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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Dining in full view of Gardens' forest

If one ever had to live in an artificial universe, one would pick the Gardens by the Bay. After all, if there's one thing that Singapore is really good at, it's the ability to marry contrivance and comfort in the most irresistible way.
The Business Times - July 16, 2012
By: Jaime Ee
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Dining in full view of Gardens' forest Fanciful and refreshing: the scallop carpaccio with apple and cucumber rounds and pillowy horseradish snow - POLLEN AT GARDENS BY THE BAY


Pollen Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay
#01-09, 18 Marina Gardens Drive Singapore 018953.
Tel: 6604 9988

Open Monday to Sunday for lunch and dinner

IF one ever had to live in an artificial universe, one would pick the Gardens by the Bay. After all, if there's one thing that Singapore is really good at, it's the ability to marry contrivance and comfort in the most irresistible way.

For the avowed urbanite, this is not an indictment. Wouldn't it be great if all rainforests and other wild vegetation were like the two climate-controlled domes at the Gardens? They're cool, clean, you don't get bitten by bugs and all the trees and plants are conveniently labelled so you don't even need a jungle guide. And instead of foraging for food and being forced to build a fire to cook a measly bunch of mushrooms, the ideal jungle would have a nice restaurant waiting at the end of it with complete table service.

No wishful thinking needed here now that we have Pollen, easily the prettiest restaurant in Singapore by virtue of its position in the Gardens' Flower Dome - a stunning microcosm of the Mediterranean woodlands. Combine that with the pedigree of Michelin-starred British chef Jason Atherton, and you have all the right ingredients for a much-sought after dining destination.

The hype has certainly worked for Pollen, and it has been both a blessing and a bother. Tables are hard to get, phone calls go unanswered half the time and one can foresee altercations erupting at the visitor centre between dining parties fighting over the restaurant's solitary buggy. With no proper signage and a five to 15-minute wait for the buggy (otherwise it's a good 10-minute walk), you need an arbitrator to decide - depending on where you stand, how long you've been waiting, if you noticed the other dining party and who saw the buggy first - whether you get to board the buggy or not. Or maybe the restaurant should just buy a few more buggies. One shudders to think what would happen if it rains.

Still, any frayed tempers will soon be soothed once you enter the garden cocoon of Pollen, tastefully done up to complement rather than clash with the forest that lies beyond a pathway at the end of the dining room. There's also an "alfresco" area on the second floor which is in full view of the forest and also houses the restaurant's own herb and vegetable patch. It's lovely but be warned that it can get very cold up there at night.

Perhaps it's just as well that the food at Pollen doesn't try to compete with the visual attractions of the dome. Under Atherton's direction, the food is restrained with few bells and whistles - nothing really wows but it's enough to pique your interest.

A few dishes from Atherton's flagship Pollen Street Social in London have been adapted according to locally available produce. One direct replica, though, is the comforting egg confit bathed in tomato sauce with fried potato cubes and crispy slices of chorizo ($20). The egg bursts deliciously to combine with the homey flavours of tomato and potato, making this a firm classic.

A scallop carpaccio with apple and cucumber rounds and pillowy horseradish snow ($26) is refreshing on the palate with its clean, cool flavours, while the ocean trout ($24) is a dense smoked salmon-like slab served with a piquant oyster mayonnaise and slivers of pickled onion which made little impression. More interesting was the lobster and pasta salad ($30) comprising three minuscule pieces of tender, buttery shellfish and a handful of noodles tossed in an intriguing seaweed-maple dressing which was briny, sweet and tangy. You might want to see if they will accommodate your request for a larger portion of pasta. While the dressing is interesting, the balance of sweet and sour was a little off - if they can get the proportions perfect, it will be super.

Of the mains, the seabass ($48) impressed with its freshness and perfectly cooked texture, served simply with roasted peppers and a tasty tomato topping. The lamb cutlets ($32) while moist and juicy, had their mild flavour obliterated by sharp tasting artichokes and a salty, sticky Marmite-y sauce. The pork belly ($48) fared better with the fork-tender meat served with a stew of beans and chorizo.

While chef Colin Clague does a decent job in the kitchen, inconsistencies abound, from undercooked potatoes and beans, overcooked ocean trout in the set lunch one day but properly done at dinner, and a dry John Dory drowned in an over-salted seafood bisque veloute.

In turn, dessert chef Andres Lara showed a deft hand with the sweets, even if some of the combinations went over our heads. Our favourite was the sticky chewy chocolate and banana combo which featured salty chocolate crispies, airy banana blobs and sesame ice cream in a fanciful arrangement. While his take on peanut butter and jam looked good in the menu, the result was a slightly mind-boggling array of elements like peanut paste clashing with a sharp raspberry-yuzu sorbet and cherry puree, among other things. The crispy and burnt lemon meringue balls with a cucumber sorbet, on the other hand, had a cleaner train of thought and was very refreshing.

There is still a fair bit of fine-tuning to do - shortage of manpower being the biggest issue given the harried faces of the over-stressed servers. Fortunately for Pollen, much can be forgiven as people are there for the scenery as much as the food. For us urban trekkers though, there's still one more jungle to explore - the Cloud Forest Dome. But with no restaurant there, maybe Pollen could think about introducing picnic basket cum free admission packages?

Overall rating: 7/10
By Jaime Ee


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