Hortus – what was previously Fennel Cafe – now offers a delicious Mediterranean gastronomic respite within Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay.
What was once Fennel Cafe, a cafe-bistro set within the Flower Dome of Gardens by the Bay, is now Hortus. Hortus – which means ‘enclosed garden’ in Latin – is the casual offshoot of Marguerite Restaurant (previously Pollen) by chef-owner Michael Wilson in partnership with Unlisted Collection, and continues his whimsical spin on nouvelle Mediterranean eats in the surrounds of the manicured floral surrounds that is the Flower Dome in both concepts.
But where fine-dining Marguerite is Wilson’s personal exploration of contemporary author’s cuisine, Hortus offers simple twists on Mediterranean favourites for homely and family-friendly fare. Unlike the exquisite tasting menus of its more sophisticated sibling, this is food you can eat every day.
You’re looking at familiar dishes like a Greek-style Watermelon Salad, the sweetness of juicy melon chunks interplaying beautifully with the brininess of confit olives and creamy feta, or the Amberjack Crudo, the tangy sweet bite of pomegranate seeds and freshness of herbs lifting the flavours of the marinated amberjack.
And while the grilled Fremantle octopus and lamb tagine at Hortus came highly recommended, we settled on the safer option of Spatchcock Baby Chicken. It’s a simple dish that’s often gotten wrong, but here the chicken is beautifully butterflied, wonderfully seasoned with a mix of Moroccan spices, and then perfectly grilled. The result? Juicy chicken bursting with flavour. A good side to accompany the chicken would be the creamily sweet Coal Roasted Sweet Potato, with its pickled chilli garnish and sour cream dressing teasing the palate.
The Cilbur – poached eggs done Turkish style – was well executed, although more garlic in the yogurt will bring it closer to authenticity. An absolute favourite was the Venus Clams. We were in luck because it was clam season, and those we got were plump and juicy. But where Hortus scores is the use of raki instead of the usual wine or beer as a broth base. We loved how the Mediterranean anise-based spirit endowed the broth with amazing sweet, spicy and smoky notes that provided counterpoints to the briny shellfish.
And for dessert? A large selection of pastries we need to return for during their high tea.
The drinks selection at Hortus – especially the wine – is not extensive, but adequate for its purpose. All its wines hail from the Mediterranean. There’s Sicilian Grillo, Greek Agiorghitiko, and even Syrah from Lebanon; this is an uncompromising list true to its theme that we respect. There’re a couple of cocktails too for those who are so inclined; Marguerite’s Garden, a herbaceous gin and tonic, is perfect for time and place.
“We wanted to provide guests with a real escape to the Mediterranean, creating a space and an unadulterated taste of the region with food and flavours I personally love to eat every day,” Chef Michael Wilson had said.
While we don’t quite think the Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay in any way resembled some part of the Mediterranean, his food at Hortus was delicious and worth a trip down for.
It used to be that Fennel Cafe was a simple place one found rest and respite in when visiting Flower Dome. Hortus, on the other hand, gives one the perfect reason to drop into Gardens by the Bay.
Address 18 Marina Gardens Dr, #01-09, Flower Dome, Singapore 018953 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 10am to 9pm Wednesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Tel (65) 6702 0158