Violet Oon has achieved what many Singaporeans would be proud of, and some restauranteurs could have dreamt about with National Kitchen at the National Gallery.
This is one restaurant I would be delighted to recommend foreign guests to (if budget is not of a major problem), and hopefully the Michelin inspectors would notice and acknowledge with a star come 2016.
Even though I am not a Peranakan, my grandmother had ties to a family, and I grew up in an environment with frequent access to Nyonya food. Many of my childhood holidays were spent pounding rempah and watching Buah Keluak being cooked for days.
National Kitchen allowed me to reminisce that fond period.
A short introduction of Violet Oon – ex-journalist, renowned food critic, author, cooking show host and current owner of two restaurants.
The National Kitchen is aptly named, slightly opulence, traditionally modern, stylishly elegant.
Upon walking in, you may notice two rattan fans (non-moving though), walls decorated with gorgeous floral-patterned Peranakan tiles, authentic historical photos of cooks and local families.
The menu is 70% similar to her restaurant at Bukit Timah, serving dishes of Peranakan, Indian, Malay and Chinese flavours.
Many items are just calling out to me – Ngoh Hiang ($15), Kuay Pie Tee ($17), Turmeric Chicken Wings ($13), Buah Keluak Ayam ($23), Beef Rendang ($22), Fish Head Curry ($35), Chap Chye ($15), Dry Laksa ($22) and Dry Mee Siam ($21).
Note that no pork or lard is used in the restaurant.
Despite having no pork in the Ngoh Hiang ($15), I enjoyed the starter both times I ordered – packed with generous fresh ingredients of prawn, crab and chicken. The fillings are packed dense with a light crunch coming from the water chestnut, and crisp of the deep fried bean curd skin.
Delectable in a homely way.
Oh, the Beef Rendang was another favourite, of tender beef shin braised in spiced flavoured with kaffir and bay leaves in a creamy coconut sauce.
The beef was not of the right texture – neither tough chewy, nor soft till it would disintegrate. The flavourful gravy came with a balanced taste of spiciness, sweetness and savouriness.
The Dry Laksa ($22) topped with prawns, tau pok and bean sprouts worked well as the rice noodle would absorb rich and mild spicy laksa gravy. Plus, it would be safer consuming this (compared to the wet version) if you were wearing a white shirt.
However, I thought that the dishes that bordered on average were the Chap Chye ($15) which could be cooked softer with more richness in flavours; and the Buah Keluak Noodles ($24) where the representative Peranakan ingredient just didn’t gel well with dry Spaghetti noodles.
Singapore has always been strong in local delicacies, been growing in the fine dining scene in the recent few years, yet a higher-end restaurant merging the two seems to be lacking.
National Kitchen fills in some of that void, and the prime location at the National Gallery lands itself in an advantage of being a representative local restaurant. (Easily of the 10 Best new openings in Singapore in 2015.)
National Kitchen by Violet Onn
National Gallery, 1 St Andrews Road #02-01 Singapore 178957 (City Hall MRT)
Tel: +65 9834 9935
Opening Hours: 11am – 3pm (last order 2:30pm), 6pm – 11pm (last order 9:30pm), Veranda 5:30pm – 110pm (last order 10pm)
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