The Summerhouse’s New Menu Defies Classification
It has been a while since my last visit to Summerhouse. I zoomed in to the edible garden to check on the cocoa pods’ progress and was delighted to observe that they were in good shape. Looking around, there is a discernible difference in the yard’s outlook—3 ominous domes are dispersed through the luscious foliage. It’s fairy-lit interior slowly coming to life with the dramatic setting of the sun that unleashes a whirlwind of peach-pop colours across the sky. And there you have it, as any great ‘special occasion’ type-esque restaurant experience begins, it pulls me in from more then one direction. The alluring settings of plush fur carpets draped over solid wood benches, champagne flutes that tilt to your lips to reveal fresh hits of thyme and cool drafts of air circulating the domes, all work to prime my appetite for the food, even before the rye bread hits the table. And when it did, I reached zealously for the house made butter; making sure to fill all nooks and crevices with it. No patch was spared. The scrumptious morsel, a prequel to the fortuitous meal to come.
Starting out as a pop-up, the garden dome dining concept enjoyed unexpected success during its term, so it was no surprise that the management then, had decided to retain the fixture as a permanent addition to the multitude of dining experiences already on offer at The Summerhouse. The three climate-controlled dome structures, each furbished differently to represent—Bohemian, Scandinavian and Lounge—are impressive, and we’re talking serious decorating here. The translucent sheathing allowing diners to feel as if they are dining in the open without actually having to weather the harsh elements. Each dome accommodates up to 8 diners, though I would suggest a maximum of 6 for optimal comfort levels. Guests can choose from a dinner menu from The Summerhouse Dining Room priced at $300++ per couple or pre-book from Wildseed Garden Bar with a minimum spend of $300++ per dome. It’s a dear price to pay, but given that there’s no dining room in the city that can hold a candle to the magical settings of your private air-conditioned dome under the stars, I say yay.
The garden’s influence is reflected on every dish. The kitchen, spearheaded by Tajima cattle owner, Christopher Millar, works well with meat, of course, but what really demonstrated talent was the treatment of vegetables. The Australian avocado paired with tediously crafted chia seed cracker was exceptional, but the Moroccan Eggplant hogged the highlights. First baked, then scraped out and marinated with parsley, coriander, smoked paprika, preserved lemon and chili padi for 2 days, the mix is then cooked with a roasted garlic and tomato. The mound comes seasoned with a gentle hum of chili padi. It’s a mess of a dish, built on Mediterranean flavours and dreams of wanderlust. I hunt for the occasional chunks of goats cheese for surprise hits of sharp pungency.
A sheath of lard wrapped around grilled prawns delivers a whack of smoky flavour. One of the signatures, the Smoked Butter Poached Red Snapper Fillet is given a magical touch with a nappage of seaweed beurre blanc. It derives its origins from brown sugar, light and dark soya sauce, mirin and bonito blended with butter and seaweed nori, and it finds a place in my diary of ‘crack’ substances.
The next dish of Green and Purple Sweet Potato Leaves is impressive. These greens, popular amongst the property stricken Chinese population in the past, have been shown new affection via oddball techniques. Handpicked from the edible garden, the raw vegetables straddles the tastes profiles of sweet and bitter all at once; it is paired with anchovy, creme fraiche and bacon bits. You can’t quite pinpoint it to any cuisine as inspiration, and you’re not going to want to define it. Whatever playful ideas have sparked off the ambitiousness in these dishes, you’ll want more where that came from. The Smoked Potato Puree is exactly that. The aerated starch comes an intense umami bomb. Potato smoked with apple wood chips is given an extra booster with beef stock and grilled abalone mushrooms. I fear for my waistline, as the butter invasion is so evident in each luscious spoonful that finds your way to your mouth.
Play it safe with the Wood fired free-range French Poulet, it comes with a patty of stuffing made from brioche, chicken stock, roasted pistachios, salt and pepper. The Kurobuta Sausage Ragout Tagliatelle is a true spectacle. The floodgates of yolk porn from Johor’s Freedom Eggs Slow cooked egg breathing new life into the tasty strands. House-made sausage offers familiar but unexpected flavours, the usage of minced pork belly transcending the usual pleasure centres.
Another selling point of The Summerhouse’s culinary direction would be its humble efforts towards sustainability. The new menu showcasing produce from several farms in and around Singapore.
While the menu at The Summerhouse looks to the garden for inspiration, it’s not your regular spa food. Food in all entirety, pieced together like it was envisioned by a worldly artist, each showing off the chef’s penchant for playfulness. Culinary borders are irrelevant here, and despite the hits and misses spanning the menu, you’re guaranteed a new appreciation for the indigenous ingredients growing in the gardens around you.