On a hot and humid day in Singapore, I unexpectedly sat down to one of the best meals of my life. I was in town for a few days off the back of a crazy three days cruising the high seas with Royal Carribean. I’d deliberately not made plans – I wanted to enjoy my first time in the city at my own pace. Which is just as well, because when a last minute invite popped up to have lunch at the Corner House, I had no place else to be.
Set amongst the lush green palm trees of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens, the Corner House is a restaurant that pays homage to its surrounds with a menu that celebrates the plant kingdom. Described by chef and co-owner Jason Tan as ‘gastro-botanica’, the contemporary cuisine gives equivalent weight on the plate to protein and botanical elements.
The two-story black and white bungalow where the restaurant resides was built in 1910 and was once the home of leading botanist E J H Corner who was the Assistant Director of the Botanic Gardens from 1929 to 1945. E J H Corner is basically one of the most interesting men you’ll ever hear about. Story has it he developed the use of ‘botanical monkeys’ to fetch botanical specimens from tall forest trees.
We jumped straight into everything this gastro-botanica menu had to offer with the eight-course ‘Discovery Experience’ degustation menu. At S$248 per head, it’s a pretty reasonable investment for one of the best meals of your life.
The team at the Corner House describe the features gastro-botanica as “exquisitely prepared food that distils and sharpens the essential flavour and character of ingredients. The meats, poultry and seafood used are fastidiously sourced and chosen; and botanicals, in particular, are given prominence. By giving greater weight to the preparation of these botanicals, gastro-botanica cuisine achieves a delicate balance between the main ‘protein’ element and the garnishing on the plate. Flavours are animated with subtle and precise layering to build up ‘momentum’.”
The pièce de résistance of this delicious degustation is ‘The Onion Revealed’ – an interpretation of Chef Jason Tan’s favourite vegetable. Best described as a four-iteration mini degustation within the degustation, ‘The Onion Revealed’ requires 2kgs of Cevennes onion (a very expensive French variety that is superbly sweet without pungency) per guest.
1. Baked Onion Cup
A whole onion, baked and hollowed, is filled with onion puree and confit, a 62°C sous-vide egg, sea salt, chives and black truffles.
2. Onion Tart
Onion confit on crispy filo pastry, topped with parmesan cheese. The confit is made from thin hand-sliced onions slow-cooked in butter for six hours.
3. Onion Chip
A thin slice of onion is dehydrated for 24-hours, then lightly salted to bring its delicate flavours to the fore.
4. Onion Tea
The teacup holds an emulsion of onion confit and cream. Earl Grey-infused onion tea is poured on it, creating a duality of sensations. The onion tea is the most expensive of components as 3kgs of onions and two days work produce a mere 200ml.
Now I’ve seen some good plating in my time, but at the Corner House, it’s exceptional. Chef Jason Tan has his ceramics custom-made to suit each dish, making the dishes almost too beautiful to eat.
When it came to the dessert component of the degustation, we were blown away. The first sweet dish we were presented with looked like a boiled egg in an egg cup, but with a delicious edible chocolate shell. Little touches throughout the degustation like gender specific egg cups for each guest was super cute. I tried to get a photo of my friends and mine with the dessert intact, but clearly I wasn’t fast enough.
From the moment you walk through the door of this historical location, you’ll feel the life work of E J H Corner permeating throughout every aspect of the restaurants concept. After teaching himself to draw and illustrate, his now-classic botanical illustrations have been recreated and line the walls and various touch points throughout the restaurant like these detailed coasters.
Photography by myself, James Want from The Versatile Gent and the Corner House. We shot each dish on my Canon 70D using the epic Canon 50mm lens – it is such a good lens for food photography, especially when it looks as pretty as the Corner House menu.
Sunday brunch at the Corner House in an institution, and with such a beautiful tropical setting, it’s great to experience the restaurant during the day. With four delicious courses for S$68 it’s exceptional value, so make sure you book in advance.
1 Cluny Road, E J H Corner House
Singapore Botanic Gardens
(Nassim Gate Entrance)
TUESDAYS – SATURDAYS
Lunch: 12pm – 3pm (last order 2.30pm)
Dinner: 6.30pm – 11pm (last order 10pm)
Brunch: 11.30am – 3pm (last order 2.30pm)
Dinner: 6.30pm – 11pm (last order 10pm)
*Closed on Mondays
(Short and bermudas are allowed with shoes or loafers. No slippers)