Botanico at the Garage
Set amid the lush Botanic Gardens, Botanico sits atop a pristinely conserved 1920s colonial heritage building called The Garage. The Garage was literally a car garage for university professors in the past, and where Botanico is now situated was the quarters for the drivers of the university professors to rest. The first level is now occupied by Bee’s Knees (café concept run by the same group), and walking up a short flight of artificially grassed steps, one steps into the charming world that is Botanico, that harmoniously juxtaposes both clean sleek modernity and simplicity whilst retaining old colonial charm. You can actually peer out of the restaurant and see the distinctive white towers of the still functioning university campuses which houses the NUS law faculty today.
Botanico is cosy, intimate, and almost disarmingly convivial. It offers an indoor dining area that plays soft piped music, and what is unique is the adjacent al fresco bar/dining area that despite being outdoors, is sheltered and cooled by hidden wall air-conditioning. This maintains the optimal environment for the area, whilst bringing diners close to, and in fact literally into, nature that is right before one’s eyes. As night falls, the lovely stringed fairy lights add a touch of whimsical charm.
Chef Sujatha Asokan, who is of mixed parentage, helms the kitchen. Young (age 27), tenacious and full of ideas, she whips up a gastronomical experience that is experimental and delightful. The menu is crafted to tell stories of botanical adventure, evoking emotion and igniting the imagination and making the experience come alive through the palate and the mind.
For nibbles/starters, the Cauliflower is a must try. Shallow fried cauliflower, tossed in Cañarejal fondue and finished with kaffir lime zest and spiced almonds whets the appetite with its unique blend of tanginess and soft crispiness (oxymoron intended). The inherently mild, light and neutral texture of the cauliflower, fried and then smoked in an Inka wood fired (temperature controllable) oven makes it a perfect starter for the evening.
The Seabass Ceviche is Chef Sujatha’s interpretation of Assam Laksa, comprising a ceviche of seabass with green chilli, pomegranate and shaved ginger flower, served with tamarind dressed glass noodles and shrimp paste ice cream. This cold dish is refreshing, a good appetiser, and very creative. The ice cream is the ubiquitous Singaporean “hae bee”, and adds a twist of “localness” to this Mediterranean coastal originated dish (from my research, the history of this dish is hotly debated but Chef Sujatha’s interpretation makes it uniquely Singaporean!). The lemon juice, lime juice, house made chilli jam, extra virgin olive oil, finely diced jalapeno, shallots, coriander and mint drizzled over the diced seabass makes every mouthful an explosion of flavours. The blanched glass noodles complement the dish well too.
Mains/From the Inka
On to the mains, we savoured the highly recommended Iberico Char Siew and the Slipper Lobster Chittara.
The Iberico Char Siew features top loin sourced from Spain, marinated with housemade char siew sauce (fermented red yeast rice wine, oyster, sauce, light soya sauce, mirin, sesame oil, sugar, paprika and espelette pepper), then smoked under a low temperature in an Inka wood-fired oven for 30 minutes. The meat is chargrilled just before serving.
Being a big fan of char siew generally, this was a good take of a fusion approach to a char siew dish. The light dash of honey, pork bones and pork trotter used in the mirepoix jus seals the fragrant sweetness of the meat, and the ginger and orange juice added to the roasted carrot puree for a more distinctive flavour makes this dish thoroughly delightful. The servings of meat were also generous.
The Slipper Lobster Chittara was equally delightful. Fresh pasta cooked in a house made Chinese XO sauce, with sous-vide slipper lobsters and baby turnips, with the slipper lobster sous-vided for 15 minutes at 54 degrees, before lightly searing in olive oil.
The XO sauce is made by slow-cooking Iberico ham trimmings, dried scallops, dried shrimps (again, the ubiquitous Singaporean “hae bee”), lemongrass, shallots, garlic, Thai fish sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, house made chicken stock, chilli flakes, sugar and salt for two to three hours. Topping it, sliced baby turnips are pickled in apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, salt and coriander seeds for 24 hours. This dish is cooked a-la-minute with garlic and birds’ eye chillies, and lastly finished with parsley.
What I liked most about this dish was how the lobster’s freshness was sealed by the sous-vide cooking, and the accompanying condiments complemented the lobster while managing to not overpower or neutralise it. Again, servings were generous and good value for money.
Just as we thought the meal could not get better, we were most pleasantly surprised when dessert was served. Going by the recommendations, we had the Lemongrass Pannacotta and the Jalapeno Ice Cream, both special creations by Chef Sujatha.
The Lemongrass Pannacotta is made with both white and palm sugar, and gently infused with fresh lemongrass. The house made ginger ice-cream is cream- and milk-based, and infused with fresh ginger. The lemon meringue uses the Swiss method of meringue making, while the Granny Smith green apples are served brunoise-style (finely diced).
The overall texture, flavour and aftertaste of this dish was really pleasing. It was not overly sweet, light enough not to make one feel “jelak” (overwhelming rich) after eating it, but very flavourful.
The Jalapeño Ice Cream is inspired by rojak, a dish with both sweet and savoury flavours. Freshly made with cream, sugar, cream cheese and yoghurt, jalapeños, lime juice and salt, it is served together with generous slices of Sarawak pineapple cut into thick round slices and seared in a hot pan till caramelised before it is sous-vided at 70 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes. The crunchy bacon financiers are made with bacon-infused butter, all-purpose flour and almond flour, sugar and egg whites, before being baked at 200 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes, pinched into pieces and dehydrated.
This was really a “rojak” of a dessert, with sweet and savoury all mixed into one. It was however very well planned on the palate, and the different components of this dish complemented each other well. Even in terms of texture, having both soft, crunchy, juicy and dry all in one dish made it quite a successful experiment.
Wines and Beverages
Lastly, what is a good meal without a fine choice of drink. Apart from thirst quenching mocktails, strong aromatic coffee and freshly brewed teas, Botanico’s wine programme offers a list of 30 premium wine labels, all rated 90 points and above by Wine Spectator, and available by Coravin. Botanico also breaks new ground by offering Bottle Keep feature, taking advantage of the cutting technology of the Coravin system’s trademark feature of allowing access to wine in a bottle without cork removal whilst maintaining quality and flavour, and rendering storage and later drinking as fresh as unopened bottles. In a nutshell, a bottle purchased from the 30 wine labels available by Coravin can be kept in Botanico. This applies no matter if the bottle has been accessed or not: an opened bottle for up to two weeks; an unopened bottle, up to a month.
Additionally, Botanico has launched a fun initiative titled Wine O’Clock. From 6pm onwards on Sundays, all of Botanico’s house-pour red, white and rose wines as well as the house prosecco and moscatos will be priced according to the time the guest orders the drink. In other words: from 6pm, these wines will be priced at $6++ a glass; from 7pm, they’ll be $7++; and so on – all the way until 11pm. On Sundays, “wine-ing” down takes on a whole new meaning. (Unfortunately,) I have cheekily queried if Wine O’Clock commences at 1pm and was politely told that it does not.
Botanico is popular and regularly booked for corporate events and intimate private parties (including weddings), and can host between 120 to 160 guests (seating arrangements can be customised). With parking aplenty and the Botanic Gardens MRT station a stone’s throw away, the excellent food and drinks on offer are easily accessible.
The pricing for the dishes is reasonable (from $6 for nibbles and starters to approximately $30 for mains and $10 for desserts), and you will be delighted to know that Law Society members who present their business cards will enjoy either a complimentary glass of house pour wine or a petite teaser platter on the house. This offer is valid from 6 to 9.30 pm from Wednesdays to Sundays, until 31 December 2018. Do note that it is not valid on the eve of public holidays, public holidays and special events, and not valid together with other ongoing promotions.
Many thanks again to Botanico for the kind invitation, and I will certainly be back again for more!
50 Cluny Park Road
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Tel: +65 9831 1106 Opening hours:
Wednesday to Friday: 6pm to 11pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm