Restaurant review: Violet Oon in Bukit Timah, Singapore
Casual-chic Peranakan food in the sunshine
Ahh Peranakan Food. My four years in Singapore were basically four years of foodie adventures. I was exposed to so many spices and dishes that were brand new to me, a British-born, Taiwanese-Canadian. While Singapore has its share of Peranakan places, I really only indulged while on trips to places like Malacca (the buah keluak ayam or black nut chicken at Nancy’s Kitchen basically changed my life) or at the little place in the basement of Paya Lebar Square near my old apartment. So on a recent trip back to Singapore, I made it a point to try and visit a new Peranakan restaurant.
One of my best girlfriends in Singapore is Peranakan and had said good things about Violet Oon’s new location in the National Gallery. While reservations were full for the day we wanted, we managed to get a spot at an outdoor table at the original Bukit Timah location. Eating outside in Singapore isn’t really a thing given the heat, but luckily for me my group was game.
Firstly, the interiors of the restaurant are stunning. Dark wood, white marble, and Peranakan tiles make up a sophisticated space. While the outside space is more simple, it was still a pleasant enough setting for Saturday brunch. We mostly ordered off of the main menu with a few dishes from the brunch menu.
Ngoh hiang (S$15 or roughly $85) and kueh pie tee (S$17 or roughly $100) are two of my favourite Peranakan snacks. Come to think of it, while I haven’t been to many Peranakan restaurants, I suppose I have had quite a bit of Peranakan dishes from ngoh hiang at hawker centres to kueh pie tee at places like hotel buffets. Personally, I prefer my ngoh hiang crispier; the version at Violet’s is more meaty.
The filling of the kueh pie tee was quite tasty though the chili sauce lacked a little something. For these prices, I expected a little more wow factor.
The larger dishes proved to be tastier. I really loved the Meatless Meatballs Rendang (S$15 or roughly $85). The meatballs themselves were soft walnut and cheese spheres and topped with the tastiest rendang (coconut cream with kaffir and bay leaves) sauce that was full flavour without being too greasy. We had some soft roti jala lace pancakes to mop up the sauce.
For those who have never had buah keluak nut before, the first thing to know is that it’s poisonous when not cooked correctly. The flavour is also strong and bitter, and the nut’s filing is jet black. It makes me wonder how people started eating this nut in the first place… Essentially the Buak Keluak Ayam (S$23 or roughly $130) dish is a very unusual tasting dish; a spicy, tangy sauce made even more rich with the nut paste. It’s hard to describe the intensity of this dish, but it’s somehow so addictive and one I come back to again and again.
A more universally pleasing dish is the Cod in Creamy Laksa Sauce (S$39 or $225). The quality of the baked cod was excellent; fresh, flaky and oily in all the right ways. The laksa sauce was moreish and the coriander pesto was a fresh touch.
The pork in the Tau Yue Bak (S$13 or roughly 75, from the brunch menu) was marinated in a sweet onion dark soya sauce mixture that was very pleasing to have first thing in the morning.
What was so good we ordered three of them was the Nyonya Kaya Toast (S$7 or roughly $40, from the brunch menu). If you’re used to the chain store or store bought kaya, this version might look a little lumpy. Don’t just a dish by its looks because this housemade kaya was maybe the best I’ve ever had. Just perfectly coconut-y, custard-y, and fragrant with the vanilla-like pandan all on a thick slice of butter on toast. Usually I like my toast crunchy but this thick, soft slice was the right choice for that amount of kaya.
Lastly, we were told that Violet bakes the Gula Melaka Cake (S$13 or $75) herself so we had to try one. It was fresh, moist, and soft-centered with the dark coconut syrup; a light bite (not too intense as gula melaka can sometimes be) to end off a big meal.
Now that I’m officially a tourist when I visit Singapore, every meal needs to be chosen carefully because I can’t afford to waste a single calorie. There are so many delicious things to eat! If I had more time, I’d probably enjoy sampling various Peranakan places and debating with my friends which restaurant cooked what best. Unfortunately I no longer have the luxury of endless time in the Lion City. When I’m craving or want to introduce non-Singaporean friends to Peranakan food in Singapore, I’d definitely recommend Violet Oon’s as a one-stop shop. I think it presents the best aspects of Peranakan flavours in a stylish atmosphere that won’t break the bank.
881 Bukit Timah Road Singapore 279893, +65 9834 9935