Text and images by Tiantianchi @ Makansutra
Violet Oon's Kitchen
Many regard her as the precursor to local celebrity chefs such as Sam Leong, Justin Quek and Andre Chang. But celebrity status don’t always equate to good food. I knew about Violet Oon through her publication, Food Paper in the late 80s. This is early day food porn for me before we have blogs. I looked forward to the arrival of each issue, pouring through to find out where are the good makan places but as importantly her recipes which repertoire extends beyond her beloved Nonya cuisine.
Practically every one of her recipes works wonderfully for those I know who have tried them, but I was never quite enamored with how she translated them at the various eateries she owned. The food tasted so different from her recipes. So it is with a little apprehension and hesitation I visited her latest venture, Violet Oon’s Kitchen.
I went expecting to be greeted by some woody musky Peranakan deco but was instead confronted with a stylish bistro (retro cum modern with black and white theme and geometric tiles). It obviously catered to the younger, well-travelled patrons and the eclectic menu was an East meets West meets Nonya surprise. The four of us, pored through the Nonya Favourites section.
I thought the idea of serving pita bread with a chilli crab and buah keluak with prawns dip was good, and especially made better when we had to wait quite a bit to get served. The thick slightly gritty yet creamy buah keluak tapenade was delightful and came with an earthy, savoury yet almost dark chocolate like flavour. They chilli crabs sauce dips did not float my boat – it just lacked that feisty punch. The pita bread was a good trick but I would’ve loved a good keropok instead – less atas (snoot appeal) and not so filling, can be more addictive.
We like the crispy ayam goreng or rather the little kid in our group did. It was so crispy even the bone was brittle and the meat remained moist and tender. Unfortunately this perfection was foiled by a burned desiccated coconut.
Their ngoh hiang was battered tempura style and deep fried. There was a satisfying crunchy bite and enough juice in the meaty filling that screamed for their killer sambal belachan dip.
Dry Mee Siam
The waitress recommended the dried mee siam and we ordered, with no regrets. Without the usual Nonya accent of coconut milk in the rempah sauce, it came light, spicy and not heavy. The rempah shone through. They used a slightly thicker bee hoon and it was done nicely al dente, where the rempah and the flossy minced spicy hae bee comfortably clung on to. At $17, it’s not hawker or even food court prices but it came with a rather generous serving of large prawns.
We intended to share the main course but they come as individual serving that includes rice, salad, sambal chilli and pickles. Request to have them served family style was cheerfully obliged.
The beef rendang didn’t go down well with us. No issue with the texture. It was tender and soft with a little bit of braised-till-jelly-like tendon but it tasted just too sweet for our liking. A style the sweet toothed Javanese would like. The turmeric rice that comes with it was excellent though – fragrant, gummy and flavourful.
I have not eaten a good babi pongteh for a long time and theirs did not disappoint. The pork belly was served like a square brick than the usual cubes, topped with a glorious layer of tender wobbly meat with melt-in –the-mouth skin, was not too fat. The gravy was concentrated, rich, bold and robust, with a very good balance of savory sweetness (from the tau cheo and spices). I simply loved having that with the fresh green chilli for a stinging bite.
Ayam Buah Keluak
Their ayam buah keluak did not disappoint but didn’t make me shout with joy either. It was decent, predictable, but not memorable. The gravy was piquant, nutty, slight tangy and had sufficient spiciness that went well with white rice. If I have to fault it – the chicken meat was a little bland.
The Nonya chap chye has to be one of the best I have tried. Violet was making her rounds greeting the patrons and we chatted with her for a while. She told us the effort in making just the stock- crushed prawn shells, sautéed, boiling, filtering etc. It sounded so complicated and I lost her halfway into the explanation. The stock was rich and deep, it is like prawn essence and the flavour penetrated and enhanced every one of the ingredients, from cabbage, black fungus, sweet bean stick and dried mushroom. This dish alone is a good enough reason for me to come back again.
Toffee Date Pudding
We ended the meal with two desserts. The sticky toffee date pudding was too sweet, that any fragrance and flavour of the date was overwhelmed by the cloying sensation. The vanilla ice cream that topped it was a non-event. We were a little more impressed with the bubor cha cha panna cotta, an interesting rendition. You can’t go wrong marrying of two classics if you do it well, and they did. It tasted like what it should be. Almost every item you find in bubor cha cha was there – miniaturised and topped with a gently coconut-ty pudding.
Food and prices, overall, is above average. We paid closed to $200. The portions were decent and the service was efficient. I will be back, especially if Violet serves up my favourite recipe of hers – Nonya popiah.
Violet Oon’s Kitchen 881 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 279893 Tel: 6468 5430 Lunch: 11.30am-3pm, Dinner: 6-9.30pm (Close Mondays) www.violetoonskitchen.com