If you’re looking to make a positive impact on the environment, opting for fresh, locally harvested produce is a great start. Located in a beautiful colonial bungalow in the redeveloped Seletar Aerospace Park, The Summerhouse is a multi-faceted dining enclave that offers nature-inspired cuisine prepared with home-grown ingredients. Anthia Chng chatted with the restaurant’s German Chef de Cuisine Florian Ridder, about the sustainable dining concept, and explored the eatery’s historical Seletar surrounds.
Tell us more about the restaurant’s farm-to-table concept.
While local products can be as good as imported ones, many still expect imports to be of a higher quality. Yet, there are plenty of good local ingredients that aren’t widely used by businesses here due to a lack of awareness. At The Summerhouse, most of our vegetables are sourced from a farming collective of Singaporean and Malaysian growers and producers. As for our seafood, we get it from a local kelong (an offshore platform used for fishing). The edible garden on ground floor of The Summerhouse is curated by Edible Garden City, which champions the “Grow Your Own Food” movement in Singapore. This back to basics approach also allows us to use the herbs harvested from our in-house garden, in our dishes.
What’s your cooking mantra?
Respect the ingredients and maximise the use of everything in the kitchen. One of the principles of permaculture (the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient) is that every element in the garden should serve a variety of functions and purposes. Chefs need to rediscover the lost relationship between the ingredient and its natural habitat – we need to understand it as a complete ecosystem. A dish designed on these principles will need as little human interaction as possible. If you find the perfect carrot, don’t waste energy on trying to change it. Make it your central element and work on perfecting the surrounding for that piece of carrot instead; for example, you can make your own butter to glaze it. Most importantly, food must taste good, so don’t get stuck on trying to force ingredients into your concept of a dish.
What can we expect from the food at The Summerhouse?
I want to create comfort in the dishes we serve; yet since Singapore is so rich in cultural variety, while a dish might mean comfort to one person, it could taste exotic to another. I love to explore that experience for each guest and reflect on their feedback.
How can we practice ethical, sustainable dining at home?
This is hard to explain in a few words, but first and foremost you should support the producers and growers who subscribe to the sustainable produce standard. It’s not always easy for customers to make a well-informed choice as they tend to be misled or unaware of what to look out for when selecting ingredients. Therefore, growers and producers should also be more transparent in communicating the source of a product and the process behind it.
It’s great to see the “farm to kitchen” concept gaining traction in Singapore – restaurants growing their own fruit and veg, or sourcing only from local producers. That’s what The Summerhouse is all about. Being there is like taking a trip to the English countryside; charming buildings with vast gardens, tree-lined streets and a feeling of nature all around. The area’s full of history, too, with most of the houses sitting on the foundations built by the hard-grafting “concrete Lizzies”, Chinese ladies who were drafted in to help construct this area during World War II.
Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch (five courses; $130 for two), The Summerhouse Dining Room and Balcony Bar serves up incredible three-course ($150 for two), seven-course ($90 per person) and 11-course ($128 per person) tasting menus cleverly created by Chef Florian. Highlights include the simply named Beetroot (a whole raspberry-pickled beetroot with a “surprise centre”), the panzanella and eggplant “caviar” in tomato broth, and the healthy buckwheat porridge with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, not to mention mixologist Yadhaven Santheran’s mean lychee thyme martini ($21). You can opt to have pre-dinner drinks on the spacious terrace to soak in the view of the grand houses all around. This would make a great place to take visitors who’ve done Singapore’s “usual haunts”.
While the Art Deco-style colonial décor is pretty slick, you come here for the food (and a cocktail or three!) – particularly if you’re a real foodie with a conscience who wants to savour every well-sourced morsel of the imaginative menu. Eating here is a real experience so, go hungry, go with an open mind (yes, there are edible flowers) and feast away. Wildseed, a café, bar and patisserie all rolled into one on the ground floor, is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and all-day cocktails. Providence is the agenda here, too, with all ingredients (including the coffee!) sourced from local producers, or from the edible garden.
– Emi Finch
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This article first appeared in the April 2017 edition of Expat Living Singapore. Subscribe now!