Pollen, Singapore – revitalising tastebuds
UPDATE: Chef Jason Atherton has divested his interest in Pollen.
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband had long been fans of London chef Jason Atherton, having watched him conquer all on Great British Menu and, happily, stumbling over his very hip and delightful Table No. 1 on the south Bund in Shanghai.
Despite not yet paying a visit to Pollen Street Social in London, we were delighted to discover his new Singapore restaurant in the dramatic Gardens by the Bay development. Heading there is a bit of an adventure, especially at night, with the walking tracks from Marina Bay Sands lit by lanterns and, in the distance, the towering ‘Supertrees’ that dominate the skyline of this billion-dollar, 101-hectare extravaganza.
Singapore is a humid city; crossing the elevated footbridge from the Marina Bay Sands hotel across to the gardens takes the humidity up more than a few notches. Arriving at the Flower Dome and the restaurant’s understated entrance doesn’t come a moment too soon.
The feature of the restaurant (apart from the food) is its extraordinary interior garden and the very cool temperature. It’s so cold that Greedy Girl feels snap frozen and wishes she’d brought a jacket; it’s a huge contrast from the stifling heat outside. And, as you’d expect from an establishment called ‘Pollen’ there’s more than a hint of fragrance in the air from all the plant life and the schnoz is well and truly twitching.
But having said all that, it’s a pleasant-enough place to sit and have a nosh. Pollen is, apparently, Atherton’s second Singapore venture, having opened tapas bar Esquina in Chinatown in December 2011. Pollen opened in mid-2012 and takes its cue from the sister-restaurant in London in terms of the style of food (Mediterranean) and some of the actual dishes. In international-gastronomic-franchising-speak, Atherton is described as ‘chef director’ while Colin Clague is executive chef. The chef de cuisine is Colin Buchan who has worked under Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay.
However hands-on the senior team may be, the proof is in the eating, and the eating is very good here. The first dish to arrive was the amuse bouche, a lovely platter of small arancini balls served with two dipping sauces. The sauces are inventive, strong and delicious – an apple puree with mustard, and a salted cod. Both worked exceptionally well with the rice balls.
Then it was on to starters. Greedy Girl opted for the squid risotto with cauliflower and roasted squid consomme. The consomme was poured at the table and the aroma was utterly intoxicating. This was an enjoyable dish, made with carnaroli rice which was very puffy. The cauliflower florets were sliced wafer-thin and gave a lovely crunch. Greedy Girl paired this with a glass of Delamotte brut champagne.
Gluttonous husband opted for the scallop sashimi, served with daikon, and dotted with tiny pieces of sea urchin. A light wasabi was served on the side with ginger, while horseradish snow was grated over the top. Unusually for sashimi, the scallop was served whole rather than in slices. Gluttonous husband pronounced it excellent and was particularly pleased with the very unusual wine pairing suggested – a Moscato d’Asti la rosa selvatica Icardi from Piedmonte. He sipped it throughout this course and left the remainder to accompany sweet treats at the end. Double-duty!
On to mains. Greedy Girl chose line-caught John Dory served with ribbons of celeriac and an artichoke veloute (pictured at the top of this blog). It was a flavoursome dish made very rich by the addition of the veloute. Greedy Girl felt very satisfied in eating one fillet of the fish and handing the rest over to gluttonous husband. The very thin fish fillets and vegetables were resistant to the bite, while the veloute just slid down. Greedy Girl would have been happy to just have a bowl of it on its own. She was given a glass of Mariflor pinot noir from Argentina, which had a bit of oomph about it but delightfully light with the fish.
Gluttonous husband opted for the honey roasted-duck, served medium (a key consideration, as gluttonous husband considers rare duck to be too chewy), served with truffle paste, mini fondant potatoes, caramelised onion and some bitter greens. The truffle paste was truly to die for and gluttonous husband graciously left some on the plate for Greedy Girl to try. The duck was tender, sweet, salty with beautiful crispy skin. To pair with it, the sommelier suggested Anakena cabernet from Chile. It had a few edges, according to gluttonous husband, but did go well with the meat.
Heading towards the end of our Singapore stay, we couldn’t countenance a dessert. Generously, the wait staff brought a sensational platter of petits-fours and their homemade caramel magnum ice-creams.
The petits fours were wonderful. While gluttonous husband snaffled the lime and ginger cream drop, we shared the rest – a banana macaron and another made from yuzu (Japanese lime). There was an amazingly-light eclair with a sesame crust, moist carrot cake with traditional cream cheese frosting and a chocolate marshmallow. All delicious. The ice-creams were further devoured by gluttonous husband, Greedy Girl not being fond of either caramel or icecream. It was just as well we didn’t order dessert. This was more than enough to allow gluttonous husband to finish his Moscato. We settled the bill and rolled out the door to head back to the hotel. Less than five steps outside, any lingering coolness from the refrigerated dining area was well and truly forgotten.
Pollen is a very enjoyable experience but, looking online, many diners seem to struggle with the coldness of the room. The service is knowledgeable and it’s a pleasure to be served by people who enjoy the food as much as the diners do. When we first visited last year, the restaurant had not long been open and the wait staff were a little too attentive, ready to pounce on a plate and whisk it away the moment a fork was placed down. They’ve calmed down considerably since then.
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have relished the food at both visits so far. A third is very much on the cards, with the prospect of trying the tasting menu looming very favourably. Greedy Girl will have a wrap on hand to guard against the deep freeze – or possibly have a few more drinks to ward off the chill. It’s all good.
18 Marina Gardens Drive (Gardens by the Bay), Singapore