Restoring and remaking heritage buildings seems to be a burgeoning trend this year. First, there was Seletar Aerospace Park, a cluster of colonial bungalows that have been turned into hip dining joints. Then came The Warehouse Hotel, a 37-room boutique hotel housed in a godown along the Singapore river.
Now, there’s a new addition to the list: A 1920s Art Deco garage set amidst the sprawling UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Reportedly built between 1927 to 1928, the building was formerly used as a garage, a school and an office space. Its latest incarnation, by lifestyle F&B company 1-Group (the folks behind 1-Altitude and Una at Rochester Park), sees the introduction of two F&B establishments: A cafe on the first floor and a restaurant on the second.
The 60-seater cafe-bistro, named Bee’s Knees (above), pitches itself as a family- and pet-friendly destination, and occupies the garage bays where cars were once parked in. The garage entrances have now been converted into full-glass windows, while the cafe uses green accents and graphic patterns for a cheery, lively atmosphere. Food here is standard cafe fare: There are eggs, waffles, house-made cereals and cakes on the breakfast menu alongside a variety of salads, pizzas, pastas and sandwiches.
Upstairs lies Botanico, a casually elegant dining space that comes with a high ceiling (fun fact: the dark wood rafters here are from the original building) and windows on both walls that open out to views of lush greenery. There’s also an outdoor terrace which can accommodate up to 50 people for pre- or post-dinner drinks. And if you think it’s too humid out here, think again – there are vents along the wall that will emit cool gusts of air (when we were there, it was surprisingly cooler outside than indoors).
As the restaurant name suggests, the drinks served at the garden bar in the terrace come infused with fresh herbs. Signatures include refreshing tipples such as Garage Gin’Onic ($16), Thyme Lemonade ($16) and Blackberry Lychee Mojito ($14), which are easy on the eyes too.
The menu, likewise, focuses on offering seasonal fare with a focus on fresh, natural ingredients. Its Spanish-born chef Antonio Oviedo has previously worked in the kitchens of the late three-Michelin-starred Chef Santi Santamaria, and was formerly at Spanish restaurant Binomio and Michelin-starred Iggy’s in Singapore.
On a recent visit there, our meal kicked off with a range of flavourful starters. The Botanico salad (above, $18) features a healthy helping of burrata cheese alongside Heirloom tomatoes, pickled beetroot and edible flowers, while the Calamaritos ($12), a bowl of deep-fried baby squid served with seaweed aioli, had a crunchy, salty texture. Folks who love cheese will be partial to the Idiazabal croquettes ($14), which features raw unpasteurised sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque country in northern Spain coated in bread crumbs.
A prettily plated lamb tartare (above, $20), which comes dressed with black olives, pickled onions and nasturtium, also put a fresh spin on the dish. While we were initially hesitant to try this, we were assured that it would not be gamey, which (thankfully) proved true. Mix in the dollop of mustard “ice cream” to get a more well-rounded flavour.
For mains, seafood features heavily on the menu – the Japanese scallops ($27) come with a tasty artichoke puree, while chargrilled carabinero ($28) comprises charcoal-grilled Scarlet prawns and rice cooked in a rich prawn bisque served with pork crackling. The roasted pigeon (above, $27), meanwhile, consisted of a medium rare pan-seared chicken breast and a sous vide pigeon leg – top marks for being tender and juicy – with a parsnip puree and butterfly sorrel.
To finish, we were served two desserts which were just as impeccably presented as everything that preceded them. Botanist (above, $12) is chef Oviedo’s deconstructed interpretation of a gin and tonic, and comes with granny apple smith cubes infused with gin, lime gel, cucumber sorbet, coconut foam and a kefir lime zest. The tartness of the lime is a little overpowering, but gets balanced out when taken with the other ingredients. Tropical fruits ($14) takes your tastebuds on a bigger leap – it features laksa leaf ice cream, white chocolate turmeric ganache, sea coconut, jackfruit and longan. The competing flavours here might take a little getting used to, but that’s what we appreciate about Botanico: That it dares to take risks and challenge conventionality.
Visit The Garage at 50 Cluny Park Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Bee’s Knees opens Tues-Sun (10am-6pm), and Botanico opens Wed-Sun (6pm-10pm).
This story was first published on www.femalemag.com.sg on January 18, 2017.