Open Farm Community (OFC) ─ the three-way collaboration between the Spa Esprit Group, Chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club, and Edible Garden City ─ is Singapore's most ambitious farm-to-table dining concept yet. The 35,000 square feet compound on Minden Road in the Dempsey foothills houses a 120-seater restaurant, and a sprawling urban garden where nearly 150 plants, everything from fresh herbs to edible flowers to fruit trees, are grown under the tender care of the Edible Garden City team.
The whole concept is palpably rooted in the spirit of letting nature speak for itself, starting with a cleverly designed edible landscape. From the get-go, diners are welcomed into the compound by neat plots of herbs that flank one side of the driveway all the way to the restaurant. Vegetable shrubs and fruit trees do double duty as subtle fences between OFC and its neighbour, and vines like passionfruit and tonkin jasmine are grown on trellises with the long-term aim of providing organic umbrage over the garden seats. There is even a micro-climate of sorts: sun-loving plants such as rosemary and lemon balm bask in direct light, whereas those that thrive better with partial sun ─ such as the miracle berry bush (it's still maturing, so no flavour tripping parties just yet!) and coffee trees ─ are strategically placed in shadier corners.
There's space aplenty for the little ones to roam around, and metal tags indicate plant names for an educational experience. It's a wonderful opportunity for you and the kids to reconnect with nature. Come August, there will also be a playground (with a sand pit to boot!) at the back of the grounds, and a series of workshops and activities, so you might want to make visits here a leisurely half-day affair. Don't forget to also pick out some eco-friendly lunchboxes, bottles and bags for Junior at Tiny Dipity's nook in the retail section.
Unlike the molecular gastronomy experiments at the Tippling Club, the menu at OFC is decidedly down-to-earth ─ a reflection of the new concept's focus on letting good produce speak for themselves ─ yet brilliantly retain Chef Ryan's inventive streak when it comes to flavour pairings.
Consider the Fermented Carrot Tartare ($24): the root vegetable is fermented in-house and minced, then served to the table with condiments like gherkins, shallots and gochujang (Korean fermented chilli paste) on the side for you to mix it all up to taste. The idea is mind-boggling, but the taste is quietly alluring, with the carrot's familiar sweetness bolstered by earthy undertones. The Chilled Avocado and Ginger Soup ($20) with poached yabbies (a type of crayfish) is surprisingly bright in flavour, with the gorgeous blue pea flower lending an unexpected sweet tinge. A platter of freshly shucked oysters come anointed with green sago pearls infused in a parsley-and-chardonnay vinegar.
For mains, the Roasted Baby Chicken ($28) is spot-on, with tender braised leeks and crunchy hazelnuts. A plate of Roasted Mangalica Pork Belly ($34) is served with a zesty salad of julienned apple and ginger to counter the unctuous character of the meat, but the Asian side of sauteed bok choy feels a little nominal. While the Roasted Goldband Snapper with Ratatouille ($28) tastes as sunny as it looks, the other seafood option ─ Coal-Baked Barramundi ($26) with roasted eggplant ─ is so weighed down with spices that it starts to taste like a curried dish.
But it's OFC's pasta section that steals the show, thanks to the Italian Group Head Chef Daniele Sperindio's expertise. The 8-item menu section is all about hearty portions with a no-holds-barred approach on the flavour front, yet the dishes are never uncomfortably heavy or rich. All the pasta is made fresh in-house, so if you're game for trying lesser-known types of pasta, this is a good place to start at.
The Strozzapreti with 48-hour Barolo Braised Oxtail ($26) looks barely coated, yet picks up all the complex flavours of the beefy sauce marvellously. The pasta itself, made by twisting strips of dough, resembles very loosely furled fusilli. The beef, of course, is admirably fork-tender and the parmesan wafers add a fun dimension. The Rigatoni ($26) is heavy on comforting umami notes with mushrooms, smoked pancetta, and a Stilton and balsamic reduction. The Gnocchi ($26) turns out to be of the most best renditions in town: the potato dumplings have just enough bite, and the base of shredded pork sausage and sun-dried tomatoes livens up a dish that's usually overtly cheesy and stodgy. The Pumpkin and Pine Nut Tortellini ($24), laced in OFC's very own 'Minden' pesto, balances the yielding, honeyed creaminess of the tortellinis with the plump texture of the yabbies, and a faint tartness from the micro tomatoes. For a more successful local bent, OFC also serves a mean Mud Crab Spaghettoni ($28) with a fiesty Thai curry sauce and caramelised cubes of squash.
On the dessert side of things, the citrusy creations impress most with clever savoury surprises. The Lemon Tart with Basil Ice Cream ($17) is presented like a strudel with layers of lemon curd piped between sable bicuits, and swirls of jelly-like chia seeds soaked in a basil-lemon oil. The ethereal Orange Meringue Pie ($17) benefits from the contrast in flavour and texture between the lemon-lime-orange salsa, and the clusters of pine nuts and crumbled sable cookies rolled in a rosemary and thyme-infused olive oil. And with the Spa Esprit Group's stronghold on the café scene, you're in safe hands if you're hankering for a post-meal cappuccino.
OPEN FARM COMMUNITY
130E Minden Road, tel: 6471-0306. Mon-Fri, noon-3pm, 6-10pm; Sat & Sun 11am-10pm. http://www.openfarmcommunity.com