Greedy Girl is a huge fan of Family Guy and that’s where she first heard the term ‘compliment sandwich’, where delivering a criticism is sandwiched between two positives to soften the blow. She’s decided to try this technique to apply to a recent dinner at Halia in the Singapore Botanic Gardens but suspects she’ll ‘run out of bread’ fairly quickly.

The first issue is finding the place. One needs to be very specific to a taxi driver to avoid being dropped off kilometres away. Having said that, it’s a pleasant, if slightly eerie walk in the dark. Halia is the Malay word for ginger so, unsurprisingly, the restaurant is in the Ginger Garden. Smoking is not allowed inside the Botanic Garden confines so alfresco tables at Halia have a very pleasant outlook. On a very mild evening, we’re shown to a table for two, next to towering palms and fronds.

Halia has two outlets in Singapore, the other at the famed Raffles Hotel. Quickly deciding against any of the tasting options, we ordered starters and mains, a glass of pinot noir from Burgundy for Greedy Girl and a riesling from the Alsace for gluttonous husband. An amuse bouche of smoked trout and apple was offered. The flavours didn’t meld all that well but it was far from unpleasant. There was also some reasonable sun-dried tomato and olive focaccia.

So, compliment #1 – the aspect. Very nice. Downside #1 – a very strange odour in the main dining room abutting the open kitchen. Having to pass through this room to get to the toilets, Greedy Girl thought she was imagining a vaguely cheesy/wet dog odour. Gluttonous husband followed her to the conveniences and concurred.

Compliment #2 – the service. All the wait staff were very attentive and very pleasant, if a little economical with the descriptions of the food. So let’s go there.

Gluttonous husband started with Hokkaido scallops, pan-seared with textures of corn – a puree, some powder and kernels. It was presented with a sous vide ‘chicken wing’. The scallops were delightful but none of the other elements worked to enhance their flavour. The chicken wing was dry and didn’t have much in the way of flavour. It was a schizophrenic dish – perhaps the corn would have worked better with something less delicate than a scallop.

Greedy Girl had Wagyu beef carpaccio. The fragrance of truffle oil sprinkled on top was very appetising. The menu described the dish as having ‘many toppings’ and, among those Greedy Girl could discern were: a large cherry tomato, a giant caper berry, frisee, a quail egg, a dot of creamy chevre, some crispy mushrooms and some olives. When the plate was placed, our friendly waiter just said ‘lots of toppings’. Some worked – the quail egg, the dot of cheese, the leaves. Others did not. The tomato was just wrong. Having said that, the beef itself was delightful – it didn’t need the ‘hundreds and thousands’.

On to main courses. Gluttonous husband had hiramasa kingfish with an almond and parmesan crust, served with potato leaf, some curried cauliflower and a smoked potato puree. Hiramasa kingfish is much prized, but previously we’d only tasted it as sashimi or in a ceviche. Greedy Girl eats a wider variety of fish in its sashimi state than cooked, particularly salmon and tuna which she just doesn’t enjoy when they’ve been shown to a heat source. Gluttonous husband took a bite of his kingfish and commented he finally understood where she was coming from. The flavour of the fish was totally different having been cooked, mainly all the way through. The crust was very heavy and the dish was crying out for more moisture.

Greedy Girl had a pearl barley mushroom risotto with a slow-cooked egg. Bizarrely, this dish also had some of the almond and parmesan crust on top. It did not taste of a risotto that had been cooked slowly to allow the flavours to meld. The texture was gritty (from the crust), the slow-cooked egg was about as far away as the one presented at Jaan as humanly possible. It was just sloppy and again, no flavours really worked together. Half of this dish went back to the kitchen. We immediately drained the rest of our wine, asked for the bill and a taxi to be called and headed out. Some desserts were described well on the menu but we’d had more than enough.

Halia’s chef de cuisine has an impressive pedigree, having trained at Cordeillan Bages in Pauillac under Thierry Marx. He would not personally cook at the outpost in the Botanic Gardens, but the dishes just didn’t seem to be very well conceived, let alone executed.

This is not an inexpensive place to dine and Greedy Girl had read numerous reviews attesting to its quality but she just couldn’t agree, based on this experience.


1 Cluny Road, Singapore Botanic Garden, Singapore

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