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National Kitchen

National Gallery, 1 St. Andrew’s Road #02–01, Singapore, 178957, Singapore

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Violet Oon is a cookbook writer, chef and food celebrity in Singapore. This is one of two restaurants she runs in the city, located one floor up from ground level in the National Gallery of Singapore. She writes about, and serves here, the cuisine called Perenakan, also known as Nyonya. The Perenakan Chinese are descendants of Chinese settlers who came to the Malay archipelago between the fifteen and seventeenth centuries. The cuisine that developed draws in influences from Malaysian, Chinese, Indian and British colonial cuisine.

The dining room is decorated in colonial style, with dark wood, potted palms, green leather banquettes, chandeliers and walls covered in little framed photographs – you could almost be in a club in Pall Mall. There is a bar at one end, the marble topped tables placed quite close together, with the fierce air conditioning that seems quite common in Singapore.  

Gado gado (which means medley) is a classic Indonesian dish, a salad with fried bean curd, potatoes, green beans, prawn crackers, hard boiled egg, cabbage, glutinous rice cakes, tempeh (soy bean cake) and a spicy peanut dipping sauce. This was very enjoyable, with good ingredients, the vegetables carefully cooked, and the sauce well judged (14/20). I tried Coronation chicken, a dish invented in 1953 by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume for a banquet to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II. It was served here in a fried wantan (a variant spelling of the more familiar wonton) leaf cup, the chicken pieces covered with mild curry sauce and golden raisin chutney. The crisp nest was an interesting texture contrast to the chicken (13/20). It was perhaps surprising to see such a dish here, but reflects the omnivorous approach that Nyonya cuisine has taken to outside influences.

Udang goreng chilli had large prawns that were tossed in the pan with chilli and garlic rempah (spice mix). The prawns were nicely cooked and the kitchen did not hold back on the chilli (13/20). Beef rendang had larger pieces of beef than is traditionally seen, but involved the usual process of slow cooking with coconut milk, chilli, garlic, ginger and other spices until quite dry. This was a good version, the beef quite tender (easily 13/20). Less successful was dry mee Siam, rice noodles cooked with sambal, shredded bean curd and Chinese chives, topped with prawns. The noodles themselves were fine but the prawns were overcooked, unlike the ones in the udang goreng dish (12/20).

Service was brisk and just a little pushy from our particular waiter, who was keen to steer us to certain dishes, perhaps because we were the only westerners in the dining room. The bill came to S$64 per person (£34) with water to drink. If you had dessert and drank alcohol then you would spend a bit more, perhaps £50 per person. Overall I quite enjoyed my meal here, the food generally quite capably cooked and the dining room a nice setting.

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