Another star signing for Singapore with Pollen
[UPDATE: Jason Atherton parted ways with Pollen in early 2016. Chef Steve Allen joins the restaurant this month, in November 2016]
This is the first time, as far as I can remember, that I’ve left a restaurant in a golf buggy. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s go back to the beginning of the evening.
A restaurant named Pollen located within a Flower Dome sounds like a match made in heaven. This is the new Singapore outpost of Jason Atherton, former head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and chef/owner of the Michelin starred Pollen Street Social in London.
You’ll find Pollen at Singapore’s new billon dollar attraction, Gardens by the Bay. Except it is quite hard to find when you arrive at these sprawling gardens.
Once you‘re inside though, you forget the trek and marvel at the sheer prettiness of the place. Part fine dining restaurant, part hothouse filled with exotic flora and fauna and arty looking rocks, it’s one of the most unique eateries around.
But this is not just a gimmick. With Atherton behind the venture, expectations of the food are high. The menu points in
places to his signature Spanish influences (crispy baby squid with piperade puree, slow-cooked egg with chorizo and patatas bravas, roasted pork belly with slow-cooked squid and chorizo) plus an injection of Asian ingredients: rock oysters with soy citrus and dashi pickled shallots; crab vinaigrette and nashi pear with sweet and sour dressing and peanut powder.
After snacking on fantastically plump green olives topped with generous flakes of sea salt, I start with the crab. The beautifully delicate presentation doesn’t disappoint: the dressing is zingy, the pear crunchy and the crab light and fresh.
For mains I choose roasted monkfish, creamed potatoes, lemon conserve and orange grenobloise. It comes simply presented and packed with flavour: palatable pieces of fish on a bed of mash that’s gorgeously drenched in olive oil. The oranges and lemon provide an unexpected but pleasing kick. My only gripe is that I would have liked a green vegetable on the side.
My husband chooses 300 day aged rib eye from Ranger Valley, Australia which Atherton says is as good as Wagyu beef (the Asian market is crazy for this fatty breed). It’s certainly as flavoursome and more to the point has been beautifully charred on the outside but is still juicy and rare within. The accompanying smoked potatoes and eggplant compliment the rib eye well.
For pudding I go for the cheekily named PB&J – a dainty serving of peanut butter flavoured parfait and cherry sorbet. To be honest, I had wanted to skip this course but when I taste this dish, oh boy, I was glad I didn’t.
Everything is not rosy in the garden though; the service needs work. We were left stranded at reception while a girl on the telephone politely acknowledged us but none of the other staff came to greet us. We waited longer than we ever have to be offered a drink and no aperitif was ever proffered. Neither was an extra serving of bread which is a shame because it’s the best I’ve tasted in Singapore. The staff are friendly and the food alone is worth coming for but they need to up their game on the service to truly make this a destination restaurant. [On a more recent visit when my main course arrived it was the wrong order. Mistakes happen but our party of four were left waiting for so long that by the end of the meal not only were we the only customers left in the restaurant, the entire management team had gone home.]
Atherton was on the pass the night I visited but he’s enlisted the capable Colin Clague formerly of Zuma and Caprice Holdings as head chef.
As an added bonus you get to walk around the lovely Flower Dome when all the punters have gone home. Magical. Then afterwards you’ll be whisked back to the taxi rank by a personable waiter driving a golf buggy like he’s Ryan Gosling. Welcome to the pleasure dome!
Pollen, Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive. Tel: 65 6604 9988. http://www.pollen.com.sg