FOOD REVIEW: Hortus — Down to earth, mellow, easy

·Lifestyle Contributor
·5-min read
Grilled Broccolini (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Grilled Broccolini (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

SINGAPORE — If you’re the kind of person who loves to eat surrounded by silence and quietude, then Hortus at the dome of Gardens By The Bay would be right up your alley. And here, I’m not talking about the kind of quiet enforced through rules of social distancing where music, if played, must be at a volume soft enough for people to hold a decent conversation without raised voices—no. The quiet at Hortus comes from being seated in an environment that hermetically seals the dome from Singapore’s unpredictable humidity, creating the type of environment ripe for flowers to bloom on command. Inside, the temperature is kept at a cool 20 degrees celsius, so now’s the best time to bust out that autumn wear and bundle up because it can get a little chilly.

The mise en scene also, in no small part, encourages guests to converse in a low whisper, so it sounds like everyone is perpetually whispering sweet nothings to each other, which, as you might have guessed, gives the whole place a kind of lovey-covey vibe. Yes, it’s a place with more vibes than people give it credit for, and for once, I didn’t mind it all, though my inner jaded single self screams at all this love fluttering about in the air.

Thankfully for the food that can be summed out in one word: easy. And that’s not a label I bestow willy-hilly. Easy is good—easy is effortless, non-intimidating, inviting, encouraging, and never takes itself too seriously. Paired with a backdrop of a subtle flowery scent that lingers ever so slightly (we are in a garden, after all), it makes Hortus the ideal spot for a customer who loves themselves a moment of solitude and can appreciate good Mediterranean cuisine that is approachable, fun, and fabulously flavourful.

Muhammara (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Muhammara (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Of course, there’s going to be dips, here manifesting as Muhammara (S$10++) made with roasted red bell peppers, pomegranate molasses, al nuts and breadcrumbs. There’s also the Baba Ghanoush (S$10++) of charred eggplants mixed with tahini and yoghurt garnished with smoked paprika. Both are great versions of the classic, though I’m more partial towards the Muhammara—there’s nothing better to dip your Pita bread (S$5++) with.

For starters, reach for the Fritto Misto (S$22++), a comforting presentation of fried school prawns, calamari, and whitebait, served with a side of bright lemon aioli. You know what they say—when in doubt, fry. I kid, of course. I choose to believe that all this comfort is intentional.

Coal Roasted Sweet Potato (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Coal Roasted Sweet Potato (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Still, if I were to choose, my favourite would be the Coal Roasted Sweet Potato (S$15++), a salad-esque dish that works so easily, I made a mental note to recreate it at home. Here, the magic, I reckon, comes from the pickled banana chillies and a sour cream dressing that lends poetic balance to this sweet-spicy-sour presentation. Flavour balance in a salad is something I didn’t know was possible—at least not to this extent.

Elsewhere, the Grilled Broccolini (S$12++) takes worthy second place as a great vegetable to ensure daily green limits are met. It’s impressively and intensely smoky with a beautiful charred finish that made me blush. Oh, and it’s bravely seasoned, too, with the addition of savoury capers and anchovies that goes quite a long way in lifting the flavours further. Capers in a broccoli dish? Honey, surely we’re living in the future.

Lamb Tagine (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Lamb Tagine (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Mains come by way of a Fremantle Octopus (S$32++) that’s tender but needs a bit more salt on the grill. It could be that my expectations for this were too high, but I was expecting more finesse from my favourite seafood of all time. The green harissa sauce does little to change my opinion on this matter.

Thankfully though, the Lamb Tagine (S$25++) cooked expertly and thoroughly in sweet spices, prunes, and apricots over steam and heat, rendering the lamb within so soft and nuanced in flavour. There’s a touch of sweetness that mingles comfortably with the grassy overtones so naturally expected of lamb. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.

Salted Caramel Tart (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Salted Caramel Tart (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Desserts come by way of a Lemon Meringue Tart (S$12++) and a Salted Caramel Tart (S$12++), both respectable and worth every bit of calories you’ve burned during Spin class, although I do prefer the latter better. The lemon tart is easy to eat with a subtle tartness that makes it somewhat palatable, but the salted caramel has this gritty earthiness to it that is so addictive before I know it, it’s all gone.

Hortus makes a case for being the type of establishment you can visit without worrying if you can pronounce things on the menu. It’s down to earth, mellow, and in so many more ways than I can count—easy. Would it win a Michelin award? I don’t think so, and I don’t think that’s its objective. But if its goal is to win over hearts, you can consider my confidence signed, sealed, and confidently delivered.

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Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-09, Flower Dome, Singapore 018953
Wed to Sun: 11.30am – 9pm

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