All these are too much for sharing between 3 pax, especially when the Curry Fish Head is recommended for 5-6 pax. However, there were simply too many items that we wished to try on the menu. After a long deliberation, we finally settled on the Baked Cod Fish in Creamy Laksa Sauce ($34++) instead of the curry fish head.
The portion turned out to be small, roughly the size of a teenager's palm. Nonetheless, a main cod dish costs an average of $40 these days and this would be quite sufficient for one pax. The laksa gravy was creamy and not too spicy--perfect for those who have a low spice tolerance. In fact, it was one of the best tasting dishes from the newly opened National Kitchen by Violet Oon which offers a repertoire of Nyonya, Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine.
While some said that there is finally a proper restaurant that serves the true national cuisine, I felt that it is still quite early to jump to this conclusion as not all dishes are made equal. The Hakka Abacus Beads ($16++) were too chewy and there were hardly any trace of taro even though the minced meat topping was flavorful and salty. I wonder if it is due to the heavy rich flavors of the other dishes we've had as the Nyonya Chap Chye ($15++) lacked the fermented oomph in the sauce.
Nonetheless, my eyes instantly lit up when I saw the Daging Chabek Beef Cheeks ($34++), a hunky slab of meltingly tender meat with bits of fats and chewy tendon drenched in appetizing red tamarind Gula Melaka and coconut gravy. Some might prefer this Indonesian Peranakan twice-cooked beef to be softer but the slightly sinewy texture was just right for me.
The first taste was sweet, followed by a subtle heat that triggered a mild sensation on the tongue. The gradual layerings of spices made this a far cry from the typical hot-headed, straightforward kind of Sambal Chilli. Wouldn't it be great if this comes with a complimentary bowl of rice instead of charging them?:)
One unique dish that is only available at this outlet and rarely available elsewhere in Singapore is the Opor Nangka Udang ($14++). I can't compare the Young Jackfruit since I haven't tasted it before. However, I had imagined it to be creamy and rich rather than diluted.
Stewed in salted fish and prawns in a coconut gravy, the chunks of young jackfruits were short of the typical pungency of a jackfruit, hence those who usually stay away from jackfruits may enjoy this dish. The sauce was mildly sweet but there wasn't anything attractive that would anchor my love and thus it is something I would not order again.
We rounded off the meal with two cakes, one of which is the hot-seller Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Served warm in a pool of chilled condensed milk sauce, it isn't anything spectacular, but still a charming diva in the world of butter cakes--soft, moist with finely textured crumbs. Just don't attempt to recall or flip through the menu for the price or you will feel the pinch when you realized it cost a hefty $12++.
The Kueh Beng Ka ($9++) aka grated tapioca cake was a faithful rendition of the traditional Nyonya sweet, made extra delicious with coconut milk and gula Melaka syrup. The cake was silky smooth like a baked custardy kueh, though it might be too smooth for those who prefer some rough gritty texture.
Considering the price range, this place is still more suited for special occasions or for foreign visitors who want to try local food in posh ambience. I was impressed by the eclectic mix of vintage and southeast Asian decor with old black-and-white photographs that draw similarities to Colony @ The Ritz-Carlton. It made me feel as if I was dining in a wealthy Peranakan mansion helmed by a matriarch.
However, the dining experience felt cramped and stiff as the tables were positioned too closely to one another. I think it might be best to come before 7pm even for weekdays. Otherwise, you not only have to wait longer for the food, but also have to raise your voices to speak as the place turns into a wet market when it is full-house.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon
1 St. Andrew’s Road
#02–01, National Gallery Singapore
(City Hall Wing)
Enter via Coleman Street entrance.
Lunch: 11am – 3pm
Dinner: 6pm – 11pm
Veranda: 5:30pm – 11pm