If you call my name, I’ll be yours, forever.
En route to my next engagement, I spotted a familiar face on Jack’d. I felt nothing, initially – I was even glad that I had managed to detach myself emotionally away from him. On retrospect, our shared destinies will have seemed fleeting. I was wrong. Seeing his beautiful face stirred up a once and violent storm into reanimation. Wounds once shattered and left untouched were now being freshly blighted again. All of me, there was a deep longing to burst out – what I would’ve given to muster a greeting to illicit some response – I shush instead, close my eyes and nudge on the “home” button. I was once yours, and you, mine – I told you I’d wait for you no matter how long, you said you’d return for me. Surely you’d remember…
Located two-thirds up along Bukit Timah Road is Violet Oon’s Kitchen, an eponymous diner by the food ambassador herself. Only two-months old, the eatery has found positive favors with the local crowds despite little marketing. Violet Oon made a name for herself as food columnist in the late 80s, and appointed as a food ambassador by the Tourism Board. Her work, including her column, food reviews and product line, has led to appearances in both local and international media. While a significant portion of the menu is devoted to Peranakan food, a Malay-Chinese creole cuisine that takes inspiration from both cultures which is only now starting to garner global recognition albeit slowly, Violet is quick to point out that the bistro isn’t a Nonya restaurant. However, with a cuisine so unwilling to spill its secrets to an enthusiastic and inquisitive public, Violet Oon’s Kitchen may well have no choice, but to fit into that mold. This evening’s meal was hosted none other by Violet herself, and I was very honored.
To start, we had the Ngo Hiang, a concoction of crab meat, prawn, pork and finely diced chestnuts wrapped in dried beancurd skin and deep-fried until golden brown. While this isn’t an uncommon dish, I don’t normally fancy it unless it’s handmade. Many places buy them from suppliers, and it’s hard to blame them because this rustic dish is sooo darn difficult to make; it’s time-consuming and not worth the effort for the prices that have to be charged. Violet Oon’s Kitchen however, makes it in-house and the effort pays off, for the taste is far superior. Crisp on the outside, and succulent yet not soggy on the inside, it was just right. Have it with the sweet sauce, or if you’d like to keep your palette savory, with the sambal belachan chili. I have to say, although I didn’t find it a concern, but I can see some people finding the chili not hot at all, which kind of takes the joy out of having chili in the first place. Like I mentioned, it didn’t quite bother me.
Let’s be straight about certain things. Vegetables aren’t a thing in Peranakan cuisine. Vegetables are not a huge component of Peranakan cuisine. If you hated vegetables as a kid, you’d love being Nonya because it’s such a meat centric cuisine. So, the Chap Chye, a dried prawn stock based vegetable stew is, in many ways, a token presence to demonstrate the food culture’s solidarity towards eating right and eating healthy. Instead of preparing a stew, the vegetables are cooked and simmered in a prawn bisque instead which keeps the vegetables’ individual flavor and shape all while retaining the familiar flavors. Having said that, it was a tad blander than what I was used to, and without the tangy spiciness of the sambal belachan to contrast and bounce off the flavors, it was rather forgettable.
I can’t remember what’s this, but it was my least favorite. There’s just something about me and ladies’ fingers that just don’t gel together.
We had two mains. The Tempra Fish was excellent on its own – the choice the kitchen made with choosing the sea bass was a wise one. The fish’s heavier, more complex flavor and texture gave the dish an anchor, with the crisp exterior complementing the spiciness and tangy juices of the black bean sauce. Surprisingly, they managed to come up with the Nonya signature, Buah Keluak Ayam that didn’t suck, and was pretty good in fact. Two problems though. Firstly, the chicken wasn’t as tender as I’d have liked it to be, but it’s not a major nitpick. My biggest criticism, I’m not sure if you could call it that, was the plating of the dish – I found the salad, seasoned with balsamic vinegar completely out-of-place, and quite frankly, was rather unneeded since there was Achar, which pickled vegetables served on the same plate. I was like, there’s wayyy too many things going on in here, and would’ve preferred some restraint.
I was not looking forward to the Burbur Cha Cha Panna Cotta. If my memories serves me well, I had one at Canton Paradise and I can tell you, it didn’t come out well. This, on the other hand, was rather well.
Sticky date pudding. I loved this, A LOT.