Reviews of a Gourmet Snob: Halia, Singapore Botanic Gardens

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Reviews of a Gourmet Snob: Halia, Singapore Botanic Gardens

Post by jpatokal » Tue, 26 Dec 2006 8:25 pm

'Twas the night before Christmas, which made for a pretty good excuse to visit my favorite restaurant in Singapore, Halia. The name means "ginger" in Malay, and not only is this probably my favorite root vegetable, but in my book this place just has it all: a beautiful outdoor location in the jungles of the Botanic Gardens, an atmosphere as laid back as the smooth jazz they play, prices that burn only moderately severe holes in your wallet, and last but not least, consistently grrrrrrreat food. This was my third visit and my first in over two years -- would they still live up to my exceedingly high expectations?

I'd made my booking well in advance, but as usual the restaurant was only 80%-ish full with a mix of expats and well-heeled Singaporeans (some of whom, true to form or lack thereof, showed up in shorts and T-shirts). No rowdy Chinese family dinners this time though, for which I was grateful. Halia doesn't particularly cater to the holiday crowd, although there were a couple of random menu items denoted as Christmas specials (Japanese scallops and venison, not even reindeer, natch). The menu is just two pages long and it took not a small while to find a suitable mix of old favorites and new ones to try, but in the end we opted for...

Appetizers

Hers: Oysters with bacon and crouton bits. Three of them came, plump and juicy with moist shellfish goodness strong enough to successfully grapple with the salty pork bits. OK, but not all that memorable.

His: Duck foie gras on toast with unidentifiable fruit compote and port(?) sauce. Foie gras is usually terrible in SE Asia, but this is the one dish I order every time here and once again Halia pulled it off: seared and crispy on the outside, soft but not raw on the inside, perfectly paired with something sweet and something tart. Excellent.

Mains

Hers: Spatchcock with potato fritter and parsnips, or something like that. It tasted like chicken, and post facto consulting with Wikipedia proves that "spatchcock" is, indeed, a fancy way of saying "boneless chicken". Grumble. Well, she did think it was very well done chicken -- crispy skin, moist meat -- but it was still a little, um, ordinary.

His: USDA Grade A porterhouse steak and a second meat selection (part of the same dish) whose name regrettably escapes me at the moment. I was a little hesitant to order steak outside a speciality restaurant, but after a few too many weeks in India gave in to my temptation to slaughter some holy cow, and this was, much to my surprise, the best steak (ordered and served medium rare) that I've had in a very long time. The second piece reminded me not a little of beef Burgundy, stewed and tender, only it too was obvious a superior cut compared to the usual cheap shank you'd use, and she liked this even more than the steak.

Dessert

Finally, we shared a teh tarik creme brulee, served with a scoop of homemade ginger sherbet and a few slices of ginger-flavored sugar glaze. The creme brulee was alright (although it was a bit like eating chai pudding...), but being the ginger freak I am I really got into the sherbet.

Drinks

I'd brought along a bottle of Chateau Indage Chantilli Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in the Sahyadri Valley near Pune, India. Now I'll be the first to admit that I picked up my first bottle of Indian wine, an Indage Chardonnay, as a joke, but it was surprisingly good so I decided to take a chance and blow all of US$6 at Delhi tax-free on this Indage red. I'd kept in my fridge and the too-chilled wine was weird and smoky-oaky at first, but after warming up and sitting for half an hour it became downright drinkable. Halia did charge S$30 for the privilege of opening it... but this was still less than paying S$72 for the cheapest bottle of Ozzie plonk on their own menu.

Overall

No ifs, ands or buts: this was the best Western meal I've had in Singapore to date, bar none. Knowing my way around the menu helped push it over the top, but I'm glad to see they've kept up their standards and that this place remains a solid performer that hasn't started cutting corners. About the only negative is that they've also hiked up their prices since last time, and the bill came to S$200 for what would previously have been S$150-ish -- still worth every cent for a special occasion.
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Post by Global Citizen » Thu, 28 Dec 2006 7:04 am

Jp, I had read your previous recommendations of Halia and am encouraged to learn that it's still every bit as good and didn't disappoint.

What does come as a surprise though is Indian wine. I didn't even know that they made any or better yet that its not bad and inexpensive to boot. I found liquor prices in India on my last trip there to be pretty steep but I was dining in a fancy schmancy restaurant but I guess compared to Singapore prices which are sky high, comparisons are relative.
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Post by jpatokal » Fri, 29 Dec 2006 8:20 pm

Global Citizen wrote:What does come as a surprise though is Indian wine. I didn't even know that they made any or better yet that its not bad and inexpensive to boot. I found liquor prices in India on my last trip there to be pretty steep but I was dining in a fancy schmancy restaurant but I guess compared to Singapore prices which are sky high, comparisons are relative.
I bought the wine from the airport tax-free, where it's tolerably priced, but normally you're right, the sin taxes are quite steep. The white I tried earlier was US$13 and was very good; this red was just OK, but at US$6 it was still a deal by Singapore standards. The top-of-the-line Indage wines are closer to US$20. I don't think you'll find any of these outside India very easily though...
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Post by sierra2469alpha » Tue, 17 Mar 2009 5:01 pm

JP - you cross linked back to this one - have you been back recently? Would appreciate anybody's reviews. Places do change with time, unfortunately.

Cheers, P

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Post by pakjohn » Tue, 17 Mar 2009 5:49 pm

Redundant post delete
Last edited by pakjohn on Wed, 18 Mar 2009 4:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by pakjohn » Tue, 17 Mar 2009 5:53 pm

Hey Mr. P. We went to Halia for Valentines Day dinner, I won't do a review but can say we left pretty happy. The service took a nose dive toward the end; we had to ask for our last courses and waited forever for the bill. However,The food was nicely prepared, good atmosphere, good wine list. I might not go as high as 5 stars but would give it almost 4 and we'll likely go back in the future.
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Post by sierra2469alpha » Tue, 17 Mar 2009 6:06 pm

Cool, thanks pakjohn - always on the lookout ....

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Post by jpatokal » Mon, 18 Jan 2010 1:12 pm

Went to Halia again last week, and am rather sad to say I appear to have contracted food poisoning there. :shock: My menu du jour:

- Raw sea scallops Asian style with yuzu ponzu yadda yadda. The scallops were kinda drowned out by the strength of the dressing, but I doubt they were spoiled, so the culprit was probably:

- Sea perch en papillote (= cooked in a paper bag). I remember thinking the fish seemed a little undercooked, and while I didn't pay too much attention at the time, I evidently should have :?

- "Teh tarik Halia" or a teh tarik creme brulee with ginger sherbet. A classic and still good.

Sent off a mail this morning, let's see if they reply...
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