The farm-to-table (or some say farm-to-fork) concept has been around for years in the local restaurant scene, championed by the likes of Dewakan, Entier and ATAS. More recently, the idea of consciously using fresh, homegrown ingredients in F&B has edged into the bar industry under a movement of its own: garden to glass.
Enter The Curious Gardener, helmed by seasoned bartender and Bar Manager Alvin AuYong. Hidden behind a wooden shed door in a corner of The Farm Foodcraft at The Sphere in Bangsar South, the newly opened bar offers a catalogue of drinks made with herbs and harvest grown in its own conservatory and backyard.
“Last year, during the MCO in March, I was in Ipoh for a consulting project. It was quite strict in Ipoh, so I couldn’t really go out too much. My mum has a lot of herbs, so I kind of worked with that and made drinks at home. After the MCO changed to whatever it was after that, I came back to KL and introduced the concept here,” Alvin reveals on how the home gardening trend last year sparked the inspiration for the bar.
Given that The Farm Foodcraft also highlights a farm-to-table menu, things fell into place quite naturally. But to answer your question: is Alvin the “Curious Gardener” the bar is named after? Not exactly.
The Gardener’s shed
“The idea here was to create a fictional character, like James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. Your interpretation of the character changes depending on what you see, heard or read so when people come to bar, they might ask us who is that curious gardener? It could be me or it could be someone else in the future – we don’t know. We want to try to keep that a little bit of a mystery,” Alvin teases, sporting a checked shirt, cap and bowtie befitting the role.
“In the daytime, the gardener would work outside on the plants and herbs. That’s why when you look outside, there’s the apron and the shovel and also the hat at the door – the story is that as the sun sets, he comes back home and he leaves everything at the door.”
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For everyone else but the gardener, entrance to the bar involves finding the shovel and lifting it for a knock, which pushes a button to light up the signal within for him to manually open the door. Inside, you’ll find that the shed is really an oasis brimming with natural light, lush greenery and rattan furniture.
There’s a cosy bar counter, a main seating area and an al fresco space that’s perfect for evening drinks, altogether accommodating up to 24 persons. Potted plants, herbs, terrariums and creepers spruce up the place – some solely for aesthetic and others to be used in the cocktails, together with the hydrophonic plants from upstairs.
(swipe left for more photos)
As for the drinks, expect 18 creations spread across three categories that start from light and refreshing to heavier blends: Plant The Seeds, Water The Plants and Harvest The Crops. Presented in a menu resembling a gardener’s notebook – complete with stunning illustrations of the drinks and their ingredients – this bar checks all the right boxes where first impressions are concerned.
Plant The Seeds
Given that the bar is currently a one-man show, Alvin says he focuses heavily on prep work to ensure service run smoothly. Everything is premixed and carbonated in favour of speed and conversation during operation hours, which we can attest to upon our mid-day visit.
Our introduction to the first section arrives in the form of Twisting My Melons, a light-hearted take on the classic G&T. Honeydew-infused gin informs the base, with fig leaf-infused tonic adding subtle aromas of coconut and vanilla, as well as Osmanthus vermouth for depth and just the right amount of sweetness. Blue pea flower gives the drink its purple tint, contrasted by green pandan sago for a bite between sips. It’s fragrant, refreshing and simply delightful for a sunny afternoon – no surprises why it’s a favourite here.
Next up is Jack of all Draques, a twist on the mojito (which back in the day, was called ‘el draque’). It’s a blend of jackfruit-infused rum, apple mint cordial and snow fungus soda, which makes for a light, tropical libation to cool off the Malaysian heat. To avoid waste and make the most of every ingredient, the snow fungus also serves as garnish – cooked with red dates, longan and goji berries for flavour and beetroot-dyed for an appealing pink hue.
Water The Plants
We move on to the second section of the menu, where sweet and sour concoctions shine, starting with Holy Shiitake (pun enthusiasts will have a ball here). Aside from the mushroom that tops the drink, it lives up to its name with a mix of shitake-infused gin, basil-infused fortified wine, lemon juice and blueberry jam. A blanket of wheatgrass foam contrasts the beetroot-coloured liquid underneath, owing to the wine and berry elements. Sweet and sour flavours interplay with earthy and herbal notes here, resulting in a unique profile that’s sure to excite the adventurous palate.
Harvest The Crops
Milky Whey marks our segue into the final category of the menu. A clarified milk punch made with a blend of carrot and soy milk, cherry brandy, gin and manzanilla sherry infusion, it’s further sweetened with honey and borrows a hint of acidity from lemon to offer a well-balanced drink. What intrigues us more, however, is the carrot pulp cracker that accompanies the concoction. It’s made from carrot pulp (in the spirit of zero-waste) mixed with cherry tomato, chia seeds, flax seeds, lemon and salt, juiced together before it’s dehydrated into a cracker form, adding texture to the package.
After a series of cold cocktails, Alvin recommends the Bombing Jagger as a nightcap (though it’s barely evening at the time). The only hot drink on the menu – and we mean steaming hot – it comes in a wooden barrel mug, accompanied by a kuih bahulu. This instantly strikes us as the most Malaysian drink so far, and the familiar aromas in the mix of coconut oil-infused whisky, pandan tea and Olorosso & Pedro Ximenez sherry confirms our judgement. Ginger and jaggery offer hints of sweet and spicy notes, deepening its warm, nutty flavours.
We allow ourselves one more glass of poison before calling it a day, and Going Bananas earns the spot. It’s as tropical as it sounds, with a rum base infused with bananas and fortified wine influenced by dill for a bittersweet smack. Pimento berries lace the drink with a subtle spice, complemented by the nuttiness of hazelnut. The edible part of the drink comes by way of a paper thin banana peel topped with paprika, orange gel and salt – yet another tribute to the colourful, curious experiments of this fictional gardener.
If you ask us, it’s hard to think of a reason not to visit this new bar in KL. Everything from the story to the verdant environment (unless you’re allergic to sunlight and nature) down to the drinks amount to a seamless narrative that promises a memorable experience. The fact that most of the drinks are as divine as they look is a bonus.
Location: G-01, Level Ground, The Sphere, Bangsar South City, 59200 Kuala Lumpur (Inside The Farm Foodcraft)
Opening hours: 4pm to 12am daily
Photos: Anson Siau