Restaurant: Singapore Garden
Location: Swiss Cottage
By Boeing: 5827 miles
By Boris Bike: 5 miles
I was nervous upon entering Singapore Garden, an unusual emotion at the start of evening’s dining. What if I spill my drink, or accidently drop some litter, I thought. Would they provide me with some marigolds, chain me to a sink full of dirty plates and throw away the key? Afterall, the former colonial exclave turned pristine police state is known for its lack of tolerance for breaches of behaviour. And that lack of lenience, in some people’s view, created a crime free paradise the envy of more troubled communities across the globe. For anyone who advocates a zero tolerance approach and the strictest upholding of law Singapore is a test case that proves that empathy with the errant opens the door to anarchy. But such fears evaporated when we entered the convivial atmosphere of the glitzy, softly lit lobby of this famous restaurant. The number of waiters, dressed up to the nines, and waitresses, in floor length, constricting dresses, was extraordinary. Several enquired about our booking before we were led to our table.
The front of the restaurant, most welcoming from the street, is very smart with starched tablecloths, leather padded walls and elegant latticed mirrors above. This contrasted with the rather more sparse rear of the restaurant, that had the corporate air of a chain hotel lobby. Pleasingly we were shown to a table at the front and looked back sympathetically at fellow diners less fortunate. The menu was vast and intriguing, combining Malaysian staples with specialities unique to the Singapore peninsula. Those fond of Chinese food would find stir fries aplenty to sate their appetite, but those more adventurous and with heavier wallets could find exotic crab or lobster dishes, much beloved by Singapore’s large and well paid ex pat community. We opted for pork dumplings to start, and delicious they were too. Meanwhile there was a flurry of activity on a neighbouring table as dish upon dish upon laden dish arrived. It was a seafood feast, with platters of crab in pepper and butter, Lobster in chilli and a traditional claypot of scallops. It would be quite a bill, but the settling of it appeared to be many hours away.
The number of options for main courses was dizzying. Chinese dishes vied with the more aromatic Malaysian, with pork, beef, duck, lamb and even Pig’s Trotters on offer. But my eye was drawn to the Singapore specialities. The most famous and popular of which is the coconut based noodle soup dish Laksa Others, such as Hokkien Mee, had an annoying commitment to the inclusion of egg. So instead I opted for what reviewers earmarked as the speciality of the house, Ho Fun, or rice sticks. Rather than a medley of ingredients I opted to rely solely on beef. To accompany this I ordered a needlessly expensive paratha style leavened bread, that came with a satay dipping source. To complement this we ordered a Rendang, that most luxuriant curry from neighbouring Malaysia.
The Ho Fun was enormous, enough to feed five at least. The rice sticks, glutinous strips of sticky rice, were doused in ginger and soy. It was nourishing enough without being particularly memorable. Perhaps we should have ordered the trotters afterall. We didn’t have room for dessert but, loyally, ordered one anyway. Most tables had fruit platters, but that felt more appropriate for a sweltering open terrace in an exotic clime rather than a distinctly nippy evening in north west London. So, oddly in retrospect, we ordered what amounted to a mango blancmange. It wasn’t advertised as such, clearly.
Singapore Garden is perhaps best suited to over-indulgent feasts, of the kind ex pats enjoy at the gluttonous variant of the brunch enjoyed at upmarket hotels. These long, extravagant afternoons, now adopted in other ex pat haunts in the region, are designed to chip away at the inflated wages earned in an exotic tax haven. This sense of abundance doesn’t quite translate to an inner London suburb, though the combination of flavours available from a range of more familiar cuisines certainly makes for a treat for the tastebuds.