Artichoke Restaurant and their ‘Green’ Philosophy
As a bit of a closet ‘greenie’ I keep an eye out for food that puts sustainability at the heart of their business. In Singapore this approach would pretty much mean I didn’t eat if I stuck to it rigidly, but I’m all for exploring options where people take an interest in where their food comes from and how it gets to us. That’s why I was impressed when I discovered that one of my favourite Singaporean restaurants also had a commitment to sourcing local produce wherever possible.
The combination of cuisine, setting and attitude at Artichoke show a passion and commitment that is refreshing to see in a new breed of entrepeneurial Singaporeans. The location is a reflection of the food; a relaxed atmosphere in a homely courtyard that is tucked away in Sculpture Square just off Middle Road. The garden setting makes you feel as if you’re miles away from the busy heart of Singapore. One of the most unique features of Artichoke is that their garden is packed full of plants that are used as ingredients for their Middle Eastern menu. There are herbs, peppers, tomatoes and more thriving in the well tended pots.
Headed up by chef and owner Bjorn Shen, Artichoke is unique in its off beat and independent approach to cooking and eating in Singapore. Chef Bjorn has committed to sourcing as much of his produce as possible from local suppliers, as well as growing his own vegetables. On an island that is only 25 kms wide, that approach takes dedication and commitment. I was lucky enough to interview Bjorn recently (I’ll share more of Bjorn’s interesting story in future blogs and articles) and his passion is evident in everything he does. Bjorn has been working hard to steadily increase the amount of locally sourced produce on the menu at Artichoke. This has materialised into between 30% and 60% of the menu at Artichoke being sourced from local suppliers, varying based on supply and the changing menu. Bjorn travels out to suppliers to see for himself how the produce is farmed and talks with local farmers about how they might be able to grow some of the non-traditional ingredients needed for his brand of Middle-Eastern cuisine.
The Middle Eastern menu at Artichoke is one that stays fresh by introducing daily specials, along with menu changes based on customer feedback and supply of ingredients. The only downside of this is that when you’ve been a few times and you’re craving a particular dish, it might not be on the menu the next time you visit. On different occasions I’ve tried most of the mezzes; carrot and rosewater dip, mixed olives with herbs, home made humous, grilled eggplant, babaganoush and a crab dip.
On my visit last week the bread was a sliced baguette that has been lightly grilled with oil and a touch of garlic. I personally prefer the lebanese bread that used to be served, it is a much better accompaniment for the tasty dips. The food at Artichoke is designed to share, so portions are decent but not massive. The home made humous is my favourite, it’s drizzled with olive oil and reminded me of the great home made humous that you get all over the Middle East, with the sesame flavoured Tahini giving a subtle punch to the chickpeas. I wasn’t a big fan of the red pepper dip with walnuts, I found it a little bitter but the texture was good and others in our party enjoyed it. Babaganoush tasted as good as it looked with the eggplant flesh not minced too finely and the smokey flavour adding that extra something special. The crab dip was an interesting option that I wouldn’t normally have interpreted as Middle-Eastern, but that’s one of the things I like about Artichoke, they’re prepared to experiment with the food to see what works.
When it comes to mains the options are a mix of traditional Middle Eastern lamb dishes and some more interesting choices. The lamb shoulder on our last visit was slow cooked and literally fell off the bone. The meat itself was moist and had taken on the flavours of garlic and herbs it had cooked in. Lamb Kebabs are offered as a special quite often and the skewers of meat are well seasoned and accompanied by an anchovy butter for extra flavour. The meat itself on my first sampling did have a few gristly bits which were a little annoying but the flavour was spot on.
On a slightly lighter note we tried spicy chicken sausages on our last visit and the flavours were happily surprising. A good amount of spice and the sausage skins that reminded me of a good old English Cumberland, a bit chewy to get through but the texture kept the meat inside moist and tasty. There’s fried haloumi, served with tomatoes and greens from the garden, and it also tastes as good as it looks below. My favourite main dish at Artichoke is the Shish Taouk, chicken with 7 spices, pickles and garlic sauce that is served seared on the outside, leaving the inner flesh soft and juicy. I should point out that the garlic sauce will leave you reeking of garlic for at least two days! Artichoke use chicken thighs for the Shish Taouk which is a deviation from the traditional Lebanese style of Shish Taouk which uses chicken breasts. The benefit of the thigh cut is that you can nicely char the outside without drying out the meat, and the thigh meat is also more flavourful.
The wine list is small but includes decent options ranging from around $50 to $80 per bottle; the Merlot is a good combination with the flavoursome meats and on my last visit the wine on promotion was also very good. As with anywhere in Singapore, I recommend a bottle as opposed to a glass, the glasses are often poured from a bottle that has spent too long opened. Your meal will be prepared and served with enthusiasm by the generally engaged and knowledgable staff. Dinner will cost you around $50 per head for two and a bit courses each, not including wine.
Artichoke also do a weekend brunch that is well worth a try. Standards like scrambled eggs come with a Middle Eastern twist; fried haloumi, beetroot and mushrooms as sides add an undeniable Middle-Eastern flavour that works well. There’s even a carnivorous option with char grilled lamb that will fill the emptiest of stomachs. Coffees at Artichoke are slightly on the weak side for my liking so I always order a double shot. And to end your meal on a sweet note, you can now choose one of the homemade baklava selection from Overdoughs – the bakery outlet that Bjorn has started up and now resides in the leafy courtyard.
161 Middle Road, Singapore, 188978
phone +65 6336 6949
Open for dinner and brunch on the weekends. Click on the link above for current opening hours.
Note: All prices quoted are in Singapore dollars (SGD). To convert to your local currency click here.