A walk through the Ginger Garden section of Singapore’s idyllic Botanic Gardens is like stepping into a microcosm of natural beauty. The understated elegance of the flowers, some with firm, waxy blossoms, others with wispy, delicate petals, are perhaps what moves me most. Unlike the flamboyant orchids nearby, so stunningly vibrant and optic like glittering movie stars beneath the klieg lights, ginger plants are the quiet, intelligent girls in the classroom; like Gilligan’s Maryann in the shadow of Ginger, or the kind of girl a good son takes home to mother.
The Ginger Garden is like a jungle, dense with greenery and a sparkle of color every now and then. A walk-through waterfall covered with white ginger blossoms adds a symphony of natural sound to a stroll along the several small paths which fan off from both sides of the main walkway. Many of the ginger plants are recognized instantly: birds of paradise, heliconia. Others are large and unusual with intricate leaves and tiny floral blooms. Bananas and a surprising array of over 250 other familiar and unfamiliar plants also fall within the ginger family and grow amongst the greenery, making this a beautiful ethnobotanic experience. Who says school needs to be in a classroom…?
Halia – ginger in the garden
But the Ginger Garden is not just about flowers; it’s also about food. In the center of the garden lies An unsuspecting eatery that embraces its natural surroundings of the namesake plants. Halia (“ginger” in Malay), is a calm haven of food in a gorgeous setting, complete with and an attractive open kitchen inside its glass-walled bungalow dining room and an outdoor bar for al fresco cocktails in the middle of lush flora.
In keeping with its location, Halia incorporates ginger and other local ingredients into several of their dishes, drawing also upon other excellent foods sourced from around the world: Oysters from Australia, Jamon Iberico Bellota from Spain, lamb from New Zealand. And upon seeing its beautiful simplicity engulfed in a tropical paradise, I just had to pop in for a lite bite.
But feeling only slightly peckish, I started a light serving of Coffin Bay oysters, which delivered a clean, briny flavor. Best freshly shucked on the half shell, the sampler also included a demure tempura with ponzu drizzle, and an in-shell gratin with sautéed baby spinach dusted with nutmeg and parmesan.
Next came a tian of vine-ripened tomato which offered a delightful vegetal brightness. The super-ripe tomatoes, so bold and sweet, were layered simplistically with pine nuts, guacamole and mango salsa and were as delicious to the eye as to the palate.
I hadn't planned on a big meal, but who could resist an order of ginger-infused cubes of foie gras with green apple, fresh fig and piment flakes on top of micro greens kissed with a balsamic deglaze?
Or the light and crisp Tempura of white prawn with tender leaves and a tickling lemon vinaigrette?
I had to have that, too.
Then, like a haunting whisper, a black and white sesame crusted blue fin tataki main dish murmured my name. With sautéed baby spinach and saffron cream sauce, its contrasting textures and flavors were nicely balanced, though for me the more rare the better.
I could have stopped there, but I also coveted the sauteed risotto soja, blended with traces of mascarpone and parmesan and topped with oyster and a foam of truffle, seaweed and mushroom. I caved to the temptation, and its subtle umami essence amidst the creamy risotto persuaded me to keep to the sea just a little longer.
So I reeled in the Hiramasa kingfish with grapefruit foam resting on a thin potato galette. The bubbles of intense grapefruit made the powerful white fish flavors fly.
But it was rude for me to ignore Halia’s meat, right? So as a selfless act of contrition I crawled from the sea toward a drippingly juicy Blackmore Wagyu rump beside garlic saffron mashed potatos and a dollop of sautéed baby spinach. The perfectly-marbled meat nearly melted in my mouth.
Of course, I reasoned, the Pan-seared Challan’s duck breast – so perfectly rare, rendered and resting on lyonnaise potatoes – would be an excellent prelude to the earthy New Zealand rack of lamb marinated in Javanese spice and alongside purple potato puree. It would surely be a missed opportunity to pass up.
And I was right; it was impossible not to pick up the bones and clean them to nothing.
While I tend to opt for extra pork chops in lieu of dessert, I did admire the artistry (and then the taste) of the fig tart with bacon pear ice cream, creatively coupled with an almond date atop brie. But then to not frolic in the Strawberries & Cream’s “edible garden” of raspberry, blueberry, flowers, chocolate choux pebbles and almond cocoa soil would have been a crime; especially if it meant missing the tangy passion fruit lychee shooter to wash it all down.
In retrospect I never should have had it, but it’s the Chocolate Air & White Truffle Snow that has become the newest monkey on my back. So weightless but forward was the chocolate, electrified by the almost-inhalable white “snow,” yet barely discernable to the tongue. The only crunch on the plate was a savoury egg custard phyllo stack with strawberries. It was instantly addictive and thankfully legal.
Not wanting to upset my diet, I reluctantly decided that my light meal should probably come to an end. So I ordered Halia’s own sun-dried ginger & wild mountain honey infusion which, like an astringent on my freshly-scrubbed face, invigorated me enough to jog all the way home....
Or was it waddle?
Either way, I’ll be back again soon -- when I’m feeling really hungry….
1 Cluny Road, Ginger Garden
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Lunch: 12 noon to 4pm
Dinner: 6.30 pm to 10pm