Review: The Summerhouse
The Summerhouse | 3 Park Lane, Singapore 798387
6262 1063 | email@example.com
I was advised by a close friend and fellow food lover to arrive at The Summerhouse closer to dusk because “it’s just so beautiful, Zat”. Ever since her last tasting at The Summerhouse, she has been talking about the food here on repeat for almost a week, gushing about the freshness of ingredients and “their sustainability, Zat! Oh, their sustainability!”. Closer to my own tasting, however, she started to worry that after all that gushing and preening and expectations duly raised, that I would find the cuisine lacking. She’s such a worrier, that one.
The best way to approach The Summerhouse would be to alight at the wrong bus stop. You can, of course, take an Uber or drive there, as most are wont to do after hearing that it’s located at Seletar Aerospace Park and appropriately reacting in faux horror. In actuality, there are two buses that stop directly in front of the restaurant, but that is not the stop you want to alight at. Have faith in my judgment (many have, and many have not been wrong) and alight at the stop after. Cross the road and soak in the endless expanse of green and the fresh evening air of a place untouched by residence, carparks, and the awful things that we humans bring when we congregate and live together. Unless of course, you are averse to the view of a beautiful crimson-hued sunset, gently setting across an unblocked horizon, its rays reflecting against leaves, trees, and Mother Nature. In which case, take a car and you can alight right at the entrance of Summerhouse. You would have arrived, but really, isn’t the journey the destination after all?
The Oval - where The Summerhouse resides in a Hampton-esque setting of black and white shophouses that stand guard against the decay of time, surrounded by old favourites such as Di Wei Teochew and the painfully hip Wheeler’s Estate - is the personification of ‘lifestyle’. The location of this sleepy enclave will not cajole the hoi polloi to descend en masse; in fact, I am rather certain that the youthful Instagram paparazzi would not know what to do with this place. The Summerhouse is not the place for fleeting gratification or a quick snap of eroticised amuse-bouche, posed prettily in front of a wall that screams INSTAGRAM ME NOW all over its grey exterior. Instead, The Summerhouse invites and titillates the discerning diner looking for a place where sustainability is of the highest priority and reverence for ingredients is the order of the day.
The Summerhouse is a two-storey conservation bungalow more closely resembling a Fisher-Price Activity Centre of dining. On the ground floor to your right, is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Wildseed Cafe in a space that used to house two purpose-built squash courts, but now a place for weekend brunches, sipping mimosas, downing coffee, and enjoying the revelry of friends who prefer to sleep in on weekends. The Wildseed Garden Bar spills over to the left, serving drinks and man-food; ie your favourite grilled and fried comfort foods - not for health, but for the soul.
Round back, nestled in the garden (created and curated by Edible Garden City) are three translucent domes sitting prettily amongst sweet potato leaves, blue pea flowers, and a myriad of herbs that are used by the kitchen for garnish. A wise and prolific furniture designer once told me that the world is about balance. In an era of fast everything, it is truly heartening to know that places such as The Summerhouse and HRVST are counterbalancing the politicization of food processes with in-situ, permaculture gardening, exemplifying a farm-to-table concept that is so painfully in vogue today.
We had our appetizers in the translucent domes, suitably chilled for a warm evening. The domes are a new addition to The Summerhouse in January to cater to an outdoor dining concept under the stars (or a poetic light drizzle). Each dome has been titivated to one of three themes; Bohemian, Scandinavian or Lounge. If you’ve ever had dreams of eating dinner, created by a kitchen that sources their ingredients from local or Malaysian farms, uses backyard grown herbs for garnish, mosquito-free (courtesy of Citronella planted fastidiously everywhere), and cooling with a touch of elegance, search no more and step right in to one of these domes. But if you’re making reservations for dinner in one of these domes (minimum spend $300++), please be absolutely clear of your intentions with your partner. These domes are so cloyingly romantic that absent a ring and one bended knee, dinner would simply be a saccharinely thoughtful meal on overdose.
The menu reads like an Oscar Red Carpet list of who everyone is wearing except instead of Dior, Armani or Oscar de la Renta, you have Freedom Eggs (Johor), Seafood Culture (Singapore), and Kin Yan Agriculture Singapore headlining each entrance. From Freedom Eggs (Johor), we are served sliced Australian Avocado garnished generously with chive, and a side of Chia seed crackers; crunchy, almost too healthy to be true. But where lies the fresh farmed egg? Unlike the cavernous state of Johor, the sous vide egg yolk hides beneath the avocado, a star waiting for its reveal. Creamy and yellow to the point of orange, the yolk makes for a well-planned appetiser replete with the holy trinity of flavour and texture; creamy, crunchy, and acidic. Brava.
The grilled rye bread is first pre-coated with buttermilk (oh my) and comes with a side of home-made butter that tastes like heaven and spreads like Katya Zamolodchikova on the dance floor.
My grilled prawns, courtesy of Seafood Culture (Singapore), has all the attributes of freshness seafood should possess. Prawns can be prepared in many ways, but grilling is the only method that truly preserves its satisfying bite. Here, I am extremely obsessed with The Summerhouse’s iteration of my favourite seafood, dressed up with lardo and casually accessorized with herbs from their garden.
The menu is a communal affair that’s meant to be reminiscent of family dinners huddled around a table, annoying sister in attendance but the food tasty to a fault. For a very well-priced prix fixe of $70++, you’re presented with a choice of eight to twelve dishes of sharing portion depending on the number of people present. Make your selection from eighteen dishes or let the Chef decide. Personally, I would choose the Chef selections because after a day of work, why make work of dinner too?
Can we talk about the red snapper fillet for a second? It is undisputed that fish is finicky. Undercooked, it’s rubber. Overcooked, it’s melted rubber. That midpoint between perfection and utter disaster is artistry and here, The Summerhouse delivers. The smoked butter poached red snapper fillet flooded with seaweed beurre blanc arrives with nary a whisper but bursts in the mouth like Katy Perry’s 2010 classic, Firework.
The smoked potato puree is impeccable. Smooth, almost like a custard but savory instead of sweet. The mash infused with beef stock and siphoned into a creamy, luscious, and dreamy consistency that belies all other melt-in-your-mouth dishes I’ve had the fortune of tasting. If it looks simple, it’s because it is. But its flavours are complex with opening notes of umami (I use this term very, very carefully) and top notes of intense smokiness.
Dinner wraps up with an elegant crowd-favourite of a sizeable hazelnut cookie that serves as a comforting bed for the layers of smooth vanilla custard and a perfectly shaped quenelle of chocolate ice-cream made using Valrhona chocolate from Bali, dark as the night that slowly envelopes the dining room.
There’s a lot to love about The Summerhouse; from it’s commitment to food sustainability and patronage of local farms to its quaint charm in an enclave that, like its food, exudes quiet confidence. I walked out of The Summerhouse from its porch, adorned with strings of fairy lights glittering like stars against the twilight sky and I pause, taking everything in, this sight serving as an aide memoire for a summerhouse experience steeped in good food and undeniable romance. I know I’ll be back again very soon.