What a difference a year can make. In 2020, Pollen at the Flower Dome welcomed a new chef de cuisine, Australian Michael Wilson. A concept launched by English chef Jason Artheton as a sister restaurant of his Michelin-approved Pollen Street Social in London, Pollen was on its last legs and gave Wilson limited creative freedom. At his debut, we barely saw him throughout the meal.
Now given a new identity as Marguerite, Wilson is given free reign and the restaurant feels like a completely different entity altogether. The man himself is out and about, personally bringing dishes to the table and interacting with guests. It helps that he’s brought three prep tables out to the main dining area where 70 per cent of his menu is assembled, making the experience a bit more intimate.
He’s been a busy man, Wilson. On top of leading the rebranding of the restaurant, he’s also developed two other concepts under the Unlisted Collection umbrella at Gardens by the Bay – a casual Mediterranean restaurant upstairs named Hortus and a gelato café named after his dog, Mylo’s. All three establishments share a symbiotic relationship; gelato shows up in Marguerite’s dishes, and parts of the same ingredients are shared between the latter and Hortus.
(Related: There’s a duck neck sausage at Pollen)
While the cafe upstairs serves up casual Mediterranean dishes, Marguerite is where he gets to flaunt the culinary ingenuity that earned him a Michelin star shortly after opening Phénix at the Puli Hotel and Spa in Shanghai.
Throughout the seven-course tasting menu, he executes techniques such as curing, dehydration, fermentation, and smoking to a T. Just in the four pre-meal snacks alone, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what he’s capable of; a Watermelon Ravioli, made of dehydrated watermelon ‘skin’ from his previous days in Pollen, that’s been updated with a creamy goat cheese and pistachio filling, and a Black Trumpet Cigar made from a celeriac puree with activated charcoal stuffed with wild black trumpet mushrooms and caramelised onions seasoned with a mushroom garum.
What comes next is one of our favourite dishes – Smoked Eel with Oyster Leaf, Horseradish Gelato and Amur Caviar. His take on fish and wasabi, it comprises five alternating layers of salty and umami from the eel, caviar and oyster leaf, and tartness from the apples.
Unlike other flora-focused restaurants that tend to get a bit heavy-handed with the herbs and bitter notes, Wilson’s use of fruits and greens never distracts from the main point of the dish. Unless, of course, the main ingredient is a vegetable such as the Heirloom Carrots, slow-cooked in carrot juice then rolled in a roasted carrot pulp and muscovado sugar. Most of the time, however, they’re given the task of providing a counterpoint to a dish’s creaminess.
In the Tuna Gnocco Fritto, for example, tuna lardo (made from otoro that’s cured for two days then dried for four) is lifted with espelette pepper, juice and zest from Amalfi lemons. While drops of Thai basil oil lend a herbaceous complexity to the New Caledonian blue prawn “tagliolini” (noodles made from the prawn paste) and its richly-flavoured prawn head bisque.
The mains come in twos in the tasting menu, salmon and beef when we were there or his signature stuffed duck head that he’s reintroduced later on (a dish that’s been on Pollen’s menu during his time there). He tells me that he didn’t plan on serving salmon but it’s proven to age particularly well.
Not that there’s anything to complain about. He’s given the Ora King Salmon from New Zealand the dry-age treatment, then gently poached it in olive oil for a vibrant-coloured filet that’s so soft you won’t need to use the knife. It’s topped with salmon roe, French breakfast radish and fried kelp for crunch, which all comes together in a broth made from its bones, vermouth, dill and fermented wax peppers. As for the Black Angus steak from Gippsland (where Wilson is from), it’s grilled and draped in thin slices of beef tongue, which are brined and smoked.
Both desserts are served cold but share no other similarities flavour-wise. The first is the Tropical Fruit Vacherin, a tribute to the daisy the restaurant is named after, and a medley of fruits such as coconut, pineapple, passionfruit and mango. Drops of ginger flower and kaffir lime leaf, and sprigs of baby coriander do a fantastic job of amping up the aroma of the dish.
In contrast, the finale of a sunchoke gelato holding a small puddle of coffee oil with a drizzle of 20-year-old balsamic vinegar and Piedmont hazelnuts doubles up as the obligatory post-meal caffeine boost even non-coffee drinkers like me can appreciate.
To go with the meal is an extensive wine list, which also includes the Middle Eastern wines they’ve stocked since Pollen, or Temperance beverages, a selection of fruit juice infusions created according to the flavour profiles of wines that are meant to be paired with the dishes. We could not get enough of the Granny Smith Shiso, paired with the Smoked Eel, that was a heady aroma of sweet fruits and herbaceous notes from the apple and herb reminiscent of fragrant fresh roses.
There are still a few things to tweak and refine, Wilson shares, such as the sound system, rearranging the artwork and the constant culinary R&D. Still, it’s a pretty polished debut for Wilson and could be what he needs to clinch another Michelin star at record speed.
Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive, 01-09 Flower Dome, Singapore 018953. Tel: 6604 9988