National Kitchen by Violet Oon @ National Gallery, Singapore
January 19, 2016
Framed photographs that hark back to bygone decades, vintage tiles & furnishing with intricate flourishes, & an aura of old-world charm manifested in a sartorially genteel service team set the tone for National Kitchen, a sumptuous Peranakan dining hall that's a centrepiece of Singapore's new National Gallery, home of the world's largest collection of Southeast Asian art.
This stately venue showcases the recipes of Violet Oon, a Singaporean Nyonya celebrity chef & cookbook writer who's a long-time legend in the city-state's restaurant circles. Her repertoire borrows inspiration from the cross-cultural diversity of Singaporean gastronomy, so you'll find more than Peranakan fare; start with the southern Indian 'idli' steamed fermented rice-&-lentil cakes, hand-made & paired with coconut & tomato chutneys ($7) & the coronation chicken, which takes the colonial-era classic of cold diced chicken with curry sauce & raisin chutney & stuffs it in a crisp wantan cup ($9). There's a sense of painstaking meticulousness to National Kitchen's food - even the sambal belacan isn't an afterthought; it's fiery, fantastically textured & flooded with nuanced flavours, beyond a doubt the most satisfying sambal belacan we've ever had in a restaurant.
Spaghetti coated with an intensely aromatic buah keluak paste infused with cili padi, minced shrimp & coconut milk ($24) & a rice-noodle dry laksa tossed with tau pok, prawns & bean sprouts ($22) illustrate how the kitchen strives to strike a balance between a respect for culinary tradition & a resolution to bring contemporary relevance to heritage cooking. Both are a gut-punch to those of us spending in ringgit, but you won't find them in KL. And through it all, a mastery of the fundamentals shines through - the chicken rice is precisely how we love it, simultaneously firm & moist, with pronounced fragrance & flavours ($3).
The restaurant isn't timid about creating rich, robust dishes - the 'opor nangka udang' ($14), featuring prawns & salted fish stewed with jackfruit in coconut gravy, seems to instantly inflate the waistline, but the guiltiest indulgence of all is the 'daging chabek' ($35), with lusciously slow-braised beef cheek in spicy tamarind Gula Melaka gravy. Wine & cocktails are available - the Singapore Sling ($20), shaken with fresh local fruits, is the natural choice.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon
National Gallery, St Andrews Road, Singapore. Daily for lunch & dinner. Tel: +65-9834-9935
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