SINGAPORE — I spend a good portion of my time worrying about restaurants like The Halia simply because these places seem very comfortable with the status quo, mostly encouraged by regular diners who thrive on reliability and menu stability. I reckon it makes chefs second-guess any attempts at tweaking the menu to better reflect modern times so that the food doesn’t feel too, you know, 2013.
Yes, I know I can sound like a broken record, always harping on this perennial dilemma of food needing an exciting dose of change to keep things fresh versus changing as little as they can so as to encourage repeat patronage. At times like this, I take comfort in knowing that I too have friends who delight in ordering the same damn thing at the same two restaurants for the past three years—in a way, underscoring the fact that the situation is much closer to home than I thought.
I don’t make such proclamations lightly because I do understand the type of diners The Halia caters for. Here, everyone loves their dishes big, bold, and loud. It’s the kind of place that trades in delicate, fragile, tender dishes for presentations that are hearty, filling, and worth every ‘plus-plus’ you’re paying. The flavours are not by any measure subtle; the cooking methods, almost veering on brash; and the portions, laudably satisfying.
That’s not to say that there’s no attempt at a semblance of creativity here. A Smoked Duck Breast (S$16++) comes deconstructed on a large plate, sliced smoked duck and Romaine lettuce sitting parallel to each other with a drizzle of sweet black garlic mayo on the lettuce. It is perfectly fine.
The Goat Cheese Mousse (S$14++) with a side of baguette crostini would be the most keenly interesting thing today but only because I love myself some luscious goat cheese; as did my dining partner. Some may be slightly averse to the pungent fragrance of goat’s milk but it’s nothing a drizzle of bee pollen won’t help tame, which is what The Halia has done to its iteration. It is admittedly rather large a portion, but does that really come as a surprise?
Larger-than-life realness continues with mains that demand to be shared. There’s a 48hr Blackmore Wagyu Spare Rib which is really great value for something that’s 600g and costs but S$48++. And it’s easy to enjoy too. We’re talking fall-off-the-bone-with-a-gust-of-wind kind of tender which I fully expected for meat that has been slow-cooked for 48 hours. The one I had was glazed with a ginger flower hot sauce (because of the dining partner’s allergy)—it’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s addictive, and it’s such a riot of familiar flavours. At my table, this was wiped clean. Fast.
And then there’s the Twice-cooked Spatchcock Chicken (S$32++) that’s as rustic as it comes. You can even call it boring, and this chicken wouldn't mind. But just like the iPhone 11 Pro, sometimes boring gets the job done. Even the condiments are dependable and safe—wedges and mesclun salad. The chicken has been rubbed with Cajun spices so there are lots of heady undertones of spiced herbaceousness. The thigh parts were juicy and tender. The breast, not so. Which is a real shame.
What pleasantly took me by surprise was the dessert. It’s as if someone took a deep breath and had an epiphany of sorts. A plate of Yuzu Gateaux (S$11++) sits in a neat line of brittle dark chocolate yuzu ganache, lait caramel mousse, blobs of yuzu gel, and a yuzu infused cake that sits in the middle like a superstar. I appreciated the play on flavours and textures—tart against chocolatey, brittle against soft. It could have been more jocund had there been some sort of brush to soften and meld the flavours together, but I guess that’s what the mouth is for.
In a time like now when value-for-money takes on a more practical tone, maybe bigger is indeed better. But I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that, having done sizable commendably, Halia, if given the opportunity to pare down, would do exceptionally well. There’s a complexity of flavours lurking around between the ribs and spatchcock chicken, which I’m sure, given the time, space, and ingredient would surprise even the most cynical of food writers.
Website | 1 Cluny Rd, Ginger Garden Singapore Botanic Gardens, S259569
Mon - Fri: 9am to 8.30pm
Sat - Sun: 10am to 8.30pm
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