Pollen & Photobombing: An Afternoon at Gardens by the Bay

Even if you’re a lazy couch potato who hasn’t had any interest in going to Gardens By The Bay because it would probably involve being outdoors for a prolonged period during daylight, when your husband announces he’s booked lunch at Pollen just because he wants to spoil you a bit, you say “That sounds wonderful, dear, I’d LOVE to go to Gardens by the Bay!”

There are probably tons of spectacular photos of the Gardens out there by now – no doubt taken by the intrepid shutterbugs we saw toting their tripods all over the place – and mine won’t measure up at all. But here they are anyway.

This is the Rhug estate pork belly with broad beans, slow cooked squid and chorizo we had as part of the Pollen set lunch. As someone who isn’t actually that keen on pork or fatty meat, this was still quite tolerable for me because the fat was much less sickeningly rich than it might have appeared in the photo, and the beans, squid and chorizo complemented it perfectly. It wasn’t the best pork belly dish I’ve ever had (that honour belongs to the “slow cooked pork belly, potato puree, black pudding and sauce Robert” I had at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner), but it was among the best. And yes, that big keropok-resembling thing behind it is crackling. Omnomnom.

Pork belly (Pollen, Singapore)

This dessert of chocolate roast cocoa nib ice cream with jasmine parfait and cherry might seem like just another chocolate dessert, but the jasmine parfait gave it a dimension I hadn’t expected. It didn’t take long for my tongue to go from “wow, this tastes interesting and different” to “why doesn’t every chocolate dessert come with jasmine parfait”? I loved this, and I’m not even that keen on chocolate. And, it wasn’t even the best dessert of the meal! (It was just the dessert I didn’t completely suck at photographing.)

Dessert (Pollen, Singapore)

The other dishes we had were:

  • Duck consomme with slow cooked quail egg and lapsong souchong tea (starter; rich and satisfying)
  • Roasted baby beetroot salad with goats curd and pine nuts (starter; nice but not cataclysmically tastier than the beetroot salad we make at home, even though the ingredients they are using are obviously several million times better than ours)
  • Roasted cod, creamed olive oil potatoes, lemon conserve and sauce grenoblaise (really good even though neither of us is that keen on cod)
  • Crispy burnt lemon meringue with cucumber sorbet (best dessert of the meal and one of the best desserts we’ve ever had)

After the meal I was very pleased to find out that as patrons of the restaurant, we could get into the Flower Dome for free. I may not be very interested in flowers but I am absolutely riveted by the idea of getting something for nothing, so I was all like OH HELL YEAH LET’S EXPLORE US SOME FLOWERS!

For about an hour, anyway.

I’m more of a cactus person, really. When I saw these two, the little easy-listening radio station in my head started playing Sometimes When We Touch. And then, because little easy-listening radio stations never last very long in my head, the retro porn music channel started up instead.

Sometimes When We Touch...

I’m not sure why, but when I saw this, the retro porn music channel switched to a crackly sputtering one with an old British man reciting Jabberwocky. (No, I don’t know what Pollen put in those desserts.)

Twas brillig and the slithy toves...

I’d brought along the ultra-wide converter I don’t use enough, and had some fun playing with it.

Flower Dome (Gardens By The Bay, Singapore)

Outside, I strolled down something marked as a viewpoint for the Supertree grove and was quite amused at the particular view it gave, which is basically a real tree photobombing whatever photos you might want to take of the huge fake trees. Nature can be such a troll.

Real tree photobombs photo of fake trees

Evening came, and with it an intense need for teh ping and a return to my couch. So Alec brought the wife he occasionally refers to as “Mrs Boo Radley” home, but not before she thanked him for the lovely afternoon out and admitted the Gardens by the Bay weren’t so bad after all.

Supertree Silhouettes (Gardens by the Bay, Singapore)

Aiyoyo, Aoyama!

Am I just fussy, or did I get a disappointing bowl of ramen from Menya Aoyama, the newest stall at Ramen Champion? Compare the menu’s depiction of their Special Tonkotsu Ramen to the bowl I was actually served.

Menya Aoyama Ramen - Photo vs Reality

To me, the shredded leeks are important because their fresh, sharp taste cuts through the richness of the tonkotsu broth. As you can see, I got barely any in my bowl. I’m aware that this sort of discrepancy between photo and reality is par for the course in many other F&B contexts, but given the importance which is placed on presentation of the food in Japanese cuisine, I  have higher expectations of a Japanese eatery than I do for McDonalds.

If you’re wondering whether I just opened my mouth and asked for more leeks, no, I didn’t. I didn’t really scrutinize my bowl when I collected it at the counter and only realized how lacklustre it looked once I’d carried it to my table some distance away. And I was starving, so I just started eating hoping it would taste better than it looked.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. The chashu was really, really bland, more or less tasteless except for an odd chemical tang I can’t put my finger on. The soup was okay, but again, blander in taste than the soup from Bario, Iroha, Ikkousha or Gantetsu. (Obviously I can’t compare Taishoken because tsukumen-style “soup” is totally different.) The egg was also okay, but similarly unremarkable. The noodles were fine. Had I ordered this bowl of ramen in a food court for $6, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, you get what you pay for.”  The problem is that I paid $15.

Hong Kong Day 1: Lamb Bam, Thank You Ma’am

Hong Kong has always been near the bottom of our Asian to-go-list, because it seems more like Singapore than anywhere else within four hours’ flying distance. And if you can fly the same amount of time (or less) to see pygmy elephants in the wild or explore the 12th-century ruins of what was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, then why would you choose to go somewhere more or less like Singapore? But we felt like a short trip, most of Asia seemed swelteringly hot at this time of year, or prone to typhoons, or both, so we figured it might be a good time to visit the place most likely to have widespread air-conditioning and well-constructed buildings.

We landed on a Friday evening, so all this post will feature is photos of our rather decent-value hotel (because I’ve realized I sort of enjoy seeing those sorts of mundane snapshots in other people’s travel journals) and the first instalment of a magnificent 2-day roast meatfest.

Dorsett Regency Hotel (Corridor)

The Dorsett Regency Hotel is in the Western District of Hong Kong Island, which is not where you should stay if you are the type of Hong Kong visitor who’s just there to shop, shop, shop, unload your bags back at the hotel and then shop some more. But if, like us, you like the idea of staying somewhere with more of a neighbourhood feel and view taking public transport as a fun way of exploring a city (unless that city is LA, because I’ll need my own car to stalk Simon Cowell), this place is worth a look. It helps that the hotel’s rooms seem larger than the rabbit-hutch impressions I was getting on Tripadvisor of other hotels with similar prices but more touristy locations, and the hotel operates an hourly shuttle bus which will get you to the heart of Hong Kong island in about 10 minutes.

Dorsett Regency Hotel Room

Dorsett Regency Hotel Room

Once we’d checked in and established that the wi-fi worked – because that is obviously the correct way to order priorities: roof over head, check, ability to sit on ass under said roof squealing at cat videos, check – we headed out to Ba Yi restaurant for dinner. It specializes in Xinjiang cuisine, especially lamb dishes, although it also has camel!

Here is the filling of the lamb pancakes, which are served Peking duck style i.e. the filling, condiments and wrappers are served separately and you assemble your own. I realize it might have been better to show you a photo of a finished pancake, but that would have delayed me from cramming it into my mouth. These were as hearty and satisfying as you can imagine a pancake of mirepoix and meat to be.

Lamb Pancake Filling

One might not expect much from a vegetable dish in a meat-dominated restaurant, but each bite of these string beans with Szechuan pepper and minced meat was an umami-packed mouthsplosion.

Spicy String Beans

Although we had hoped to try the lamb skewers which Ba Yi is famous for, they’d run out, so we went with the roast lamb rack instead. Second choice never tasted so good. This was wonderfully tender, just fatty enough for me to revel in that juicy fat flavour without getting grossed out by too much of it (I have a fairly low threshhold for fatty meat) and Alec said it was some of the best lamb he’d ever had. A man from the West of Ireland has had a lot of lamb.

Roast Lamb Rack

Candlenut Kitchen

Since Candlenut Kitchen doesn’t seem to have garnered many reviews on the Internet so far, I guess it’s a tiny bit more worthwhile giving my two cents on it than, say, agreeing with the vast number of other people who rightly observe that Everything With Fries is deeply mediocre.

We ate there last week on a quiet Thursday night, the meal an unexpected but happy consequence of workday Facebook noodling where Chin Chai Chef mentioned in her status that she was drooling over pictures of the restaurant’s food, and I suggested the next logical step.

Kueh pie tee: Very appealingly presented with the four hot, crisp pie tees nestled in a bed of sesame seeds. I sprinkled a generous amount of the seeds over the top of my pie tee. There was a strong flavour of pork in the filling which I wasn’t used to, though – if you like pork this is fine, but it is a bit of a surprise if you’re just expecting juicy turnip tastiness.

Chap chye: This is where I admit I’m a bad Peranakan – I don’t like chap chye and never have. But since the only other vegetable option on the menu was sayur lodeh, it still made sense to pick such a quintessential Peranakan dish over something we could get at any nasi padang stall. So I can only say that this was fine, no better or worse than any other chap chye I’ve had. But given that vegetable dishes have formed some of the highlights of meals I’ve had at other Peranakan restaurants (bayam pais from True Blue back when it was on East Coast Road and affordable, also jantung pisang kerabu and sambal terung from Peramakan), it would be great if Candlenut Kitchen could add at least one or two more vegetable options to its menu.

Babi pongteh: This is where I admit I’m a bad Peranakan again. I’m not a big fan of pork, so my opinion of this dish would be lukewarm even if Emily of Emerald Hill herself cooked me this dish using pork from the laziest pig in the Straits Settlements and tau cheo fermented in the tears of the Little Nonya. So let me give you Alec’s view instead – despite the colour of his skin and his shocking inability to sew beaded slippers, he’s probably eaten more Peranakan food in the five years he’s been here than many Singaporeans have in their lives, so I think it’s a fair substitution. While he liked the tenderness of the meat, he found the gravy rather one-note, lacking the complexity he’s enjoyed in other versions he’s had of this dish. He would have been happy with the dish if he’d cooked it at home or had it in a food court, but for restaurant prices he was expecting something better.

Ayam buah keluak: Obviously, no review of a Peranakan restaurant is complete without such an appraisal. I liked this, the chicken was very tender and the gravy and the paste in the nuts robust yet not overpowering. The serving comes with three nuts but you can add extra nuts for $2 each. Go ahead, you’re worth it.

Chendol cream: A coconut milk panna cotta topped with the “green worms” and a generous drizzling of gula melaka syrup. I thought this was a creative twist on the traditional dessert, and a very pleasant closer to the meal.

Apparently, Candlenut Kitchen is the fledgling effort of a young, talented chef eager to use the skills he learned in culinary school to streamline the production of Peranakan food, which is traditionally labour-intensive. While I still favour Peramakan for its consistency, variety and value for money, I wish Candlenut Kitchen the best and hope that the restaurant will be successful enough to survive and grow into its strengths. With useless Peranakans like me around who can’t be bothered to learn how to cook these dishes at home, we need all the passionate restauranteurs we can get to keep this glorious cuisine alive.

Gettin’ Iggy’s Wid It

Cheapskate non-foodie restaurant review alert! I took the day off on my birthday so we took advantage of set lunch prices at Iggy’s since we could never dine there otherwise. The $55++ per person set gets you two hors d’ouevres, a main and a dessert each. We usually share everything even when we go to fancy places, which is nice in terms of tasting variety but a little embarrassing if the maitre d’ arrives just as you’re hefting your platter of half-eaten osso buco across the table. Here’s what we tried.

Hors d’ouevres:

  • Pan-fried foie gras with French toast, caramelized peach and mango mesclun salad. I seem to remember enjoying the foie gras at St Pierre’s a little more, perhaps, but this wasn’t far behind.
  • Home-made burrata. Very nice, but not the ascent to cheese heaven serenaded by tomato seraphim that it is at Valentino’s.
  • Home-made papardelle, mushroom and Kurobota pork cheek ragout. Delicious, but I’m glad they do this as an hors d’oeurvre rather than a main because it’s too rich for me to handle in large portions.
  • Spring salad of mushroom, tomato, mango, avocado, mesclun, red onion, fine herbs, lily flower, Hollandaise. A nice contrast to the above three hors d’oeurvres.


  • Sakura ebi cappellini. I wasn’t keen on this but I’m not a prawn person. To me, it tasted like fried bee hoon.
  • Sea bass with tomato confit and aubergine caviar. The fish was done perfectly with crispy crust and moist, flavourful flesh. I would have liked a little more tomato confit and aubergine caviar to eat it with, but perhaps they’re deliberately stingy with the condiments to force you to appreciate the tasty fish.


  • Campari jelly with blood orange sorbet and forest berries. Very refreshing blend of flavours and textures. I’m not a dessert person but this was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a while.
  • Caraibe chocolate bar with mascarpone ice cream and green lime zest. Marginally nicer than the usual moist chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream combo, but I was a bit underwhelmed. I’d been hoping for the lime zest taste to be more prominent.

I would recommend Iggy’s to anyone who wants to feel a little pampered but keep costs under control. The service is warm and professional, the atmosphere intimate but not hoity toity, and the number 36 takes you right to the doorstep. Just don’t think about the number of McSpicy meals you could have consumed for the price. (If you don’t like the McSpicy, ignore that last sentence. If you do like the McSpicy, meet me for one now. It’s 2.18 a.m. and I’m huuuungry.)