01 Feb 2016
I'm a frequent traveller and I tend to find a few places that feel like coming home. The Garden Slug is my Singapore home restaurant.
I have been to enough fancy places in remarkable settings and never quite had a food experience like this any place else. It knocks your socks off from your mundane existence and into some other place. Not everything on the menu will do that but some of the items do pull the rug from under you, land you on your bottom wondering "what just hit me"? "Delicious" doesn't do it, this stuff doesn't make you "feel good", forget all that. This is Food Science Fiction, served by understated, composed yet excruciatingly talented young people.
While the food is all that, the setting is an ordinary but cosy, cute place where you can eat and talk and relax, no blaring music or noisy sports commentators. It's an unassuming little place in residential Siglap. That too throws you off - you're experiencing Food Nirvana and all around you, everything just looks normal. Couples on a date, families celebrating some birthday, college kids working on a project.
I first had the Spicy Sausage Gumbo in 2008 and was disappointed to return years later to learn that it was no longer on the menu. I'd never forgotten it. This time around, I was flying in from -6 degrees in poorly-insulated China and dammit I wanted that gumbo. I'd written in and asked Aaron, one of the two owners if they would make me the gumbo so they knew I was coming. I'd sat down about 10 minutes looking through the menu before it arrived. Now, I'm no big fan of tomato-based food but this one had such a natural-tasting tomato base, balanced across fiery, earthy and a tiny bit tangy. It was healthy, a just-right portion for my diet, had the Bratwurst sausages for protein, a mix of veggies, plenty of garlic for the immunity, little grains of rice worked in for minimal carbs and Caribbean spice (so good I'd snuck out my little notebook and tried to steal the recipe). After the initial kick had worn off, I was warm, hearing "cheek-cheekaboom cheek cheekaboom" playing in my head.
Now this gumbo came accompanied by another startling piece of work. I'd been battling between wanting something with lemongrass and their homemade ginger beer while wanting a shot of something. Aaron came back with a cocktail made by Wan Yi that smelled simply fresh with the basil leaf and lemongrass stalks and the slightest hint of alcohol to get me going. I'd been chatting when I'd reached out and taken a generous sip, that stopped me in my tracks. My mind took a giant step onto some high ledge and was admiring the view in some parallel universe. Ensuing sips were balanced, flavourful, not too sweet, just elegant...
Dessert was flaxseed pancakes with cinnamon, strawberries, maple caramel, walnuts and a shot of Cointreau with toffee sauce on the side. Beautiful texture that felt healthy and wholesome.
Thumbs up, Slug. You guys are terrific at "underpromise and over-deliver". I will be back.