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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Rating: 2.815/5 stars (pulled down by service)
For other eateries, please visit (Food) Guide to Gardens by the Bay.