Lush greenery and all sorts of exotic flowers thrive in Singapore's tropical climate - and while I know I'm often prone to dramatization, a stroll through the Botanic Gardens really felt like getting to walk through some scale model of the Garden of Eden - for free.
It was lucky for my dad and I not to have visited this place back when cameras required film - we would have killed several hundred dollars' worth, each. As it was, we maxed out our iPhone camera storage, and memory cards in our cameras. I won't make you scroll through the pile here, but just a few highlights, then we'll get to the food...yes in the gardens!
The only part of the areas we visited that charged admission was the Orchid Garden (SG$5 ~US $4). It was well worth the nominal fee - they have a whole orchid lab on site here and a huge (hundreds?) variety of orchids for viewing in the greenhouse - which was set up so that you got an 'escapist' experience where you felt like you were in some far away tropical rainforest, but were really only a few convenient minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
This little nook brought back memories for me - my parents used to have wallpaper in their bedroom made from a seamless 360 photo of a rainforest with waterfalls/streams just like this. My brother and I (I was 5 I think and he was 3) used to sit on my parents' bed and make up stories of adventures we'd have in that rainforest, or creatures that we thought lived there. This corner of the orchid garden was on a much much smaller scale, and my brother wasn't with us on the trip - but that lil patch of nature was gorgeous, and me and my 5 year old self quietly stood in awe and love of its humble beauty.
After wandering the grounds a while (and managing to avoid getting soaked by Singapore's 'surprise' rain showers that come and go without warning), we stopped by Halia Restaurant, in the Ginger Garden - for an afternoon tea break.
A white-linened dining spot with an airy, semi-covered patio to provide shade while offering full views of the surrounding, beautiful plant life in the gardens - it's not your old school snack shack designed for kids on field trips, but an elegant resort-like space where you can enjoy fine dining fare. For afternoon tea, there is a prix fixe premium tea set, and delicious menu of a la carte desserts, which have their own wine pairings! Or right on theme, you can have mocktails or non-alcoholic drinks that make use of the ginger from the garden. We got a trio of ginger focused drinks: Gunner (SG$10 ~ US $8) ginger beer, ginger ale, bitters, Ginger Ale (SG$6 ~ US$5) and Ginger Jive (SG$12 ~ US $10). All were beautiful in presentation but in terms fo taste, I think our favorite was the Gunner, the most balanced and complex of the three.
As the heat reduced our appetites, we didn't go for the full prix fixe, but opted instead to share two desserts. First up: Strawberries & Cream, Edible Garden, Passionfruit Lychee Dew (SG$19 ~US$15), wild strawberry ripple, cream cheese & vanilla ice cream on shortbread crumb, raspberry, blueberry, flowers, chocolate choux pebbles on almond cocoa soil, passionfruit jelly in shooter of sweet lychee liquer syrup. This was one of the most beautiful dessert plates I've ever seen / tasted in my life...and so on theme, with its 'edible garden' on a plate that also presented interesting textures as well as aesthetics. The strawberries and cream cheesecake was perfectly light, with the ice cream element worked into the cheesecake being especially refreshing on a hot and humid day. And the shot of lychee liquer was genius - adding tropical flavor with a bit of sophistication. We wished we had room for 10 more of these.
For a signature Singaporean dessert, we tried Halia's Rojak (SG$16 ~US $13) - knowing that it may not be 100% 'authentic' since we're in a fine dining spot that as we've seen adds their own creative twists on classics. This dish was served with fresh fruit and berries, chili chocolate sauce, chopped peanuts, white sesame seed, nori crisp, homemade ginger flower sorbet. Didn't love the textures on this one as much as the last. Since we didn't end up having any other rojak besides this one, I have no frame of reference - but it was sort of like a way fancier version of a fudge sundae with bits of savory ingredients like sesame seed and nori crisp (which ended up being more chewy) added.
All in all, a beautiful, serene afternoon enjoying the tropical weather (in December!) and gorgeous nature (in controlled doses, the way I like it - wilderness wanderer, dozen-miles-hiker, I am not and never will be).
I would definitely recommend Singapore Botanic Gardens as a family activity, for photography buffs or those just looking for brief reprieve from super-commercial tourist hotspots.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
1 Cluny Rd., Singapore 259569
Ph: +(65) 6471 7138 / (65) 6471 7361
Admission: Free for overall gardens, SG$5 for Orchid Gardens (~US$4)
1 Cluny Rd., Ginger Garden (enter via Tyersall Ave), Singapore Botanic Gardens
Ph: +(65) 6476 6711Website: halia.com.sg