The décor and ambience at Botanico restaurant at The Garage is certainly worthy of its location at Singapore’s beloved UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Botanic Gardens.
The colonial bungalow that used to house the cars of university professors has been converted to two restaurants – casual dining Bee’s Knees on the ground floor and its glamourous sister, Botanico on the second floor.
We were gently recommended to start the night with cocktails at the terrace and seeing as how it was a lovely, cool night, we gladly followed.
A pleasant surprise to find the air chillier than usual (for Singapore) thanks to the outdoor air-con system, so I’m pretty sure the comfortable temperature will last through the year.
Not so pleasant though, are the mosquitos. I didn’t feel myself getting bitten, but even as I write this piece now, 2 days later, my feet are swollen with the bites and the itch kept me up last night!
So, lemongrass insect repellent for the next visit, for sure!
Still, I guess it was a good thing I hadn’t noticed the nefarious buggers that night, as I really did enjoy the cocktails and bar bites at the terrace.
My friends, the cocktail connoisseurs, were impressed. Stiff, no stinging on the liquor, the cocktails ranged in price from $14-$18, which is a shocker, given the many schmancy cocktail bars in Singapore, where dropping $30 for a drink is increasingly becoming the norm.
If you like it sweet, the Blackberry Lychee Mojito ($14) will suit you, but if you like something a little more straight up, try the vodka-based Lavender Martini ($14).
We snacked on the Idiazabal Croquettes ($14) and Calamaritos ($12) and both really delighted us. The croquettes with lovely crisp battered shells, giving way to unctuous smoked cheese and the crispy yet tender baby squids with seaweed aioli signalled a good start to the meal.
Oh, and before that – we were offered a round of complimentary bread which when eaten with the accompanying butter, made me feel like I was indulging in a salted caramel dessert!
Moving into the light, blossomy indoors, it was time for the meal proper.
I can never say no to sardines. And yes, that includes that old-skool tinned tomato-sauced sardines – strangely compelling when cooked in a spice pot of masala!
But enjoying them simply grilled with a squeeze of lemon while off the coast of Italy or Greece or Spain or any Mediterranean haven for that matter, is what I remember most fondly when it comes to these meaty little fish.
At Botanico, Chef Antonio Oviedo (formerly with Iggy’s and Binomio and who has trained under luminaries like the Roca brothers and the late Santi Santamaria) lightly smokes the Sardines ($20) and serves it with ajo blanco, a creamy, garlicky almond sauce. Together with kyoho grapes which lend a juicy sweetness and the charred chorizo/crouton bits, this was one of my favourites of the night.
I also liked the Foie Gras ($22), resplendent in all its fatty creaminess, accompanied by pickled turnip slices. There was a dollop of cool, tart green apple sauce/gel/mousse – hard to describe the texture but in this instance, I would have preferred a sweeter flavour profile to counter the savoury foie gras.
On to mains. Japanese Scallops ($27) – the plumpest, sweetest scallops I have had in a long while. They’re cooked perfectly and frankly, can just stand on their own without any of the accompanying Jerusalem artichoke strips or samphire, they were that good. Scallops’ best friend, bacon, appears here in the form of melted Iberico lardo.
Hubby and another friend chose the recommended Chargrilled Iberico Pork Belly ($26) and were happy with the dish. The mustard glazed pork was tender and not unbearably fatty with a sweet sherry sauce accompanying it.
And now, the reason why Botanico is only “almost perfect”. The Lamb Shoulder ($34). Most people might expect a rich, fork-tender, braised piece of meat when you talk about lamb shoulder. So alarm bells went off slightly when the waitress asked how I wanted my meat done.
When I asked if it was braised (and therefore the doneness should not matter), she confirmed that it was braised and so, yes, I can have it medium.
I still didn’t get the need to state the doneness but I let it be, thinking maybe there was some new special slow cooking method that required doneness to be stated.
A slab of lamb then appears, and once I cut through, I knew we were in for trouble. It was definitely not how shoulder is normally prepared – the meat should have been falling apart with just a pull of the fork.
Instead, I had to cut through a tough piece of meat and the taste itself wasn’t very good. Sure, the charred eggplant and yoghurt made each bite slightly more palatable but overall, this dish was a blip on an impressive meal thus far.
Luckily that was not the last memory of the meal for me. Desserts proved a fantastic and innovative affair with flavours you don’t usually expect jumping out at you.
I am not a fruit fan but the Tropical Fruits ($14) with laksa leaf ice cream, jackfruit, turmeric and sea coconut was a medley of local flavours. Jackfruit, which has a habit of dominating everything around it, was thinly sliced and well-balanced with the mild laksa leaf ice cream and earthy turmeric ganache.
I am a chocolate fan though and the Ceiba ($14) – dark chocolate, ginger ice cream, hibiscus and brownie croutons – was delicious. I really liked the spiciness of the ginger ice cream, it woke the chocolate up very well.
In short, Botanico is off to a flying start and to be honest, the prices are very reasonable, given the ambience and the quality of the food and chef’s creativity. Really, you won’t regret coming here for a night out. Just don’t order the lamb. And bring insect repellent!
Address: 50 Cluny Park Road, Cluny Park Gate
Contact: +65 9831 1106 or email@example.com
Wednesday to Sunday 6pm – 10pm
Monday & Tuesday – Closed