Tucked in a quiet enclave, Dempsey Hill boasts an impressive range of great eateries. Though it is a bit out of the way for some, Open Farm Community, Spa Esprit Group’s newest venture is definitely worth a visit.
The one-of-a-kind initiative is a collaboration between The Spa Esprit Group, celebrity chef Ryan Clift and award-winning food garden specialists, Edible Garden City. It addresses the growing disconnect between urban communities and nature, aiming to help Singaporeans make a deeper and more meaningful connection with food and farming through a completely hands-on experience.
The eatery is nestled in the tropical lush greenery and it’s hard to believe that skyscrapers and supermalls are just down the road. Sprawling over 35,000 square feet, the green space exists both as an urban farmland as well as a horticultural hub, incorporating a coffee bar, fresh juice, and cocktail bar as well as lawn bowling and table tennis facilities. Whether you choose to dine alfresco or in the rustic greenhouse, you are completely immersed in the very birthplace of the ingredients, lovingly grown and cultivated by the farmers and finally constructed into creative, delicious dishes by Ryan Clift and Daniele Sperindo.
Similarly, this connection created between the consumer and the consumed is echoed in the open kitchen concept; guests are therefore offered a first-hand experience of the different steps from the garden to the kitchen and onto the plate. Though the simplicity of the garden-to-table process is reinforced, Open Farm Community’s fare is far from simple and bland; it is a perfect demonstration of how flavoursome and tasty fresh produce can be.
Veg-centric dishes feature heavily throughout the menu, and especially as a way to start off the meal. Highlights include the wonderfully colourful Chilled Avocado & Ginger Soup with Poached Yabbies & Fresh Radish ($20).
I’m usually not a huge fan of chilled soups – for me soups are meant to be consumed in the winter, warming the heart and the soul – but this beautiful bowl of bright green, acutely reminiscent of Thai Tom Kha, completely changed my view on it. The base of the soup is completely dairy-free, being composed of avocado puree, coconut milk, galangal, lime leaf, and coriander. This makes the broth incredibly light and refreshing yet still indulgently, but naturally, creamy. The yabbies from Malaysia are incredibly fresh crayfish and are a beautiful pairing with the slightly sour, citrus notes of the soup.
Another aesthetically-striking dish is the Fermented Carrot ‘Tartare’ ($24) which is a unique vegetarian take on the standard steak tartare. The ground carrot is vibrant orange and is mixed with a selection of seasonings and dressings including shallots, chives, capers, gherkins, herbs, gochujang, and curry oil. It was a bit on the salty side for my taste, but is perfect for those who like their dishes bursting with flavour. Other vegetable-focused dishes are the Baby Eggplant with Spicy Togarshi ($14) and the Cauliflower with Yoghurt & Southern Wood Dressing ($14).
The eggplant was another favourite; it was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth creaminess which was complemented by a generous serving of crème fraiche. The mild flavours of the eggplant and the cream were contrasted with the spiciness from the cumin, as well as Japanese flavours such as dashi and togarashi. A play with textures was also at work with the crispiness of the charcoal quinoa puff, the toasted sourdough, and the deep-fried Okinawa spinach in direct contrast. The Sweet Corn with Smoked Paprika Butter, Popcorn & Chimichurri Bread ($14) was also a symphony of different tastes and textures.
The juicy sweetness of the corn on the cob worked well with the glossy coat of caramel on the popcorn and was heightened by a kick from the paprika and the flavoursome baby corn. The dish was an interesting display of the different ways corn can be enjoyed.
While vegetables seem to take the spotlight in numerous dishes, the seafood and meat dishes are no less impressive; one of the starters, the Coal Baked Omelette with Smoked Haddock, Tarragon & Grain Mustard Mornay ($24), was a crowd favourite and highly praised. The dish uses Barne Organic eggs and Béchamel sauce which produces a runny perfection of an omelette, with the sharp flavours of the rocket salad and shaved parmesan giving it a sophisticated edge. The two fish mains were also a hit; namely, the Coal Baked Barramundi with Cucumber Coleslaw, Roasted Eggplant & a Fresh Mint Dressing ($26) and the Red Grouper with Peas and Mint Puree with Grilled Baby Cos & Chimichurri ($28).
The flavours of the roasted eggplant and the yoghurt, suggestive of babaganoush and tzatziki, gave these local barramundi recipes a Turkish twist. The Mangalica Pork Collar with Asian BBQ Glaze, Corn & Speck Ragout with Pickled Cucumber ($34) is another great way in which the chefs harmonise different flavours from around the world.
Though the meat itself was roasted to tender perfection, what really set it apart were the sweet glaze, the corn, and the bean sprouts highlighting the Asian flare, topped off with the more traditional crispy pork crackling.
Perhaps most impressive was the incredible range of pastas. Don’t expect your typical run-of-the-mill spaghetti; Open Farm Community hand makes its pastas right on site, tailoring each to fit the flavours of the dish. What struck me the most was the obvious awareness of the preferences of a localised palate and the creative way in which this knowledge was taken full advantage of. The Strozzapreti with 48-hour Barolo braised oxtail, parmesan wafers & wild thyme ($26) is a perfect demonstration of this; the intertwined curly tubes are perfect vessels for the sauce, carrying an explosion of taste, reminiscent of Chinese braised oxtail, with each bite.
A crowd favourite, the Spaghettoni with Thai Curry Sauce, Mud Crab and Crunchy Yellow Squash ($28), was another fusion of flavours and textures. The slight bitterness of the squash is toned down by the sweetness of the mud crab and the strong presence of the thick spaghettoni (as thick as udon) is placed in direct contrast with the creamy Thai curry. Last and definitely not least is my personal favourite of the pastas, the Gnocchi with Shredded Pork Sausage, Sundried Tomato Jus & Fresh Fennel ($26).
I was a bit hesitant at first; being an avid fish and seafood fan, I tend to avoid meat dishes especially when they’re in the form of mince. However, I was completely blown away by this dish. The soft potato dumplings are like mini pillows on the brink of melting in your mouth, yet still firm enough to be thick and slightly chewy. They are placed atop a wonderfully flavoursome sauce of shredded pork sausages sautéed with fennel seeds herbs and butter, a more sophisticated and refined version of the traditional bolognaise sauce.
Moving on the desserts, all priced at $17, which included the Hot and Cold Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sorbet and Mint Meringue, the Orange Meringue Pie with Citrus Salsa and for a more localized dessert, the Caramelised Mango with Coconut Flavoured Tapioca Pearls, Coconut Sorbet and Coconut Meringue.
The Lemon Tart with Basil Ice Cream, however, definitely stole the limelight.
The colourful palette of bright green and pastel yellow hints at a unique blend of different flavours. The lemon tart consists of layers of sable biscuits and piped lemon curd dots, alternating between crunchy, buttery shortbread and smooth, tangy lemon curd. Though the lemon tart would have been delicious on its own, the peppery elements of the basil ice cream and basil chia seeds heightened the dessert.
“Our vision”, founder of Spa Esprit Cynthia Chua explains, “is to bring to life, the impact of urban farming in Singapore, and in doing so, strengthen our understanding and respect for food and its origins. OFC is an ideological and physical reaction to this.” Open Farm Community isn’t simply a place to feed the stomach, but also where one can feed the mind by exploring the many facets of food through art, tours of the vegetable and fruit orchards, talks and gardening workshops.