Story and pictures by Alan Teh Leam Seng and New Straits Times.
I was rather skeptical when the idea for me to visit the Night Safari was first mooted. After all, I have been to this popular Singapore attraction several times already. However, I changed my mind when I find out that this time the experience will be entirely different.
As the bus speeds along the Pan Island Expressway (PIE) I begin to wonder what to expect for my first Night Safari dining adventure. I have been on board the tram before but to sit down and enjoy fine dining meal on it whilst travelling amongst the creatures of the night is something totally new to me.
The Gourmet Safari Express, which is the first of its kind in the world, begins with the handing of a special orange coloured tag. This ‘permit’ allows the serving staff to identify and serve me for the next two hours. I am then ushered straight into the park. I do not have to purchase any entrance tickets as the cost of the package is all inclusive.
I am served an assortment of tasty canapès and wild passion fruit mocktail at a spot near the Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant. I suddenly hear a commotion while tucking into my first smoked salmon snack. I see people making a beeline for several park assistants who have just walked in. Each one of them is accompanied by an animal. This is interesting. Guests with the Gourmet Safari Express get to mingle with the stars of the popular Night Safari show – Creatures of the Night before going to the tram.
For the first time in my life I feel like a celebrity when I board the specially decorated dining tram. I can feel the other Night Safari visitors looking at me enviously especially when the serving staff starts to serve the appetizer. I like the zebra striped fabric used. It successfully sets the mood for the evening. Right at this moment, I know that tonight will be a night to remember.
The thinly sliced salmon stuffed with crabmeat is delicious. The light mayonnaise and yoghurt dressing enhances the taste further. I also like the American asparagus which is crunchier than the local version. If this scrumptious starter is anything to go by then I am sure I will be served excellent food tonight.
Fifteen minutes later, the tram rumbles to a stop. By then, I have finished every morsel on my plate. I look around and realise that we have arrived at a well lit hut. I can see two chefs busy preparing food at the counter. Checking with the serving staff who coincidentally hails from Malacca, I learn that the tram will be parked at this spot until dinner is over.
Now everything comes together. At the start of the journey I was asking myself if it is possible for the tram to accommodate the entire 5-course dinner for 16 people in its small storage area. Now I can see that the remainder of the food are in this hut. This way I am assured of piping hot food without having to worry about spillage as a result of a moving tram. The added advantage is that I am free to venture to the nearby walking trails in between courses and see the animals at my leisure. I like this practical arrangement very much.
The Cream of Lobster Bisque is my favourite. It is my habit to dip the freshly baked bread and ensure that it is slightly soggy before consuming it. The bisque is not too salty and the chef has added generous amounts of crab meat. I enjoyed the soup so much so that I unabashedly ask for extra bread. My red wine which is part of the complimentary free flow of beverages goes well with the bisque.
I shift focus from the dim candle light in front of me and look out into the darkness. As soon as my pupils dilate to allow suffcient light to enter my eyes I see the shimmering moon lit surface of Seletar Reservoir in the distance. I also detect a moving shadow amongst the trees closer to me. It is the silhouette of a giraffe moving in the twilight. Feeling curious, I alight and move closer to have a better look. I am glad the tram stopped here. There is so much to see around me while at the back of my mind I know that a hot meal will be waiting for me should I decide to step back into the tram.
My Oven-baked Chilean Cod Fish is served upon my return from my very own mini safari. I thoroughly enjoy the Pommes Dauphine which has been soaking in the Sea Urchin Sauce. Although the sauce makes the potato puffs less crispy but it helps to add flavour to the puffs. The fish is very fresh while the baby carrots and Macedonian beetroot garnishing completes the dish.
I start to enjoy my little plate of assorted Chocolate Pralines as the tram continues the second half of its journey westwards. Finally, the tram pulls up at the main station. I have a feeling that is the end of the evening’s agenda. My crestfallen face brightens when told that I am head on straight to the specially reserved seats at the Creatures of the Night show. Wow! Now that will be a wonderful ending to this once-in-a-lifetime experience!