Pollen, the Singapore outpost of Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in London, almost needs no introduction. Located in the Flower Dome at the newly opened Gardens by the Bay, it’s probably almost as sought after for its location as its food (as a Pollen guest, you are entitled complimentary entry into the Flower Dome). Weekend dinner reservations are hard to come by, but thanks to W’s single-minded determination when it comes to snagging elusive restaurant reservations, we managed to get a table for dinner the day before Hari Raya.
They offer a dinner tasting menu – 7 courses for $170. The waiter tried to discourage us from taking a mix of tasting and a la carte orders, but we ignored him and A had the tasting menu, and the rest of us ordered a la carte.
Instead of an amuse bouche, we were offered olives and a home-made bacalao brandade to go with their baguette or sourdough bread. Minus points for their butter not being salted, but the brandade was addictive.
First course in the tasting menu was the English Breakfast slow cooked egg. The runner was holding the dish 2 metres from our table for the longest time, as she waited for one of the ‘proper’ waiters to take it from her, walk 3 steps to our table, and explain the dish to us. I appreciate what they were trying to do, but they could have timed it a bit better – I’m not sure if the quality of the dish suffered as a result of the rather long wait. It was tasty but it lacked the oozy yolk of a real slow cooked egg.
Next tasting menu dish was crab cocktail with avocado, beetroot sorbet and caviar on toast. Besides the caviar on toast, this wasn’t particularly memorable.
Next up was a deer tartare with pickled beetroot. The beetroot was slightly overpowering but the deer tartare itself was excellent; really flavourful and just the right levels of acidity.
Our a la carte starters arrived together with the tartare. I ordered the back to front squid risotto with cauliflower and roasted squid consommé. The white “rice” part was actually chopped squid, and a nutty black rice was sprinkled on top along with the cauliflower. I haven’t been to Andre but I’ve read at length about his version of squid risotto, also with the squid forming the rice portion and topped with black rice crackers. Anyway, wherever the inspiration for this dish came from, it was pretty damn tasty.
Instead of the John Dory on the tasting menu, they changed it to roasted seabass instead. After tasting M’s a la carte order of the John Dory, this was a pity, because it was much tastier than the seabass. The seabass was ok, but the Dory would’ve been so much better.
The tasting menu meat dish was a tenderloin and oxtail dish with charred eggplant and smoked potatoes. The oxtail was more like brisket, but the tenderloin was amazing. Perfectly cooked and wonderfully flavourful, I dare say that as far as steaks go, this was better than Ruth’s Chris.
In contrast, the lamb rack that I ordered fell far short, also partly because we’ve experienced the awesome Ruth’s Chris lamb chops. The lamb here didn’t taste like lamb at all; the meat had a pretty benign flavour, almost like veal. It came with artichokes, asparagus and “prickly ash”, which though indicated on the menu, I had no idea where it was on the plate.
I was eagerly anticipating the desserts, since their pastry chef is an El Bulli alumnus. The tasting menu offers 2 desserts – a coconut water panna cotta with pineapple and yogurt ice cream, and something with coffee and cognac. The coconut dessert was a very refreshing palate cleanser and very good because of its simplicity. The second was good too, but I think there were too many components.
That seemed to be the trend with the a la carte desserts that we ordered as well. The burnt meringue with cucumber sorbet wasn’t too bad, but the cucumber sorbet, which had hints of green tea, simply didn’t go with the meringue. We also tried their famous PB&J dessert, which fared better but again, I think the elements were better deconstructed than eaten together.
Because we were there at night, we couldn’t fully appreciate our stroll through the Flower Dome – it was simply too dark to see very much. Pollen has a very decent 3-course set lunch for $55, so all things considered, I think appreciating the Gardens during the day, and a much more reasonably priced lunch option, means Pollen gets my vote as a lunch rather than a dinner venue.
Some really great dishes, but nothing really blew me away. Service is great when the waiters are attending to you, which unfortunately, is not often. So for the price, it probably isn’t worth it.
Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay
Lunch: 12 noon to 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 10 pm
Lunch: 12 noon to 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 10 pm