Story and pictures by Alan Teh Leam Seng and New Straits Times.
I stumble upon The Halia quite by chance when I happen to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens recently. My time there took longer than I had expected as there is so much to see. There is a diverse collection of plants ranging from the rarest to the most common wayside plants and also from the youngest sapling to the oldest Tembusu tree that is said to have existed long before Raffles set foot on this island in 1819.
It is already way past my lunch time when I finally realise my increasingly obvious hunger pangs. I have just finished my tour of the Orchid Garden and on my way out I notice a restaurant just across the walking path. I am intrigued by the name Halia which means ginger in the local Malay language.
Located within the one-hectare Ginger Garden, The Halia is divided into two equal sized dining sections. Without further thought I choose the alfresco dining area. I like the elevated deck which gives me a better view of the surroundings. Furthermore, the high ceiling encourages the convection currents to flow naturally by welcoming cool breezes from the surrounding gardens.
A quick scan of the all day dining menu reveals a wide selection of choices to whet my appetite. Not wanting to waste any more time, I settle for the soup of the day, pan fried halibut and the restaurant’s signature Pulut Hitam. Then it is time to sit back and rest while sipping my icy cold Halia Infusion. This house specialty made using sun-dried ginger and wild mountain honey is the ultimate thirst quencher. It is invigorating and has properties that aids digestion. Just the tonic I need on this sunny, hot and hungry day!
Lucky for me, the soup of the day comes surprisingly fast. The thick crusty slice of toast is still warm and goes very well with the soup which has a slight hint of mushroom taste. What a relief! Finally I am eating! I glance at my watch and it is already 3 pm! The appetiser disappears even before I can realise it. I must be really hungry.
The restaurant seems to be doing well judging from the endless stream of diners coming and going at this hour which many F&B outlets consider the lull period. The relaxed atmosphere and ambience make me feel so close to nature. Palm fronds gently caress my arm each time the wind picks up speed gently. Right from my seat, I can hear people talking as they admire the colourful ginger flowers than a meter away.
Even before tasting, my halibut is already a sight for sore eyes. I almost feel sorry to eat such a pretty dish. The colour combination complements the ochre plate background with the herb garnishing. The fish is fresh and the lemon sauce helps to bring out the full flavour. I like the baby prawns which are succulent and blanched just to the right degree.
Finally, I tuck into the piëce de rèsistance. Pulut hitam is my all time favourite dessert and The Halia version takes the cake or so to speak. It is certainly the best I have tasted. The jet black glutinous rice broth is topped with a generous dollop of coconut espuma. The dish is only slightly sweet, suitable for those who are health conscious. Diners with a sweet tooth can take heart that the accompanying ginger almond nougatine tips the balance of the sweet scale.
After my meal I make a quick visit to the restaurant’s latest extension located just next door. The Villa Halia is fast gaining popularity in hosting private events like weddings and corporate functions. It features three distinct areas, being the Wine Bar, the Courtyard and the Gallery Room.