RESTAURANT REVIEW

Purely Peranakan

(Clockwise from left) the prawns in the Udang Goreng Chilli are so crispy, their shells can be eaten too; the combination of creamy cod with laksa sauce goes surprisingly well; and the Chap Chye, an old favourite, remains flavourful.
The prawns in the Udang Goreng Chilli are so crispy, their shells can be eaten too.PHOTOS: VIOLET OON SINGAPORE
(Clockwise from left) the prawns in the Udang Goreng Chilli are so crispy, their shells can be eaten too; the combination of creamy cod with laksa sauce goes surprisingly well; and the Chap Chye, an old favourite, remains flavourful.
The combination of creamy cod with laksa sauce goes surprisingly well.PHOTOS: VIOLET OON SINGAPORE
(Clockwise from left) the prawns in the Udang Goreng Chilli are so crispy, their shells can be eaten too; the combination of creamy cod with laksa sauce goes surprisingly well; and the Chap Chye, an old favourite, remains flavourful.
The Chap Chye, an old favourite, remains flavourful.PHOTOS: VIOLET OON SINGAPORE
(Clockwise from left) the prawns in the Udang Goreng Chilli are so crispy, their shells can be eaten too; the combination of creamy cod with laksa sauce goes surprisingly well; and the Chap Chye, an old favourite, remains flavourful.
Violet Oon SingaporePHOTOS: VIOLET OON SINGAPORE

After a renovation, Violet Oon's restaurant has ditched the Western food and now serves a mixture of old Peranakan favourites and new creations

The address is the same. So are some of the dishes on the menu. And it is still fronted by culinary veteran Violet Oon and her children, Tay Yiming and Su-Lyn.

But other than that, Violet Oon's Kitchen has been transformed into a totally new restaurant after a six-week renovation.

For starters, it is now called Violet Oon Singapore. What used to look like a cafe with an open entrance and closely packed tables is now a cosy but classy and more comfortable restaurant.

The doors are kept closed to keep the air-conditioning in, a much welcome change during the current heatwave.

But transparent glass panels allow passers-by to look into the dining room, which is decorated in dark wood panels, mirrors and rows of Peranakan tiles.

  • VIOLET OON SINGAPORE

  • 881 Bukit Timah Road, tel: 6468-5430

    Open: 11.30am to 10pm (Tuesday to Thursday), 11.30am to 11pm (Friday and public holiday), 10.30am to 11pm (Saturday), 10.30am to 10pm (Sunday), closed on Monday

    Food: 4.5/5

    Service: 3.5/5

    Ambience: 3.5/5

    Price: Budget from $70 a person, without drinks

Even the ceiling is covered with the tiles, their colourful patterns providing the Peranakan identity to what otherwise looks like a Western restaurant.

The menu has also changed. Instead of serving each dish as part of a set that includes rice and a salad, the food is now served on its own to be shared around the table, family style. But the serving sizes remain small - ideal for two people, though you can share the food among four if you are happy to get just a bite each.

Rice is ordered separately and you have a choice of Jasmine Rice ($1), Nasi Kunning (glutinous and jasmine rice infused with turmeric and steamed with coconut milk, $3.50) or Chicken Rice Rice ($3).

Western dishes such as shepherd's pie and beef rigatoni are gone, leaving the menu focused on just Peranakan dishes. But that does not mean the same old Nonya favourites. Oon has whipped up new dishes, either her own creations or ones inspired by old dishes.

The traditional dishes are executed as flawlessly as before, from the Buah Keluak Ayam ($23), with its deep, rich flavours, to the tender, aromatic Beef Rendang ($23) and the Chap Chye ($15) that is simmered long enough for the flavours of the various vegetables and seasonings to meld into one another.

And the Sambal Petai With Prawns ($18) is one of the best I've eaten.

Many restaurants do not cook the petai beans thoroughly, leaving them rather hard and with a "green" taste. Here, they are still slightly crisp but are cooked enough to lose the unpleasant rawness. The sambal, made with dried shrimp, also takes on the distinctive flavour of the beans that I really like.

There are gems among the new dishes too.

The Udang Goreng Chilli ($32) is the one I like most. The mid-sized prawns are butterflied and deepfried in their shell, then tossed with a fragrant mix of chopped chillies, garlic and herbs. The prawns are so crispy you can eat them whole, shell and all, and it's a delight to bite into the bits of herbs and garlic.

Cod In Creamy Laksa Sauce ($32) does not sound very promising, but surprises me with how well the fatty fish goes with the sauce. It is a good idea to get the fish pan-roasted before adding the sauce as this makes it feel less fat and more aromatic. The coriander pesto drizzled over it makes it even more delicious.

Aunt Nanny's Daging Chabek Beef Cheek ($35), with the meat slow-braised in a thick sauce with tamarind, gula melaka and coconut, is a bit too sweet for me. But my dining companion, who has a sweet tooth, loves it.

Among the sides is a pickle called Sayor Kuakchye ($6) that I've never eaten before. It comprises thin shreds of mustard leaves and ginger, but these are mixed with a hearty dose of mustard that goes straight up my nose, so I taste little else.

I prefer the more subtle flavours of the Sambal Kim Chiam Udang ($18), a salad of lily buds with a sweet and spicy dressing, and garnished with slices of starfruit and prawns.

I make room, too, for some of Oon's original creations from her old menu that I have always liked.

The Buah Keluak Noodle ($24) does not really go with the dishes and is best eaten on its own. But I cannot resist it and the spaghetti, tossed with an inky paste made up of buah keluak, chillies, minced prawns and coconut milk, still hits the spot.

So does the dessert of Bubur Cha Cha Pannacotta ($10). Coconut milk adds a fragrant richness to the smooth, creamy pudding.

There are new desserts such as Sugee Cake ($12) and a Kesturi Lemon Pie With Papaya and Limau Kesturi Compote ($13) that are pretty decent. But for me, it is the pannacotta that I will go back for.

•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke•

•Life paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'Restaurant Review Purely Peranakan'. Print Edition | Subscribe