Jason Atherton, ex-protégé of Gordon Ramsay at Maze Restaurant, subsequently broke out on his own with the widely acclaimed Pollen Street Social in London. Sadly, we never found the time to sample that, but fate threw us a second change with Pollen in Singapore.
Opened recently, Pollen was situated in the also very recently (23 July 2012) opened Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s attempt to create something akin to Hyde Park or Central Park, and has already cost an estimated $1 billion. I’m not going to go into details about the Gardens, but briefly speaking there are two temperature controlled conservatories: Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Within the Flower Dome conservatory sits Pollen restaurant.
Normally, visiting the Flower Dome requires a ticket, $12 for locals; non-locals have to pay $28 to visit both conservatories. However, since Pollen restaurant is sited within the conservatory and we already had a reservation, we were waived the entrance fee and allowed to traipse about the Flower Dome for free. Getting to the Flower Dome may be a bit of a trek under the hot sun, so a rather convenient buggy was arranged for customers. The pick-up point can be a bit tricky to find, but the information counter is nearby and easily pointed us to it.
As our table wasn’t quite ready when we arrived (earlier than the reserved time), we decided to tour the Flower Dome first. It was quite interesting, something like an eco-park with variety of fauna (mostly flowers, strangely enough) from the 5 Mediterranean regions of the world.
The Flower Dome was spread over two floors, and quite intelligently, so was Pollen. The main restaurant was on the ground floor, with a little bar on the upper level. The interior of Pollen’s main dining room was truthfully, absolutely beautiful with a rock garden right by the main entrance and stretching all the way alongside the glass windows.
To start us off with, some sourdough bread and French baguette was offered. The latter was a tad cold and slightly tough, while the former was much nicer. The butter was very rich, but smooth and still not too heavy. To go with the bread and butter was some olives and a rather strange concoction of mashed potato and pureed cod. It was described to us as being rather reminiscent of fishballs to the local palate, but I felt the fish/cod flavour was lost and it just tasted of potato mainly.
“Scallop carpaccio, cucumber, apple, horseradish snow”. I felt this was perhaps the most interesting out of all the dishes we had. The scallop was marinated with a light herb dressing which augmented without overpowering the naturally sweet scallops. The horseradish ‘snow’ was delightfully light, with a hint of fresh spiciness. Giving a fresh natural aura to the plate as well was the lightly pickled cucumbers, and apples and beetroot slices.
“Salad of buttered lobster, pasta, seaweed, maple dressing”. This was relatively more straightforward, with the sweet and succulent lobster meat scattered about the al dente spaghetti.
“Roasted pork belly, broad beans, slow-cooked squid, chorizo”. The pork belly felt more braised than roasted to me, juicy and tender. The crispy crackling on top was very good though, simple and light without being cloying. The broad beans and squid mixture was reasonably tasty without being particularly interesting.
“Marinated lamb cutlets, artichokes, asparagus, prickly ash”. The PigPig was hankering for some lamb, and was salivating when this plate showed up. The lamb cutlets were beautifully cooked, and had just enough lamb aroma without being too ‘aromatic’ (or some may say, smelly). The artichokes provided a sharp sour contrast to the slightly gamey lamb. Interestingly, the thinly shredded maroon slices by the side was dried chillies, which gave the dish a slight Asian twist.
“PB&J – Peanut butter and cherry yuzu sorbet”. The ‘peanut butter’ came in the form of the white mousse-like stick, slightly muted in peanut flavour. The ‘jam’ was the cherry yuzu sorbet, which was a bit on the tart side from the yuzu. Doing it in a sorbet form did make it slightly lighter and less creamy, but I would have preferred the richness of a more standard ice-cream format. It was admittedly very impressive plate preparation though.
”Crema de chocolate, banana ice cream, frozen caramel water”. A little bit of dry ice from the caramel provided some mild theatrics during the serving. The chocolate came mainly in the form of very dark cookie-like crumbs, which provided a bitter contrast to the banana ice cream and caramel. I found the chocolate a bit too dark, although the PigPig found the overall combination very palatable.
Service throughout was very smooth, apart from the one time we wanted for more bread and had to (*gasp*) ask twice before we got served.
Overall, the food was technically pretty well done and definitely quite reminiscent of some of the one-starred London restaurants. The more adventurous dishes like the scallop carpaccio, PB&J and chocolate and banana desserts worked quite well for me, while the pork and lamb mains were pretty good, but quite straightforward really.
Best bit: The Flower Dome conservatory. It’ll be interesting to see whether the complex will last the next 2-5 years and become a good Singapore attraction.
Worst bit: the ‘fishball’ paste was probably the worst bit, and it was hardly the most important aspect.
Flower Dome, Gardens By The Bay
18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-09
Tel: +65 6604 9988