>$60

Pollen, Gardens by the Bay Singapore

After Esquina, our favorite eatery for 2012 thus far, one-Michelin-starred chef, Jason Atherton, opens Pollen! Pollen is not only a wonderful name for a restaurant in a garden, it also takes after Pollen Street Social (PSS), the one-Michelin star restaurant in London which Chiobu visited and reported that it has amazing food and the best service ever. (See Chiobu’s  London-Paris travel post for review of PSS.) So can you blame Wise Guy who was so excited about Pollen that he woke up three hours before his usual wake-up time, and got ready three hours before the lunch appointment? He was so excited that he got cold feet and had a vomiting feeling. In other words, we went with great expectations.

Directions to Pollen, Gardens by the Bay

Extremely difficult to find and rather far from the carpark. Once you’re at the Flower Dome ticketing area, walk towards the iconic building Marina Bay Sands, then turn right. The entrance, as pictured above, is obscure. There is also a buggy ride from the drop-off point. Call the restaurant and make use of it if you don’t want to a good work out.

Although Pollen is a fine dining restaurant, the decor is really casual and simple: accented by woody colors, the restaurant has parquet flooring and rattan chairs, furnishing you’d find in many casual restaurants. My dining partner, Shenn from Carpenter and Cook, who lived in London for some years, said that the decor is very English. She is kinder than me. I, however, thought the decor was ordinary and undistinguished–quite similar to a hotel lobby–and the rattan kept hooking onto clothes. But I did like how far apart the tables are, giving privacy to diners.

Food

The menu is not extensive and the most interesting dishes are already on the set menu so we ordered the set lunch menu ($55+) with an additional of lamb cutlet ($52) to share.

Starters

Asparagus, mud crab, pomelo, coriander.

Slow-cooked egg, chorizo (or Spanish lap-cheong), patatas bravas

From the starters, you can already tell the food is internationally fusion, using ingredients such as pomelo (Asian) and Spanish-inspired food. Of the two, slow-cooked egg and asparagus salad, it is difficult to say which the better one is because they are both orgasmic. Both are complex (not complicated) and the tastes are elusive, which means that you will not get sick of the dish. Very amazing. If I were to choose, the asparagus wins merely because it uses such simple ingredients but could achieve as good a taste as the slow-cooked egg.

Mains

For the mains, both Shenn and I opted for roasted pork belly with broad beans, slow-cooked squid, chorizo. (The other option is a boring monkfish.) Nobody does siew yok (roasted pork belly) better than the Cantonese – except Pollen. Another out-of-the-world dish. It is so kick-ass salty but still manages to give an oral-explosion, mind-blowing experience.

Every table was ordering the marinated lamb cutlets, artichokes, asparagus, prickly ash ($52) so we had to order it in additional to our set lunch. It is well-executed and there is nothing bad you can say about it but it lacks the orgasmic touch the other dishes give. Don’t know if it’s worth the price tag. Moral of the story: don’t be a sheep (or in this case, lamb).

Desserts

Crispy burnt lemon meringue and cucumber sorbet.

“PB&J” Peanut butter and cherry yuzu sorbet.

The dishes so far are pretty standard fare and the desserts are the innovative ones. The desserts are again spectacular. If you like sweet, the lemon meringue is the way to go. But PB&J is the one that shines. To present peanut butter, an everyday food item, as fine-dining dessert isn’t a simple thing. The intensely sour sorbet and fruits mash well with the crunchy peanut butter. First class.

But our wonderful food is marred by the bad service. Tan Hsueh Yun, editor of food for Sunday Times, once said at Social Media Week, “This is the Internet age. If you’re not ready, don’t open.” Or should we take Shenn’s point of view: they just opened, they need time to run in. Which one is your stance?

Here are some examples of bad service: We sat and waited for some time and no menu came. We asked for the menu twice before it finally arrived. No one took our order. We asked to order, waiter told us to wait, we waited. No one came. The pate, which was supposed to come with the complimentary bread, came AFTER we almost finished our bread. The petit fours, which was supposed to come with our beverage, came AFTER we almost finished our beverage. We ordered red wine and had to remind them about our wine order. The usual practice of pouring wine is to pour a bit for the customer to taste first before pouring a full glass but the sommelier went ahead to give us a full glass without tasting. (I also should have called him out on this on the spot. My bad.) A server was clearing our plates: he took up our plates, another server called him, he put our plates down on the table, talked to the other server before returning to clear our plates. Why couldn’t he just take the plates with him and chat with the server? The restaurant wasn’t even packed and there were more than enough staff but the (Singaporean) servers were walking like zombies. They were 2 metres away from me, looking straight at me, I waved and said “excuse me” and they didn’t even notice me. This happened at least 5 times. It is easier to strike lottery than to get their attention. Infuriating lunch. We overlooked the first few slippages but as the venialities accumulated, even Buddha has a temper (Get the pun? Temper/temple?).

That being said, there were some quality service from the UK-imported servers who were the ones to notice and serve us. They are very professional, especially the African-French manager (compliments to him). We feedback-ed to him about the service and he immediately apologized and agreed with us about the poor service. He just came to Singapore and he said to give him a few months to train the staff. We believed him. (Isn’t this the best argument to have expats? So that they can train SIngaporeans?)

So this is our question to readers: Will you forgive bad service for a fine-dining restaurant that has been opened for only 4 days, knowing that the restaurant will fare much better in a few months? As a paying customer and a food reviewer, such service is unacceptable, ruining our dining experience. But as a decent human being, one can overlook the peccancy. To be impartial or to be understanding?

Despite the service, we went with great expectations and the food met our standards; that’s a worthy achievement since usually one is disappointed by expectations. We spent $220 for two for lunch. Our verdict? Wait a few months before visiting. The food is good, service can be fixed, the decor is aiyah, like that lor. In the meantime, go to Esquina.

Pollen Singapore

18 Marina Gardens Drive, Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay #01-09, Singapore 018953
t: 6604 9988 ( Reservations encouraged.)
chope-reservations

12pm-2.30pm
6-10pm

Rating: 2.815/5 stars (pulled down by service)

For other eateries, please visit (Food) Guide to Gardens by the Bay.

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Categories: >$60, Fusion, Marina Bay, Western

42 replies »

  1. Went on Monday and experienced similar lapses in service. We ate monkfish and pork belly, both were extremely delish. I am usually extremely tolerant of blur service staff so I guess I will just go back for the good food.

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  2. I agree with you – if you’re not ready, don’t open. If you are opening a restaurant with staff that have no experience (a bad move in itself) then train, train, train in the weeks building up to opening. It’s not like the whole world didn’t know GBB wasn’t opening on 29th June, and would need at least one top-notch restaurant. Come on! I wonder if this was an example of government interference ? No! It would be fascinating to know the details behind the opening of Pollen.

    BTW – if the restaurant wan’t even full when you went, why do they say reservations are required? Looks to me like there’s lots of seating available.

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    • I heard they were full house on their opening weekend so it’s best to make reservation.

      The UK manager told us he was here only on the day on opening (which is Friday 29 Jun). So he didn’t have time to train the staff. But go back in a few months. The food is really fantastic.

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  3. Perhaps the forgiving bit for me is that they have just opened. Otherwise, when it’s a high end establishment, bad service is just UNFORGIVABLE and I’d never return. Come to think of it. bad service anyway I won’t return. I used to rank Jaan as one of my top 3 fave restaurants in Singapore, even celebrated Valentine’s this year there. However, the HORRIBLE SERVICE experienced last month had all of us unanimously swear we wouldn’t go back again, even though the food by Julien Royer as most would agree is pretty superb. There is just no excuse – established restaurant charging an arm and leg for a meal (with the highest wine corkage on the Island at $100 per bottle). The service is very much part of the entire dining experience. Not only were the staff unattentive or tardy with requests, they were also unfriendly, cold and downright arrogant – from the junior staff right up to the British manager (So there are exceptions I guess: Not all foreigners are capable of training our staff and, and in this case, I think he probably “contaminated” them all with his utterly shocking stern, nose-in-air arrogance. Utterly shocking but he succeeded in making us all feel so insulted and disgusted, that dispute the great food, we won’t be going back ever again. There are too many great restaurants these days in Singapore, so whether 1st day or well established, I’d agree with “If you’re not ready, don’t open.”

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      • Thought about it but was not sure who to feedback/complain to as it was the Restaurant Manager himself who was the most arrogant, condescending and offensive. Agree it was never bad before, but this most recent experience was so extraordinarily bad, afraid it overwhelmed all former pluses. I may consider returning one day when they have had a complete overhaul of manager and wait staff.

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  4. Unfortunately, bad service almost happens all the time at all these new restaurants in SG. Sometimes, its just not ‘bad’ – they dont have ‘common sense’ or enough knowledge of the product. I would agree – better to wait than to open too quickly.

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      • I think it’s amazing people go into the restaurant business without knowing the first thing about it, without even watching Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares (just one episode should do it) or Opening Soon (a Canadian / American show about the trials of opening a new eatery). It’s simple but so few people get it right.

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  5. Just had dinner at Pollen. Service is truly not up to scratch and needs lots of improvement. Food is alright but experience was not pleasant cos of the service.

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  6. I bet to differ on the service standards. I had mind on the 3rd and everything was top notch. The wait staff, from locals to Christophe(manager) have been very attentive to us throughout the night. Nothing was needed to be prompted or did we ever wave for anything. Even if we had, they were quick in their response. I guess it had been a lousy day on the 5th. Perhaps I would give it a second try in the coming month to check if the service standards stand. But the food has been tasteful and Lara has done a splendid job, try sitting at the dessert counter to chat with him, I know that he likes to get busy and talk to his diners there. I did.

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  7. Reservation encouraged. If they answer the phone. I’ve been trying since last night till today and it will always ring, get diverted to mobile and voice mailbox.

    Sent an email this morning but obviously no reply.

    I used to be a wait staff when I was young, then a cook. I can understand when it’s busy and they’re untrained etc and I do have quite a bit of patience. Maybe we have to ballot to eat here, I won’t know.

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  8. I am here now at Pollen 28 Jul 3.05 pm as I type. The service is abysmal. They couldn’t be bothered to tell us if they had decaf coffee and each staff went about their own business without getting back to us. So what if they have a one-Michelin star restaurant elsewhere? Dining is an all-round experience. We should boycott this place for bad service. It’s not worth it.

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  9. Worst experience in a long time. Hot scalding water poured unto my lady friend with horrible management of the situation. Condescending attitude, defensive behaviour and utterly appalling. It aint the cost dinner of dinner we cared abt. It was a sincere apology. If you get that as a person, you’ll never get what service means. Yes that you Christophe and that mixologist who cant handle hot tea. jason are you reading this?

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    • Friend of mine recently had a table of 4 tasting menu waived. Not sure what they paid in the end, maybe the wines.
      Overcooked John Dory, plates of tenderloin left on counter and turned cold, 1 dessert dish was replaced without informing the diners.
      That said, not the kind of experience you’d want.

      Oddly, they still haven’t picked up my call!

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  10. Just went to pollen for dinner. Looks like the teething issues mentioned by many, had been ironed out. I find the service quite attentive, especially when the place is not crowded. They even helped me to pick up the stuff I dropped without me asking, but that was during the time when there were few customers. When it got crowded, I needed to gesture to them for anything though.

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