Perched atop sensitively designed green skyscraper CapitaSpring, new dining destination 1-Arden recalls the rainbow-hued kueh lapis whose sticky sweet layers you peel away in childlike delight.
At high noon on a balmy Tuesday, its 10,000 sq ft Food Forest – the world’s highest urban farm – thrummed with life, as curious local visitors milled around its bee-kissed cascading terrace. The closed-loop garden’s gorgeous panoply of edible produce informs the menu at Kaarla Restaurant and Bar, 1-Arden’s new signature restaurant that takes it cues from coastal Australia.
Fresh, seasonal ingredients are a hallmark of Australian fare well-known to the region, but less prominent are the culinary cultures of its Indigenous peoples. Kaarla, which grows some of the antioxidant-rich native ingredients used by Australian First Nations Aboriginal people for food and medicine at the onsite Food Forest, may serve as a primer to modern bush tucker. And it’s none too outré as Bear Grylls may have you imagine.
Their salt-cured kangaroo loin with umami-rich anchovy-based dressing, for instance, was a textural treat of velvety smoked meat closer in taste to a sliver of steak than rubbery jerky. There’s a slight unctuousness to the typically lean meat that coats the tongue, which is lifted by piquant finger lime and muntries (a type of berry) – indigenous Australian larder staples.
Budding botanists may appreciate the flora-forward gourmet aesthetic; plates are embellished with edible plants plucked from the Food Forest, including red begonia, roselle, fig leaves and marigold.
But if you like your food unfussy and flavours robust, you won’t be reduced to picking at leaves either. Particularly intriguing was the Damper, a sourdough bread with the chewy bite of a crumpet, slathered in native macadamia spread. The unexpected creaminess of the non-dairy topping is cut by lemon balm and zesty dried quandong powder, making the dish a trim and tart alternative to your heaving eggs benedict brunch.
Pulsing fresh produce shines in the starchy zucchini flowers with plump South Australian mussels, steeped in a Japanese inspired mirin, chardonnay vinegar and fish stock broth to remove the one-note brininess common to mollusks. Not to mention, it’s a sight for sore eyes glistening with sweet cherry tomatoes and trout roe.
Led by an executive chef from Queensland, Kaarla – which means ‘where the home fires burn’ – reserves pride of place for its custom wood-fired grill and oven. Through its gaping maw emerged the pièce de resistance of our meal – a free-range pork asado cut oozing with juices that dribble over a tender, perfectly marbled cut.
It’s served with lashings of a warm minya & riberry vinaigrette. It’s not often the pig steals the show from the cow (and a 35-day aged one at that), but this is one instance where we’ll have to stand behind the former. The wine list has no shortage of bold, inky Barossa Valley shirazzes, so there’s no need to shy away from the big meaty mains.
While the restaurant touts itself as a “model of sustainability”, we can’t look asquint at the fact that wood fuelling their oven is transported from Sydney’s Blue Mountain, while many of its proteins – albeit ethically farmed – are air-flown into Singapore. Perhaps not exactly worthy of the appellation, but certainly a commendable champion of local produce and a dining experience brimming with curiosity.