FOOD REVIEW: POLLEN — “Seductive, vibrant, and inviting when it needs to be”

Nurzatiman
·Lifestyle Contributor
·5-min read
Interior (PHOTO: Pollen)
Interior (PHOTO: Pollen)

SINGAPORE — I am not impervious to what Pollen is trying to achieve with new chef-in-chief, Michael Wilson. Set within the lush foliage of Gardens by the Bay, the vast expanse of water just beyond my line of sight, Pollen’s Chef Tasting Menu (S$168++ for 7-course) was designed to impress every which way you look. It’s complex, nuanced, and at some parts, quite the adventure for the discerning few.

Inside, the restaurant is filled with tables in dark wood and slim chairs in deliberate variance. Servers dressed in grey and white fleet about, busying themselves this way and that to cater to the whims and fancies of diners. If you can’t already tell, this is by no means a place for casual dining. Here, food is an exercise in intentionality, and by extension, a praiseworthy paean to fine dining. Also, it smells like an Eden of fresh-cut flowers and exotic plants whose names I probably can't pronounce, further reinforcing the fact that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Chef Michael Wilson (PHOTO: Pollen)
Chef Michael Wilson (PHOTO: Pollen)

What Pollen wants is a Michelin star—that much is clear. Where mise-en-scene is concerned, there’s little to worry. What this means, though, is a sharper focus on the menu of modern interpretive cuisine primarily inspired by nature—fitting given its surrounding. It’s food that very much reflects Chef Wilson’s ethos of freedom, experimentation, and imagination. It’s a ride for which I’m entirely on board and ready to embark.

It starts with a quartet of snacks—a fitting preamble of sorts that intrigues the palate with an academic approach to texture, flavour, and a running concept of secret packages. The Amur Caviar hides a bright oyster filling below a blanket of cheese shavings while the Watermelon ravioli is like eating a sweet candy with cheese on the inside.

Ebro delta smoked eel (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Ebro delta smoked eel (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Mains are where I start to understand the eccentricities of Chef Wilson. Every plate looks so vastly different from the next. As if it wasn’t enough that he gives us variance in what goes into the mouth, he’s also a tease when it comes to all things visual. There’s a fishnet of squid ink that rests casually across pink Ebro delta smoked eel, casting some dramatic shadows on the white bowl. On this canvas, sea succulents and seaweed vinegar lend a brightness to the pleasantly turgid eel, which I thought could do with more prolonged smoking to really elevate and bring that sexy, smoke flavour back.

Lettuce gazpacho (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Lettuce gazpacho (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

From complete and utter structural rigidity, we are thrown a curveball in the form of a chilled Lettuce gazpacho with hardly a leaf of lettuce in sight. What you get, though, is a trio of cucumber-lettuce soup, whey granita, and crab. On paper, this is a strange combination. Throw in Espelette pepper, and perhaps, it becomes an oddity. But what ties it all together and made this work is temperature—each element a minute variation of coldness. I only wish for less soup poured tableside to give the Australian spanner crab the spotlight it truly deserves. It’s exceptionally briny to a fault, and even if it enveloped the whole dish, I honestly wouldn’t mind it one bit.

Elsewhere, the Beef heart tomato is a small concert of tomatoes of varying sweetness punctuated by a herbaceous smattering of microgreens and marigold. There’s black garlic balsamic in there that could have been more forward in flavour if only to balance everything out even more.

Scarlet prawn (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Scarlet prawn (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Yet, nothing compares or holds a leaf to the presentation of Scarlet prawn. It’s a seductive, vibrant, inviting, and an alluring plate of prawn flesh blanket in hues of red and blush draped across Acquerello Rice cooked till beautifully al dente, lending a textural contrast to the softness of the prawn. The brininess of this blanket is brash and unashamed with overtones of umami that begs belief. I go to sleep now with dreams of this.

Duck neck with foie gras (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Duck neck with foie gras (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

What’s a Michelin star candidate without food served table side and explained by servers who have committed this routine to memory, am I right? A trolley approaches with a cutting board and a length of duck neck that has been stuffed with foie gras. This is clearly a #throwbackThursday to Chef Wilson’s time at Phénix Eatery and Bar in Shanghai, China. The thick round duck-neck-foie-gras hybrid is served alongside a grilled duck breast slathered in a deep-red charred jus. The star should rightly be the duck neck, but I’m more partial toward the seven-day aged duck breast that's been carefully and lovingly grilled till a blush of pink in the middle and a handsome char on the outside. It truly is the age of ducks on a plate.

Ancient grains (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Ancient grains (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

A plate of Ancient grains is a fitting conclusion to dinner. A quenelle of roasted barley ice cream sits on a smattering of crunchy rehydrated figs and spelt with carob mousse thrown in for a touch of chocolate—though more nutty than cocoa. It's a spectacular and satisfying thing of a dessert that pits textures against each other in a push-pull battle for sweet, sweet dominance, and one that needs little else to shine. When it comes to food, Pollen is hardly a bastion of perfection. But like a lot of the people I love and treasure, Pollen is great not for what it is but for what it can be. Potential is powerful and invigorating and in that respect, Pollen certainly delivers.

Website | Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-09, S018953

Lunch: 12pm to 3pm; Dinner: 6pm to 10.30pm

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