May 30, 2019

The newest instalment of the Violet Oon Singapore empire—just a stone’s throw away from the luggage belts and the arrival gates of Changi Terminal 1—could not have been more strategically located. More importantly, you won’t even have to navigate the frenzied crowds circling the monumental rain vortex as it is easily accessible from the carparks down below.

Violet Oon Singapore at Jewel is a conglomeration of all the other outlets’ best and finest: a sprinkle of Hainanese heritage from ION, a dash of authentic Peranakan from the Bukit Timah archetype and a mischievous lick of flame-grilled delights from the satay bar. What’s more, it is a pick ‘n’ mix solution for jet-setters and locals who struggle with the eternal what-to-have-for-lunch/dinner conundrum (the vast variety of original food concepts in Jewel itself doesn’t provide much relief in the deliberation process). And even as you fight off all the other choices and settle comfortably in the black teak wood chairs amidst alloyed shades of hunter green and gold, you’re confounded by a few questions. Will I be having small plates of traditional Peranakan treats? Think Ngoh Hiong and Kuay Pie Tee. Or is the spiced Otak on toast calling your name? And are you with a group of 6 or more craving something a little engaging? Well, the Nyonya Poh Piah party set ought to keep the younger more impish ones entertained.

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Conceptualised by Violet Oon Singapore’s CEO Manoj M Murjani, the 3,800 square feet restaurant is the group’s biggest and most dazzling outlet to date. It had been in the works for a long time and the reveal was one that drew lots of fanfare to its opulent interiors. The intention is transparent, propel Singapore food to a global stage, and the restaurant does so generously and in spades.

Alas! If you could only hear the stories that incentivised the poh piah parties as told by Violet Oon herself. It sets the stage nicely for what is to come. “Traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year, poh piah parties are long-drawn affairs that might involve the frisky business of mahjong games in between feastings,” she said. “The poh piah skins and the emergence of bamboo shoots (a main component of the filling) after winter is a sure sign of new life, hence the Peranakans celebrate Chinese New Year with this dish.” She dubbed the Chinese as being hopeless romantics when it comes to the subject of food—I prefer the term melodramatic instead. However, that’s not to say that I’m not thankful; the smatterings of ingredients presented in ornate trays alongside gourmet spring rolls will have you abusing your popiah privileges. Adding just a bit too much Chinese sausage, steamed prawns, bean sprouts, dried sole fish crumbs and toasted peanuts would render your package un-rollable, but no one is judging here because you call the shots. Bursting at the seams, these were prime examples of the nature of Peranakan hospitality.

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There’s a strong vegetarian offering from the BBQ section, with eggplant halves topped with a fragrant sambal hijau and superbly spicy goreng chili sambal. It gets the nutritional job done and would be best enjoyed with a bowl of rice. The Nyonya kitchen also offers the unusual fiddlehead ferns, lightly poached with the baller touch of a ladle of coconut-spiced gula sauce. It’s racy and compelling where heritage cuisine is concerned.

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Next, we dug into crispy kurobuta pork fingerlings devoid of its usual fat streaked personality from the deep-frying process, made lovable again only by a quick dip into the side of VO chili sauce (so glad that they are bottling these soon for sale.) The Indonesian Ayam Panggang had a nice caramelised sear elevated by the gula melaka coating, and the fetching mango kerabu salad with ikan bilis sang a fiery tune from the sweet and sour plum, chili-infused sauce that it was tossed in.

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The meal flourished with appearances of candidates from the roti and sandwiches category. Coined ‘Roti Violet Tuna Wala-Wala’, this ION Orchard predecessor is a quirky combination of crispy tuna flakes seasoned with spices, mustard seeds and crispy curry leaf and served on fluffy roti prata. Inspired by South Indian flavours as divulged by Violet, the flavours are slightly muddy and indistinct but no less reassuring in its ugly-delicious revolts. There was also the iconic Otak Toast, its brilliant crimson hide revealing a miracle of tenderness and sweet complexity from the mackerel, spices and coconut. I ate this and channelled the same epiphany as Anton Ego in Ratatouille. Its guileless pairing with white toast conjuring memories of store-bought otak dislodged from toasted banana leaves eaten between soft slices of square bread loaves from the nearest bakery. I couldn’t be happier.

Desserts are made to be shared. Each with a glycaemic index so high that you can imagine the miniature devil of a doctor figure perched on your shoulder nagging away as you contemplate your first forkful. The sugee cake with calamansi drizzle was delicious, but I would steer your attention to the Horlicks cake instead. The tall stacks of velvety smooth horlicks buttercream, sponge cake and crunchy malt crumble are my idea of a good time alongside a mug of latte whilst waiting for a delayed flight.

If you take into account the vast desires and expectations from potential diners traversing the grounds of Jewel, you will realise that Violet Oon Singapore at Jewel covers all the bases.

Related: Violet Oon Singapore’s Flagship at ION Orchard Opens to Much Fanfare