Revamps and upgrades are common happenings in Singapore’s highly competitive restaurant scene – though we approach these with caution when an establishment does a complete 360 in terms of concept and approach. Located at City Hall, The Botanic was previously known as the Salt & Tapas Bar and a venture by Australian celebrity chef Luke Mangan, with comforting red-brick decor and a menu of meaty Spanish fusion dishes.
After Chef Luke exited the restaurant (as well as his other Asian ventures), the newly-christened restaurant has gone big on sustainability and health-conscious eating with a focus on locally-sourced, organic and free-range ingredients.
At first glance, The Botanic is reminiscent of an elegant French garden bistro with alfresco seating and little potted plants hanging from the ceiling. A look at the menu reveals a promising range of vegan and vegetarian options while the wine list now hosts a selection of biodynamic and organic wines.
The first vegan dish played safe with Kale Salad ($16). The capers and pomegranate seeds delivered sharp acidic flavours that whet our appetite whereas the mix of raisins and nuts left us with a sweet, nutty note.
The vegetarian Free Range Scotch Egg ($15) comes with an Eastern flair. Wrapped in a crusty layer of falafel, it reveals a gooey centre when cut on the bed of tangy yoghurt and herbaceous tabouli, a traditional Arabic-style salad made of finely-chopped parsley, tomatoes and zesty lemon juice.
We noticed a certain flirtation with texture, made obvious when the Gnocchi ($25), originally a comforting Italian classic of soft potato dumplings, is served pan-seared and fried. Each bite is bouncy, chewy and with a nice char that lends an extra dimension to the dish.
Instead of the usual tomato-based sauce, the dish highlights crunchier and lighter textures from juicy greens like asparagus and peas against a subtle richness of ricotta cheese.
A great follow up to the Gnocchi is the bright and bold Grilled Squid ($22) on inked rice, the restaurant’s version of the iconic Black Risotto (crni rižot) dish from Croatia. The squid is grilled till tender with a nice smoky char, while the rice is cooked in a rich combination of squid’s ink, butter and cheese to satisfyingly savoury and creamy results.
For desserts, the featured Chendol Pavlova ($12) delivers on the earthy sweetness of gula melaka, though the fresh mango slices sitting on top of the salted palm sugar and meringue based could be better incorporated into the dessert to balance out the sweetness below.
The strawberry Baklava ($14) is unlike the traditional Central Asian version made of heavy sweet dough. Served with a dense block of organic leatherwood honey that melts into an aromatic, light creaminess in the mouth, the two layers of delicate filo pastry adds a delightful crisp. The tangy yogurt brings out both the tartness of fresh strawberries and the sweetness of honey – be sure to dig in from top to bottom to get all the flavours on your spoon.
The Botanic is located at 252 North Bridge Road, #01-22A, Raffles City Shopping Centre, Singapore 179103, p. +65 6837 0995. Opens daily 12pm – 11pm.