Cover Osteria Mozza's outdoor garden where the staff grows herbs and flowers used as garnish (Photo: Daniel Koh)

Amid a global sustainability push, more restaurants are planting greens in their own backyard

Singapore may be an urban jungle, but sprouting amid the dense concrete thickets are unexpected little oases of green—restaurant gardens.

These green plots, which supply the fresh vegetables and herbs that adorn the plates of the nation’s top restaurants, are part of a wider industry movement towards greater food security and eco-conscious consumption.

Now, companies like HSBC are working with such restaurants to promote their sustainable offerings and encourage climate-friendly dining habits, says Jonathan Castleman, HSBC’s global head of brand and brand partnerships. 

Read more: Singapore’s Top Chefs Tell Us Why Sustainability Matters in the F&B Scene

Greens Galore

Sustainability is the prevailing ethos at HSBC, and the financial institution’s efforts dovetail nicely with the development of the farm-to-table trend: while chefs once were content to purchase greens from vendors, more are now taking the step to plant them in their own backyard. 

This cuts out the carbon footprint required to transport produce, and offers customers super-fresh greens.

“When you come across flowers on your plate, they’re freshly picked from our garden,” says a spokesman from European restaurant The Summerhouse at Seletar Aerospace Park, which serves beautiful creations such as the refreshing elderflower sorbet topped with fresh strawberries, mint jelly and petals from its expansive outdoor garden. “We are able to create freely based on seasonal availability, giving us the option to switch things up.”

The restaurant works with vendor Edible Garden City to curate a selection of greens, such as blue pea flowers and sweet potato leaves. Up to 100 per cent of its garnishes are harvested from the garden, and its drinks menu is also curated from the herbs and flowers available. 

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Meanwhile, Opus Bar & Grill in Voco Orchard Singapore plants Italian basil and micro-herbs both for its own use, as well as for sister establishment Il Cielo. Its self-managed vertical garden boasts a closed loop irrigation system that recycles water.

“As sustainability is one of our key pillars, a garden housing fresh herbs and produce that can be used in our dishes made sense to us,” confirms Opus executive chef Shannon Batten. Diners will be able to savour these greens in dishes like the marinated beetroot salad with whipped goat cheese cream, raspberries, almonds and freshly harvested mint leaves; as well as the fermented tomatoes with kale, basil and balsamic glaze. 

It’s a similar story over at Osteria Mozza, which plants chilli, tomatoes and basil with the help of gardening partner Mirage Landscaping. The restaurant was designed to include an outdoor area surrounded by an urban farm when it moved to its new home at Hilton Singapore Orchard.

Chef Nancy Silverton saw the space and immediately saw the potential to dedicate a section of the restaurant to growing our own plants, since we use plenty of herbs and vegetables on the menu,” says general manager Manu Gandotra. 

“Having a garden gives us a playground to play around with the garden-to-plate concept, and explore ways we can keep our menu more exciting.” For instance, executive chef Peter Birks and his team use their own basil for their caprese salad, which also comprises fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. In the red prawn chitarra, they top it with parsley picked from the garden to elevate the pasta’s flavours.

In case you missed it: Nancy Silverton Reveals What’s New at the Reopened Osteria Mozza in Singapore

Downs and Ups

While a charming concept, growing greens amid a concrete landscape does not come easy.

As Osteria Mozza’s garden is close to its dining space, the restaurant has to be particularly stringent about pest control and upkeep.  “The garden has to look aesthetically pleasing,” says Gandotra, adding that this also needs to be balanced with optimal growth conditions. “Every plant has its own lighting and temperature needs.”

Meanwhile, one of the major challenges faced by The Summerhouse is Singapore’s warm and humid climate. “It limits the kind of plants one can grow. Many of the herbs and microgreens we use in our menu tend to require a more controlled environment, and most do not survive the harsh weather,” says its spokesman. “Those that survive grow at a slower rate—which in turn, affects the availability of the items we may need.”

Opus’ complaint centres around the lack of room. “We wish we had more space to do more than what we currently are,” says Batten. But on the bright side, the presence of the garden has “brought out a hidden passion” among its staff. 

“While one would think that maintaining a garden in the city is challenging, we’ve found that our team has been excited to rise to the occasion and learn as much as they can about how to care for the herbs and plants that we’re growing,” the spokesperson says.

Despite these limitations, all three restaurants said the presence of a garden has been a big plus, each citing a strong sustainability ethos. For example, The Summerhouse’s ‘nature-inspired cuisine’ is set apart from competitors by its farm-to-table approach, says its spokesman.

Osteria Mozza, meanwhile, takes direction from the green initiatives of both Hilton Singapore Orchard—where it is housed—and of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, of which it is an offshoot. The latter was among the first class of restaurants in America to receive the Green Star distinction by the Michelin Guide for its commitment to sustainable gastronomy. 

Then there is the surprise and delight of diners. “We have received feedback that the garden gives the restaurant a wow factor and a more vibrant aesthetic,” says Osteria Mozza’s Gandotra. 

Adds Batten for Opus: “It adds a nice touch for our guests, to be able to see exactly where the herbs on their plates come from.”

In collaboration with HSBC, Opus Bar & Grill is offering HSBC card members a complimentary dish when they dine at the restaurant from now until August 31. HSBC card members who book The Summerhouse from September 1 to 30 will also receive a complimentary appetiser. Terms and conditions apply.

Owning an HSBC credit card—made from recycled plastic—is one step towards enjoying life’s privileges more sustainably and building a better food future. Sign up now and receive 35,000 air miles, SG$200 cashback or Samsonite luggage as a welcome gift. You will also get exclusive access to the chefs’ exclusive and sustainable offers.

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