given our city’s humidity. Here are five restaurants set in nature, where you can feast in the cool embrace of air-conditioning while cradled in (man-made) greenery.
Given the reputation of his mentor, Steve Allen, previously from the one Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in London, has a lot to live up to, and his take on French-Mediterranean cuisine at Pollen certainly doesn’t fall short.
The executive chef is a proponent of the “less is more" approach to cooking, and believes that there is no need for the overly fussy preparation methods so often seen in fine dining. Paraphrasing Allen’s own words, a duck on one of his plates will always look like a duck, such as the one in French Duck, which has two strips of the poultry in a classic pairing with pear, celeriac, and an anise jus. Also worth a try is the starter of Red Prawn, served simply with tomatoes and buratta. It’s unpretentious food done well, and you can even walk off the calories after the meal in the Flower Dome, which all guests at Pollen get complimentary access to.
Gardens by the Bay
18 Marina Gardens Drive
Tel: +65 6604 9988
2. Corner House
Gastro-botanica is what chef Jason Tan curiously calls the style of food he prepares. Put simply, it’s French cuisine elevated with an innovative use of botanicals, inspired by the restaurant’s location in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Whether they are tubers, roots, and fungi, or vines, fruits and herbs, the plants are given better elaboration on the plate instead of being mere accompaniments.
A must-try is Interpretation of my Favourite Vegetable, a dish featuring Tan’s favourite: Onions from France’s Cevennes mountain range, prized for their exceptionally sweet flavour. He presents four ways to enjoy the vegetable – as a topping on a tart with parmesan, dehydrated into a crispy chip, as a broth, and the most popular of all, roasted and hollowed into a shell that is used to contain a sous vide egg, paired with truffle. Another intriguing and again, personal dish is My Favourite Childhood Food Memory, a dessert featuring peanut butter, pandan kaya, and toasted bread.
1 Cluny Road
E J H Corner House
Singapore Botanic Cardens (Nassim Gate Entrance)
Tel: +65 6469 1000
3. Tamarind Hill
Nestled within Labrador Nature Reserve, this restaurant probably has the ‘wildest’ location out of all the ones on this list. Housed in a beautifully restored colonial bungalow, expect good old fashioned Thai cuisine. There are no watered-down curries or milder versions of tom yum made to pander to tastebuds less used to the fire of bird’s eye chilli.
Like at most Thai restaurants, portions at Tamarind Hill are made to be shared. Expect to find all the familiar favourites like tom yum in all its variations – clear, served vegetarian with mushrooms, and red and murky, with a generous helping of prawns. Then, there are the curries – green curry, panaeng curry, and massaman beef curry – all of which pack quite a punch and go down well with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice.
30 Labrador Villa Road
Tel: +65 6278 6364
4. The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar
With its high ceiling, giant lanterns, and many indoor plants, it wouldn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see the restaurant’s resemblance to a pavilion in a French garden, only much bigger and more elaborate. The menu comprises a selection of the most iconic dishes from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s various restaurants around the world, so local fans never need to travel out of the country to get a taste of his talent.
A definite must-try is the Egg Caviar, so famous it has hobbyist cooks scrambling to create replicas at home. Another worthy diet buster is the Black Truffle and Fontina Pizza, originally from Market by Jean-Georges in the Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Vancouver. End the meal on a sweet note with Warm Chocolate Cake, which is said to be the mother of all runny-centre cakes; the original lava cake that started the undercooked cake trend.
The Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar
17D Dempsey Road
Tel: 1800 304 5588
5. Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora
The only restaurant on this list that’s not in a garden setting, this is an underwater establishment that treats guests to an immersive dining experience surrounded by marine life from the Open Ocean habitat tank at S.E.A Aquarium in Resorts World Sentosa. At helm is Catherine Cora (or “Cat" Cora) of Iron Chef America fame.
Seafood features heavily on the menu, and while it’s apt to take inspiration from the restaurant’s location, watching fishes swim by while dining on one of their kind feels somewhat sadistic. If you’re able to ignore that though, you’ll enjoy the dishes, for many feature innovative flavour combinations inspired by local cuisine.
Lobster Milk is a starter of lobster dumpling in a milky sauce spiced with Szechuan pepper – who would have thought that the tongue-numbing pepper would work with milk? Then, there is the brine-cured Rougie Duck Breast with an assam-balsamic reduction with a morello cherry paste. To end, try Mango and Pomelo Soup, Cora’s take on the Chinese restaurant favourite elevated with a citrus sago, mango espuma and a dollop of refreshing vanilla ice cream.
Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora
#B1-455 & 456
22 Sentosa Gateway
Tel: +65 6577 6688