It is always welcoming when F&B outlets open at the Singapore Botanical Gardens, one of Singapore’s quaintest spots. Botanico at The Garage, a modern European bistro is housed inside an old charming colonial garage built in the late 1920s.
Spanish Chef Antonio Oviedo who helms Botanico’s kitchen was trained under Chef Santi Santamaria and the Roca brothers before his stint in Singapore.
The Art-Deco space is tastefully restored, adding an extraordinary charm when one is within the space. Diners get to choose between indoors or an outdoor space that is magically air-conditioned without being intrusively bothered by giant cooling agents.
As the name of the bistro suggests, or at least I would like to believe, the menu would revolve around botanicos, especially with their drinks. The Thyme Lemonade ($16) was a simple, straightforward botanical-inspired cocktail made with a shot of vodka and freshly squeezed lemon & lime juice infused with thyme.
For those who prefer a little bit more complexity, the Blackberry Lychee Mojito ($14) made with rum, muddled blackberry, lychee, lime, white sugar and mint is equally refreshing. A mocktail version, with the rum replaced by the tonic water is also available. Both the cocktails we had were concocted by their in-house mixologist Ruzaini Hashim.
While complimentary delicious sourdough at Botanico was supplied from a local baker, what caught my eye was they were served with mini porcelain holders containing a mix of smoked butter and Arbequina olive oil. A little unusual to mix them, I thought. I was told later it was a deliberate arrangement since Chef Antonio has mixed parentage from both Northern (butter) and Southern Spain (olive oil) and both regions have their own preference with their bread. Clearly a symbolic gesture I guess.
We started with the Botanico Salad ($19), a colourful plate of heirloom tomatoes, cañarejal cheese, pickled beetroot, black radishes and fresh figs. Cañarejal cheese is a traditional raw unpasteurised sheep milk’s cheese from Northern Spain. Extremely rare in Singapore, it is also my first time trying them. While I cannot distinguish what goes into the olive oil based herbal dressing, it was sprightly and uplifting even when mixed with the slightly pungent cheese. The pretty cucumber flower was also beyond a garnish, adding some textural crunch to the composition.
The Lamb Tartare ($24) was a bit of a challenge for me at first since I never did like lamb or mutton since childhood. Oddly I did not find the raw meat repulsive and instead the mustard ice cream and fried capers masked whichever gamey remnants flawlessly. The snail biscuittes which added some bites were the icing on the cake.
The Idiazabal Croquettes ($14) was made from the rare Idiazabal cheese unique to the Basque region. Deep fried till the bread crumb turned into a golden crisp, the chorizo was encased with the melted molten cheese within. It was very messy eating this but it was worth the while.
I would imagine the Calamaritos ($14), another deep fried entrée to rein in popularity. Similar to the deep fried baby squids we have in Zichar except the ones here are first coated with tempura flour and way more tender and juicier. Accompanied by seaweed aioli, it was a delight to pop this in alongside beer.
The Smoked Sardines ($24) looked promising until I realised the Japanese Iwashi was almost dry and a bit too strong on savoury notes. The Migas (croutons cooked in Chorizo fat) was a tad too oily while the Ajo Blanco sauce (almond, garlic, olive oil) did little to mitigate.
The Japanese Scallops ($30) fared much better. However at $10 a pop (literally), these hand-dived caught Hokkaido shell fish might be hard to stomach (pun intended). The sauce made from Jerusalem artichoke was pristine and the lardo added a wonderful dimension to the otherwise expected monotony
The Char-grilled Carabineros ($35) was a tasty treat. It came in two parts; the baked shrimps and a side of risotto-like stewed Bomba rice. The prized Mediterranean crustaceans were good on its own regardless of whether an Inca oven was used, so the preparation of the rice was more of a litmus test on the skills of the culinary team. Prepared with the head of the Carabineros, the rice was flavourful on every bite, by no means the best way to end the meal.
Alternatively, pigeon lovers can also try the Roasted Pigeon ($35) with its grains cooked with the innards of the tiny fowl this time.
The Botanist ($13) comprising of Granny Smith apple cubes infused with gin and juniper berries, cucumber sorbet and coconut sable crumble served its function as a dessert but because it was incredibly light and tangy from the added keffir lime zest, I felt it was more like a pre-dessert or a palette cleanser.
The Tropical Fruits ($13) was a plate that paid homage to the geography and history of the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Indigenous fruits like the palm fruit and jack fruit played a central role, then white chocolate turmeric ganache, longan and meringue enumerate the composition. Laksa leaf, both deep fried and made into an ice cream lend a strong spicy accent to the dish, unmistakably a profile of the tropics.
The Ala-Carte dishes we had were mostly well thought of and intricately executed, saved for some minor hiccups. A lunch set from $35 has also been made available. Looks like I will be back very soon.
The above article is written by Guest Writer @ramenking2017. You can find him on instagram where he shares his love for food and travel.