The stunning National Gallery Singapore, home to the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian art, has just opened its doors recently. It houses several new premium restaurants – Aura, Odette, Yàn and National Kitchen by Violet Oon.
Keen to check out National Kitchen, I suggested it as the venue for the ZDNet and CNet alumni dinner.
Violet Oon has been bestowed numerous accolades: Singapore’s food ambassador; a national treasure; the Julia Child of Singapore; doyenne of all things Peranakan – the list is endless. Whatever the title, she certainly is the grande dame of the Singaporean culinary scene, and an authority on Asian cuisine, especially in Nyonya food. I best remember her as The New Nation’s food critic in the mid 1970s, and for her own culinary publication called The Food Paper.
I love the old-style mosaic and quaint ceiling fan at the entrance of the restaurant; you don’t see fans like this anymore.
The interior is chic and yet exudes an old-world charm: mirror panels; Peranakan tiles adorning the walls; blue-ginger flowers on every table; black-leather upholstered booths contrasting with white marble tops; and warmly lit by chandeliers and artisan lamps. The floor is tiled with colourfully-patterned mosaic that’s ubiquitous of Singapore’s olden day coffee shops.
The wood-panelled walls are decorated with framed old photos and newspaper cuttings that document Violet’s colourful and inspiring life journey. Her son Yiming, a charming young gentlemen, was on hand to offer us his recommendations from the comprehensive menu that spans beyond Peranakan food to Hainanese, Indian and Eurasian fare.
Fiona brought a bottle of 2007 Les Remparts de Ferriere Margaux, and a bottle of Takacho Junmai Dai-Ginjo sake, which paired really well with the Peranakan food.
For starters, we ordered the Rojak, Ngoh Hiang and Kuay Pie Tee. The Rojak was, well, rojak; fresh fruits but really nothing to write about.
The Ngoh Hiang was good with the sambal, with tasty fillings that are not packed too densely.
I like Kuay Pie Tee – these were prettily presented with the black sauce and chilli on the side; light and easy on the palate.
When we decided to add another starter, our waiter suggested the Coronation Chicken in Wantan Leaf Cup – a dish concocted to celebrate Singapore’s colonial heritage. It’s not a warm dish, and while it’s interesting in its own right, the raisins made it too sweet, and that didn’t go with the other savoury items.
The portions were small, and Yiming recommended another starter – the Satay; chunky pieces of marinated chicken that were delicious with the spicy peanut sauce topped with a dollop of grated pineapple ala Hainanese stye.
We also couldn’t resist Violet’s signature Dry Laksa; thick rice noodles in a piquant curry gravy topped with prawns, julienned bean curd and Chinese chives.
The Chap Chye of braised vegetables in prawn bisque was decent; the sauce subtle enough to let the ingredients be a balanced companion to the spicy mains.
Yiming raved about the Opor Nangka Udang: young jackfruit and prawns stewed with salted fish in a coconut gravy, but it turned out to the the dish that we all like the least. The stewed jackfruit was a little mushy, like artichoke, and the sauce was rather unusual; an acquired taste I suppose.
For mains, we decided on Udang Goreng Chilli, Ikan Goreng Chilli and the Beef Rendang. The potent Prawns are the star of the evening; fresh and succulent and just the right size, smothered with sweat-inducing fragrant chilli. The best part is gnawing the crisp prawn-heads, perfect when paired with the chilled sake.
The Snapper, done in the same style as the prawns, were very good too. Fresh pieces of seared fish that balance well with the spices.
The Beef Rendang was beef shin tenderly braised in a melange of spices flavoured with kaffir, bay leaves in a creamy coconut sauce; yummy with the plain rice.
And finally the desserts: the classic Pulot Hitam was sinful black glutinous rice stewed with gula Melaka and coconut milk, topped with coconut ice-cream. We fought over the Kueh Beng Kah; the grated tapioca cake with coconut cream on the side was wickedly addictive.
The overall dining experience at National Kitchen was good. Immaculate attention to detail has been given to the graceful Peranakan-style Art Decor interior; I love those petite and colourful Peranakan spice-pots in the showcase.
Peranakan cuisine is about homely and comfort food, and National Kitchen delivers on that front. Prices are not cheap but that’s to expected of such a premium locale as the National Gallery; it may not be your go-to place for your regular Nyonya food fix, but it is certainly on my to-do list to bring my overseas guests for that unique Peranakan dining experience in someone’s home, albeit someone who is rather wealthy, given the gorgeous setting.
St. Andrew’s Road
#02–01, National Gallery Singapore
(City Hall Wing)
Phone: +65 98349935