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Dine In An Urban Garden

We make a trip to two multi-concept eateries housed in heritage buildings by the 1-Group (behind restaurants like Una). Who knew we’d end up loving the more ulu option in Seletar? (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1374, Feb 16, 2017)


THE SUMMERHOUSE
3 Park Lane, S798387. Tel: 8608-3340. www.thesummerhouse.sg


IN A NUTSHELL: From its sprawling urban garden, to the colonial architecture of the 80-year-old building it inhabits, The Summerhouse has an air of old-world rural charm. The fact that it’s located all the way in Seletar certainly adds to the rural part. In what was once the Royal Air Force Tech Wing Commander’s home, the building features Wildseed, a café, bar and patisserie; and florist Poppy Flora Studio on the ground level. The refined Summerhouse Dining Room and Balcony Bar occupies the second level and draws many ingredients from the impressive edible garden on the property’s sprawling grounds.

1. Wildseed
Café open daily except Mon. Tues-Fri 10am-7pm; Sat-Sun 9am-7pm. Bar open Tues-Thur & Sun 4pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing.


WHAT’S COOKING: German chef de cuisine Florian Ridder, previously from Spanish restaurant Alma by Juan Amador, oversees the entire establishment. And he serves some delicious things for weekend brunch, including 64°C poached eggs with chives, smoked soft pork sausages from North Germany, and house-made jams and spreads.

The regular menu offers hearty sandwiches and a small list of bar bites to munch on with the selection of cocktails shaken and stirred by a mixologist who used to work at The Raffles Hotel (Kaya Martini, anyone?). There are also some fantastic cakes and pastries by 1-Group pastry chef Jasmine Chew to nibble along with a cup of coffee from local roasters Nomad the Gallant.

THE LOOK: The ground-floor café enjoys an airy glass-walled space that is made all the more lovely by the presence of Poppy Floral Studio. Its marble counter of beautiful blooms imbues the white-and-wood-clad room with a sense of lush and leafy femininity. 

THE FOOD:


Pea Flower Coconut Muffin ($6.50)

This oversized muffin gets its distinctive hue from the butterfly pea flowers that proliferate in the garden. Secreted in the centre of this loose-crumbed cake is a mound of gula melaka coconut filling, while a dollop of coconut cream makes for a lush crown. With just the right balance of sweetness, this tastes like the Peranakan pulut inti kueh in cake form.

Ginger Flower Banana Loaf ($6.50)

A moist, dense banana cake given a Southeast Asian spin with whispers of ginger (in the thick toffee caramel drizzled on top) and candied ginger flowers that lend a gentle acidity to cut through the cake’s richness. Yum.


Falafel Sourdough Burger ($14)

While at a garden café, why not try the vegetarian option? Good thing all the elements of this hearty burger will fill you up nicely. The falafel (fried chickpea patties) is surprisingly light, tasty, and lubricated by an eggplant stew and yoghurt sauce, which give the burger earthy Arabic flavours. Crumbled feta cheese add a hit of moreish saltiness.

 

2. The Summerhouse Dining Room and Balcony Bar
Open Wed-Sat 6pm-10pm; Sun 6pm-9pm. Closed Mon-Tue. Last orders 30 min before closing.


WHAT’S COOKING: Rather than “farm-to-table”, chef Ridder calls his cuisine “farms-to-table”. In other words, he works with various Singaporean and Malaysian producers, such as a local kelong, to feed his refreshingly original tasting menus (six courses for $90 and 10 courses for $128; a la carte options also available). Meanwhile, the onsite edible garden supplies all the garnishes for his food. Chef Ridder’s experience cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants La Belle Epoque and Piment in Germany shows in his intelligent and delicate way with local ingredients such as rambutans and kelong prawns.     

THE LOOK: We love the modern tropical-chic furnishings — brushed wooden chairs upholstered in either olive green or white-and-blue floral fabric, rich wooden floors, and a couple of large-leafed plants that bring the garden theme indoors.

THE FOOD:


Beetroot ($18)

We’re told there’s a surprise inside each of these glossy red orbs. For us, the surprise is that beetroot could taste this good. Chef Ridder pickles the beetroot in raspberry vinegar, which eliminates most of its inherent earthiness, leaving behind a tender, piquant vegetable. It cuts open to reveal a core of oozy ricotta and burrata cheeses flavoured with barley
grains, black sesame and fried shallots.  


Iberico Pork ($36)

A fragrant soak in buttermilk, juniper berries, bay leaves and barley, before cooking in a low-temperature water bath for 72 hours, yields a spoon-tender and incredibly tasty hunk of sous vide Iberico pork collar. The rich flavours are counterpointed by a sharp chervil sauce, bits of sauerkraut and sweet chopped almonds. Extremely satisfying. 


Rambutan Shells

Flower ($15)

This dessert comes with a bit of a show. Chef Ridder smokes the rambutan shells with hickory wood tableside, unleashing the fruit’s natural perfume before he leaves guests to savour this delicate dish. There is guava yoghurt sorbet, lychee-coconut foam, raspberry puree, bits of rambutan and rose meringue with hibiscus powder, which all conspire to provide light yet intricately floral flavours that are an excellent way to end the meal.

BOTTOM LINE: The deliciously inventive tasting menu at the more upscale Dining Room is quite a good deal at $128. Meanwhile, the snacks and especially the cakes at Wildseed are fabulous. We’d be regulars here if it wasn’t so far-flung. $-$$$$

 

THE GARAGE
50 Cluny Park Rd, Singapore Botanic Gardens, S257488. Tel: 6264-7978. www.thegarage.sg


IN A NUTSHELL: Tucked away in the Botanic Gardens, at the Cluny Park end, The Garage occupies a charming historical building that, in Singapore’s colonial days, served as a garage for college professors and residents in the area. For a long time, it also served as an office building for the Gardens’ Horticulture Department and was then left empty before its current incarnation. It now houses Bee’s Knees, a casual café for hiding out from work during the day, and Botanico, a contemporary bistro serving a seasonal menu in the evenings. The two-storey whitewashed building retains all its colonial grace, with plantation windows and large arched entryways.

1. Bee’s Knees
Open Mon-Fri 8am-6pm; Sat-Sun 9am-6pm. Last orders 5.30pm.


WHAT’S COOKING: Quotidian fare that residents around the area can revisit time and again. Waffles, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, pastries — the menu won’t incite excitement but will satisfy the need for a solid, wholesome meal. 

THE LOOK: Located on the ground floor, Bee’s Knees is cheerful and modern inside, with patterned walls and banquette, table and bar seating. When it’s not sweltering, the al fresco area is a lovely space to relax amid verdant tropical greenery.

THE FOOD:


Spanish ($24)

Softly chewy within and lightly crusty around the edges, the flavours in this pizza live up to its name, with minced chorizo, salty purple olives and crunchy green peppers.


Farm To Belly Foccacia ($14)

This vegetarian number is surprisingly satisfying, with fresh goat’s cheese, sweet slivers of roasted pumpkin, succulent cherry tomatoes and crunchy greens bound by a balsamic vinegar reduction. All tucked between almost cottony slices of focaccia.


Red Wine Chocolate Fudge Cake ($7)

As far as chocolate fudge cakes go, this one is smooth, lush and tinged with a nice bitter edge. As a red wine chocolate fudge cake, though, it falls short, mainly because there is no discernable flavour of the vino.


2. Botanico
Open Wed-Sun 6pm-10pm, closed Mon & Tues. Last orders 9.30pm.


WHAT’S COOKING: Spanish chef Antonio Oviedo, whose resume flaunts stints with culinary big names from his native country, such as the late Santi Santamaria and the Roca brothers of El Celler De Can Roca, serves an ever-changing produce-driven menu of modern European dishes tinged with Asian and Spanish influences. He also oversees the menu at Bee’s Knees.

THE LOOK: Hidden away on the second level, Botanico is a more contemporary open-plan space appointed in muted shades of grey and blonde. Though it is tastefully decorated, its furnishings are so modular it feels more like an event space than a restaurant. Adjoining the dining room is a terrace bar serving botanical-inspired cocktails that is kept happily cool thanks to hidden air-con vents. The Garage Gin’onic ($16), gin and tonic with house-made elderflower syrup, is refreshing.

THE FOOD:


Lamb Tartare ($20)

This appetiser mingles hand-chopped raw lamb with deep-fried capers, smoked olive oil, and egg yolk cream. Surprisingly, there is nothing gamey about this earthy combination with a lovely complexity of flavour and a mildly tart mustard ice cream. Morsels of pickled onions gave each mouthful pops of piquant brightness. 


Grilled Carabinero ($28)

On paper, this dish has all the chops: sweet-salty Spanish prawns grilled in a charcoal oven, plump Bomba rice cooked in a saffron-spiked prawn broth, and a sprinkle of fatty pork trotter bits to finish. In the mouth, however, the rice is one-dimensional. Sure, it’s imbued with the deep flavour of prawns, but it needs a kick of sweetness or acidity. Once we were done chomping on the succulent, umami carabineros, there was little impetus to keep going with the risotto-like rice.


Tropical Fruits ($14)

This is by far the most original mod Sin dessert we’ve sampled in a long time — and there isn’t an ounce of gula melaka in it! The grassy flavours of the laksa leaf ice cream are mellowed out by slivers of jackfruit, sea coconut and longan, plus the comforting warm crunch of biscuit crumbs and white chocolate turmeric ganache.

BOTTOM LINE: While Bee’s Knees is a decent spot for café classics in a lovely setting, we prefer the reasonably-priced Asian-influenced modern Mediterranean food served at Botanico. $-$$$

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