Singapore Garden: Singapore swings, mostly (August 2015)

For any neighbourhood restaurant to be fairly full on a Monday must be a good sign. This was the case when a comrade and I recently visited the well-established Singapore Garden in Swiss Cottage. After a refurb a few years’ ago, the spacious venue seemed and felt much like the country after which it is named: modern and efficient, even if somewhat lacking in atmosphere. With Singapore itself celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent country, we also did wonder what may actually constitute ‘Singaporean’ cuisine. Having eaten here and also perused the exceptionally extensive menu, it is probably reasonably hard to define, although a fair summary would be to describe it as an amalgam of south-east Asian flavours and dishes, owing a considerable debt to Malaysia, Thailand and China. We almost suffered from a tyranny of choice given the range of options, combined with a waiter that seemed slightly too keen to take our order quickly. Nonetheless, we opted for two starters to share followed by two mains and a vegetable side. Across the board, portion sizes were on the generous-side, and while some dishes undoubtedly excelled, others were more pedestrian. Our duck pancake starter, for example, lacked in flavour and was somewhat chewy. On the flipside, we were highly impressed with our lightly battered salt, pepper and chilli squid. The spicy aubergines in yellow bean sauce were also wonderful and we could easily have eaten more. It is hard to know, of course, whether these dishes necessarily showed the restaurant at its best, but there is certainly evidence of some talent and potential in the kitchen. The one caveat would be price. For what you experience (a lot posher than Chinatown, but certainly far from high-end Asian dining experiences in London), it is not especially good value. We also just stuck to beer for drinks, but did note that the wine list (beyond the house options) came in on the pricier side. In summary, Singapore Garden is a good restaurant, but not a great one.