Spice Up Your Dining Experience at the Halia (Now Halal Certified)!

I must admit I’ve always had a soft spot for Halia. Set against a backdrop of lush greenery and ambient birdsong, it’s easy to forget that you’re just a little walk away from urban Singapore. With the botanic garden’s recent UNESCO appointment, the grounds have become even livelier, but never too much so – it’s still the very picture of serenity.

Today, I couldn’t wait to check out Halia’s menu revamp, which it undertook after being awarded a Halal certification. I was eager to see if the restaurant still retained their tasteful flavour combinations and creative use of spices, and in these the restaurant did not disappoint.

Halia couldn’t have been sited at a better place than the middle of a spice garden – the kitchen does an exceptional job at showcasing the wide range of spices available in the tropics, employing them in a number of creative ways (even the restaurant’s name features this play on spices, with Halia being the Malay word for ginger).

Being Halal-certified, Halia no longer serves alcoholic beverages. You wouldn’t miss the lack of booze though, for the restaurant has conjured up an alluring range of specialty drinks and herb infusions that bring together wonderfully complex flavour profiles. Consider tasteful titles like the Grapefruit and Tarragon ($8++), which features Earl grey tea, fresh grapefruit juice, house-made tarragon infusion and soda, or the Cucumber and Basil ($8++), a mix of Tulsi (holy basil) tea, Japanese cucumber and a basil infusion.

But it is with its food that Halia really shines, with its beautifully plated dishes and whirlwind of flavours. Large dishes at Halia are particularly appropriate for sharing, and you may want to select a variety of them to taste all of them with your friends.

Beautifully plated dishes and a whirlwind of flavours

The first dish to arrive was the Lightly Smoked Kingfish ($17++); clean and fresh on the palette, it really gets the appetite going.

Coming alongside was the Caramelized Onion and Beetroot Tart ($17++), my personal favourite of the starters. The beetroot is cooked perfectly, robust, and with a savory, almost meaty texture. It is savory-sweet, pretty as a manicured garden, and sits atop a delightfully crisp puff pastry. Attractive aesthetics, complementary flavours and contrasting textures – this dish is a star example of Halia’s capabilities.

The Charred Caesar Salad ($17++) is an intriguing starter, looking a little like it was doused in squid ink, except for its creamy taste of garlic aioli. It is refreshing and addictive, albeit slightly dangerous for those wearing white shirts.

The first of the large mains to arrive was the Slow Cooked Tender Chicken Breast and Braised Minced Leg Potato Gratin ($29++), a great one for sharing given how it’s practically two dishes in one. The chicken breast is moist throughout, and is accompanied by “wok-hei” cabbage – the veggies are a hit, with their lightly charred flavour and satisfying crunch. The gratin has the character of a shepherd’s pie with lots of gravy, and is hearty and comforting.

The Pan-fried Barramundi ($28++) arrives in a burst of colour and dynamism; the fish sits atop a bed of what looks like risotto, but which is actually pignolina pasta. Fun fact: Orzo is rice-shaped, whereas pignolina has a slightly longer and more slender look that is very similar to pine nuts. It is a thoughtfully balanced dish, ranks for me as the best of the mains.

The Lamb Rack and Braised Spice Islands Marinade Rump Stew ($46++) is our third main to arrive– or should I say, third and fourth main. This wonderful dish comes in two parts – the first is a classic combination of lamb rack and spinach, robust and flavorful. The second is the rump stew, which is reminiscent of a sweet, dry rending, set atop pearly white bulgur wheat.

Desserts that knock it out of the park

Halia’s desserts really knocked it out of the park (or, gardens, as it were) for me. All parts of each dessert were made in-house, and to very high levels of detail. First to arrive was the Yuzu Gateaux ($13++), with the yuzu imparted its characteristic bright and citrusy perfume to the dish.

Second was the Fig Tart ($11++), perhaps the star dessert of the day. Caramelized fig, yoghurt and turmeric foam are arranged delicately on a wonderfully crisp and crumbly speculoos tart base. It is wholly addictive, and took the better part of self-control to not order another.

The Ginger Garden ($14++) is a classic of Halia’s. Here, it’s undergone a re-imagination of the original hit and, in my mind, they’ve taken an already great dessert and elevated it once again. Sporting an intricate butterfly lattice that’s almost too pretty to eat, the garden hid delectable galangal (blue ginger) poached apples. The Ginger flower sorbet is fragrant and refreshing, and was wiped clean by our party.

Patting our satisfied bellies, I think it’s safe to say that Halia’s decision to get Halal certified was both well thought out and executed. The dishes are as inventive and flavorful as they were before, and now even more of us can get a little taste of that creativity. It sure looks like Halia’s set to spice up the dining scene once again.

Thank you The Halia for the invitation.

The Halia
1 Cluny Road
Ginger Garden
Singapore Botanic Gardens (enter via Tyersall Avenue)
Singapore 259569

Reservations: 8444 1148
Website

Opening Hours:
Mon to Thurs 9am to 9.30pm (last seating)
Fri and Eve of PH 9am to 10pm (last seating)
Sat 10am to 10pm (last seating)
Sun and PH 10am to 9.30pm (last seating)

Brunch Weekends and PH 10am to 5pm
No reservations on weekends and public holidays from 10am to 6pm

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Foraging for new flavours at Audace!

Audace takes over the space held by the much vaunted Cocotte, housed in the eclectic Wanderlust Hotel just off Little India. The outfit is helmed by Michelin-starred chef Jeremy Gillon, a passionate and affable maverick in the kitchen.

Gillon experiments extensively with techniques that extract the essence of the more than 28 rare foraged herbs that he has in his store, each gathered, dried and shipped to Singapore by his friend in the French Alps. A distinct flavour profile is identified for each herb. It is then carefully coaxed from the plant, with certain taste dimensions amplified and others dialed down. Some are made into syrups, others into crunchy bits of crumble, yet others turned into pastes and sauces. Each is unique, wild, and a fine specimen of food alchemy magic.

Delight in contemporary French Cuisine

We started off our afternoon with the Green Peas Salad, Apple, Reine Des Pres, Almond, a refreshingly green appetizer that exhibits the bright tanginess of green apple alongside the earthier flavours of almond and peas. Reine Des Pres can be found in the damp meadows of the west, and brings with it a subtle, sweet aroma in the form of an amber syrup.

The Egg Yolk Confit, Smoked Foie Gras, Mushroom Consomme arrived next, a show-stopping force of distilled umami essence. It is a play of smooth textures and deep flavours, each ingredient coming together into a comforting whole.

Our third dish of Braised Octopus, Grilled Onion Salad, Roasted Hazelnut, Basil was competently cooked, with the octopus braised to just the right bite. However, while the browned sweetness of the onions and hazelnut aromas worked well together, I find the nuttiness didn’t have the same complementary effect on the octopus.

Following not long after was the Steamed Mediterranean Seabream, Broccolis, Salted Lemon Paste, Black Olive Powder; delicately cooked fish dusted with a black olive powder that surprises the palate with a bittersweet affect.

Arriving next was the meat dish of Striploin Beef, Banana Shallot Papillote, Tarragon Coulis, Dry Capers and Anchovy; the beef was succulent, and imparted with a sweet-salty depth by its accompaniments.

A Ganache with Sorbet to look out for!

Dessert came in the form of the Dark Chocolate Ganache, Roasted Coca Nibs, Monarde Sorbet, a wholly refreshing sorbet set atop luscious, silky-smooth ganache. The Monarde doesn’t shy away, with its bright red petals and alluring, floral fragrance. Together with the crunch brought by the roasted coca nibs, this was one addictive way to round off the meal.

As we sit back with some coffees and pat our satisfied bellies, Gillon walks over and greets us with a wide smile. After a brief round of introductions, he invites us over to explore his extensive collection of herbs. It is an impressively diverse range of flora, and you can tell from the excitement in his voice the profound joy he has from not only bringing in precious specimens harvested from the wild by hand, but also from discovering new ways to unlock surprising flavours from each of these gifts of nature.

It’s rare to find such a combination of passion and skill in taking what the wilds have to offer and making this accessible to diners the other side of the world whom may never have tasted, let alone heard of some of these herbs. But that’s precisely why we should be rooting for mavericks like Gillon, and why we can’t wait to see what alchemy he works next at Audace.

Thank you Audace for the invitation.

Audace Bar & Restaurant
Wanderlust Hotel
2 Dickson Road
Singapore 209494

Reservations: 6298 1188
Website

Opening Hours:
Tuesday to Saturday
Lunch 11.30am to 2pm
Tea 2pm to 6pm
Dinner 6.30pm to Midnight

Sunday Brunch
11.30am to 4pm

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Monti – Singapore’s Longest Brunch Buffet with a Stunning View!

Monti Magnifique

There are brunches, and there are brunches. They’re calling it Singapore’s longest brunch, and at Monti’s, the food starts from noon and the party goes till midnight.

Monti takes over the Fullerton pavilion from the celebrated Catalunya, where it glimmers like an inset jewel on the waterfront. Inside, the ground to ceiling glass facade gives it a soaring, spacious aesthetic that presents the marina Bayfront in its full glory. The trade-off with so much glass though, is the occasional heatwave from Singapore’s characteristic sunny days. But it seems like a worthwhile trade, for the views are stunning — sunlight glistens across the water and flits flatteringly across your dining table; it is an instagrammer’s dream. Inside, the aesthetic is elegant and uplifting, with bright hues of blues and yellows adorning the room.

Singapore’s longest brunch is served a la carte, which means you get to choose what you want, and exactly when you want it. This makes for food that’s always prepared fresh and brought to the table piping hot or nicely chilled, instead of sitting around looking hopeful on an open counter top.

The Seafood Platter

The first thing you notice when you sit down is the massive seafood platter that greets you. It’s a visually-dramatic starter and fitting centrepiece that arrives with a bit of theatrics and smoking dried ice, but nothing too over the top that it distracts from the royal display of king crab, oysters, shellfish, sashimi and prawns. It comes highly recommended that you take a moment here to misdirect your dining companions with gorgeous bayfront views, or by flinging empty clam shells at them, and by doing so buy yourself some more time alone with the fresh, succulent-sweet crab.

One of the many joys at Monti is the tableside chef service. Brunch is peppered with personal touches–our grilled octopus salad is assembled in front of our eyes, with the chef regaling us with origin stories of Sicilian lemons. The salad is bright and zesty, with octopus in abundance; we’re quickly working up at appetite by this point.

Pasta Galore and oh, that Truffle Risotto

The brunch menu is suitably lengthy, and the range of options you could consider are near limitless–you could probably rack up a hundred pasta combinations alone. With an infinite number of possibilities but a finite appetite, it’s important that we introduce some highlights to maximize your dining experience. The first of your selections must be the truffle risotto (i.e. Cacio Pepe e Tartufo). The warm risotto is finished tableside in a giant wheel of parmesan, where the cheese melts gently into the mix with each fold. A generous portion of truffle is shaved delicately over the risotto and served steaming with umami. It almost makes you wonder why all risottos aren’t similarly made in chunks of cheese.

Foie Gras, Iberico Pork Jowl and More!

Other favourites include the Foie Gras — rich, creamy and balanced perfectly with a tart wine jelly that’s made in-house. One item that you shouldn’t overlook is the French Toast from the egg selection. Don’t be fooled by its simple name and humble associations (relative to say, the king crab). It’s perfectly done, and incredibly addictive. I could wake up to this every morning.

The other must-tries include the Charcoal Grilled Iberico Pork Jowl – crunchy on the outside from an excellent char and juicy on the inside. You can tell the quality of meats partly by how the fat tastes — meats of poor origin often have a distinct chewiness and a strong, off-putting odour; on the other hand, the best fats have a luscious quality and a slight sweetness. It is here that the iberico park jowl shines. You may want to get a couple more of these for the table, they’re going to go quickly. The lamb chop and ribeye were tasty enough, but could have been grilled on a higher heat for better char. I’d happily dig into more pork jowl instead.

Along the way, don’t forget to try out the drink-making stations with your friends, where you get the chance to be your own bartender. Hit up a couple of mojitos and bloody marys, all in the name of a bit of good fun (and refreshing boozy beverages, of course). Here’s a hot tip we picked up from the friendly staff: clap your mint leaves, and don’t muddle them — a light pressure releases its fragrance, while abrasive force extracts the bitter compounds.

Stuffed as you may be, there’s always room for dessert. The dessert table at Monti is not one you want to miss. Don’t be fooled by their petite, unassuming stature; each little morsel packs a powerful punch of flavour. Look out for the Peanut Cream Tartlets and the Torta Caprese (chocolate tortes) and their deep, rich chocolate interiors. Try also the Stuffoli with Honey & Nutella, little fried cheese balls which you top with honey and Nutella — it’s like a moreish, chewy, cheesy churro.

Monti has all sorts of good things going for it at its Sunday brunch. And it certain earns its longest brunch title with the DJ sets and live jazz that take over towards the late afternoon and into the night. What I’m actually more curious about are the postmodern jukebox-styled sets that I hear Monti hosts on Thursday nights. Now, if only they served brunch in the evening…

Thank you Monti for the invitation.

Monti at 1-Pavilion
82 Collyer Quay

Singapore 049213

Reservations: 6535 0724
Website

Every Sunday
12pm-3pm (brunch buffet service)
3pm-7pm (live DJs)
9pm onwards (Jazz At Monti)

Price:
$90++ (buffet only)
$120++ (buffet and non-alcoholic drinks)
$140++ (buffet and free flow wine)
$160++ (buffet and free flow champagne)

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Brunch out from the boring, at The Disgruntled Brasserie!

The thing about brunches is that you want them lazy, and you want them long. You get both of these at The Disgruntled Brasserie, with a five-course brunch set ($48++ per pax) and optional free flow of boozy drinks (additional $38++ per pax) that delivers some incredible bang for your buck. The plates are pretty and the portions generous, making it a great way to lounge around with your friends over the weekend, especially around the fabulous Ann Siang Road area which always seems like a uniquely different part of modern Singapore.

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