For those looking to inject some of the intrigue of destination dining into date night, Hortus heightens the sense of escapism at Gardens by the Bay’s surreal Flower Dome – complete with a buggy ride along a yawning path hugging the glittering Marina Bay.
Call it contrived or artificial, but there’s a certain major motion picture-quality to the attraction that recalls the opening sequence of Jurassic Park; we could almost hear its rousing musical score as our buggy pootled past bulbous palm trees to take us to the dome.
Set above its sister restaurant Marguerite, Hortus is carved into an intimate alcove within the cooled conservatory, of which diners have free rein. Barring the intermittent intercom announcements at the dome, they have recreated the atmosphere of a Mediterranean garden somewhat convincingly with terracotta tiles, warm wood furnishings and cotton-draped pergola.
Australian chef-owner Michael Wilson – whose tenure at The Phénix Eatery and Bar in Shanghai saw it minted with a Michelin star – demonstrates a deft touch when it comes to highlighting the natural flavours of seafood without crowding the palate. Lightly garnished with pomegranate, mint and bottarga (salted and cured fish roe), their slivers of amber jack crudo recall fine sashimi.
But the highlights were the whole Mediterranean sea bass and Fremantle octopus cooked over the wood grill at Marguerite. The octopus is a testament to the chef’s mastery of grilling techniques, delicately prepared sans the rubbery texture or overwhelming char associated with seafood barbecues. Seasoned lightly with salt, garlic and lemon with a herbaceous green Harissa sauce on the side, the sea bass paired beautifully with the Ixsir Grand Reserve White from the coastal Batroun region in Lebanon. The creamy blend of viognier, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay is also quaffable on its own, with hints of honeysuckle.
Meal pacing was sluggish, though this may be chalked up to teething issues – we’d recommend an amble outside the restaurant to discover exotic flora from South African savannahs, if you’re feeling antsy between courses.