Traditional and avant-garde, Botanico at The Garage stands in between the past, present and future. This elegant 1920s Art Deco garage has been revived into a stunning F&B establishment, serving up western fusion with a touch of Chef Antonio Oviedo‘s Spanish roots. A café on the first floor, and a restaurant on the second in the midst of the sprawling nature of Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Look beyond the initial visage, and find a side door leading to an al fresco bar hidden within the seemingly endless rows of nutmeg and pandan. There, my friends is where we will be dining tonight.
The rainy season brings down a proverbial wet blanket to Singapore, but, at Botanico, the scent of nature basking in the sunset warmth invites an instant relief. The daily grind dissipates as I sipped on one of their signature cocktails to start the night; Garage Gin’Onic (S$16). A delightful, fresh tipple taking you deeper and deeper in the surroundings with every sip.
This may just be the words of an (unintentionally) aspiring alcoholic, but Mixologist Ruzaini Hashim‘s G&T does deserve the first spot on his menu. It is made with the commonly seen Bombay Sapphire Gin. He brings forth the spirit’s light, floral taste of juniper (of course), coriander, cubeb berries and lemon further with an elderflower-infused syrup, a twist of lemon peel and a grapefruit slice.
Ruzaini’s signatures carry a refreshing, floral tone. The Thyme Lemonade (S$16), Lavendar Martini (S$14) and Lady Rose (S$14) easily blends into the backdrop, taking away the bitterness of our daily grind. The latter, Lady Rose, is a darling drink for Valentine’s Day (too bad, it has passed) with its sweet red mix of rose, pomegranate, cranberry and strawberries. The edible rose petals are a nice touch. The only thing missing is my imaginary engagement ring at the bottom of the glass (do you hear me, Tom Hiddletson).
Over in the kitchen, Chef Antonio busies himself with both the restaurant and the bar. He is at the top of his game at Botanico, serving up humble dishes inspired by his Spanish heritage. Northern from his father, Southern from his mother and the farm to table spirit from his grandfather. Coupled with an unrivalled appreciation for seasonality and provenance, every bite was an adventure. I would very much love him to forage some galangal, pandan or torch ginger right outside his kitchen, if not for disturbing the beauty of our national park.
A favourite of mine is a simple one. The Padron Peppers (S$9). These bright green Galician peppers are usually fried and served as tapas. Here, they are of the milder variety (not spicy at all), and grilled with sea salt over an Inka charcoal grill. A fuss free accompaniment to my Garage Gin’Onic, especially when served blistering and charred on the outside.
Typical bar bites are on the heavier side, fried and all. I will not deny my love for a fine slice of Jamon Iberico, but that Chargrilled Green Asparagus (S$12) is a dream. Smoky, with a crunch, it is served with a lovely bernaise flavoured with thyme, tarragon and lemon. That is not to say I did not shamelessly polish off that plate of Jamon Iberico Rusk (S$18). The tomato puree is sweet with a slight tart, cutting through the rich, fatty slice of Iberico ham – perfect on their rye sourdough.
On the topic of their sourdough, do not miss out on their bread basket. It comes with their rye and white wheat sourdough (from a local boulangerie) and a glorious side of in-house smoked butter and Arbequina olive oil. Have them together, trust me. The light smoke on the butter melts into the fresh, fruity flavours of the olive oil. You’d be wishing this for breakfast every day.
Nights where you find yourself nursing a cold pint of beer will have you yearning for the Calamaritos (S$12). Using baby squid ubiquitous in Singapore tze char stores, they are lightly battered with tempura flour and fried. Each bite was reminiscent of the ocean, especially when dipped into the seaweed aioli.
The beautiful thing about bar bites is, like its name suggests, bites. That leaves room for another dish, and one you should not miss – the Idiazabal Croquettes (S$14). Hiding within the crisp fried shell of panko breading is a creamy emulsion of smoked Idiazabal cheese. This unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from Basque country, is buttery, sweet like caramel yet savoury like bacon. When smoked and served with slices of spicy chorizo, nothing else compares. There is no need for dessert.
A bonus for cheese aficionados is the Botanico Salad (S$18). A starter from their restaurant menu, it is a refreshing palate cleanser between the spirits and the decadent bar bites (the padron peppers works too). What stood out on this plate was not the inviting rainbow of seasonal produce, but that deceptively humble looking canarejal cheese*. What’s not to love? That luscious texture or the changing palate from sweet to an earthy, herby finish, everyone at the table just can’t seem to get enough.
* This canarejal cheese from Northern Spain is currently exclusive to Botanico.
There is nothing much left for me to say. The tropical tipples, the Spanish-influenced fare and the feeling of escape in a softly illuminated (hidden) corner of our concrete cityscape all make for a night to remember. I say this with confidence: a visit to Botanico at The Garage is a must.