Violet Oon Singapore’s Flagship at ION Orchard Opens to Much Fanfare
Walking through the sprawling restaurant grounds of the newest Violet Oon Singapore at ION Orchard, my attention is grabbed by an array of tempting and hard-to-resist cakes on display. Over in the corner, the technicolour coconut candy and rum balls carry the same appeal as the red chi-chi hobo bag seen outside a Longchamp store on the same floor. Given that ION Orchard is a retail playground for luxury brands, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Violet Oon Singapore has chosen to launch their newest retail and all-day dining flagship outlet here.
The largest of the present 4 outlets (and counting), the 2,700 sq ft premises houses a 100-seat brasserie, a long bar and a retail area for their new food merchandise. It’s breathtaking, really. And you can expect the same level of sophistication and opulence from the other outlets: dark wood and gold themes are accented by brass highlights at the bar counter, signature Peranakan tiles that line the floor, reminiscent of a traditional kitchen but with refined detailing.
If you have dined at the other outlets before, you will understand why each of them is a concept on its own, with distinct characteristics. Here, at ION Orchard, Violet Oon pays homage to Singapore in the 1950s—offering up an extensive range of Nyonya, Chinese, Eurasian and British Colonial dishes. Throughout my meal, I’m blessed with fascinating historical facts and colourful anecdotes narrated by culinary icon, Violet Oon, in person. The waitstaff are eager to whip out the all-time favourites when asked for recommendations, the tried-and-true, deep fried Ngoh Hiang, dainty kuay pie tee festooned with zippy chili sauce and unctuous chicken satay best dredged through grated pineapple anointed peanut sauce.
“Why is there such a strong Hainanese influence on the menu?” I ask Violet. She replies, quite matter-of-factly, “Orchard Road, in its heyday, was home to a lot of Ang Moh restaurants run by Hainanese chefs.” Who knew? For a brief moment, I questioned my curiosity on the matter that impeded my ability to build that simple connection. What followed was an insightful lesson on the culinary passage of the Hainanese dialect group as they took to the kitchens of the British and the many fine dining establishments that dotted Orchard Road in the 50s.
Violet and her daughter, Tay Su-Lyn, Director of Violet Oon Singapore, are matriarchal figures. You’ll feel it at the table as they portion up soups and pile your plates high with food. “You have to try our Oxtail Stew, it’s nothing like you’ve had before,” insists Violet.
Oxtail stew is lifted from the pages of culinary obsoletion with accurate techniques and a side pitcher of jus fortified with brandy. Soon, a flood dishes begin rolling out and I swear that it could have come from my Popo’s kitchen.
There’s the Marmite Baby Sotong Salad which shows sheer command of acidity control amidst moreish crunchy pieces of crispy squid. The Hainanese exclamations continue in the form of Violet’s career fire- starter, the infamous VO’s Shepherd’s Pie—the dreamy mash topping is pockmarked with coarse pieces of steamed potato for a more relatable comfort dish. I let out an inaudible sigh of defeat—enriched mouthfuls of creamy mashed potato with bold flavours from the braised mince beef add a comforting flair.
The Hainanese Pork Chop proves to be the real showstopper, yielding spades of components that may seem elementary to the untrained eye but delivering hugely in both flavour and nostalgia. Kurobuta pork enrobed in a cream cracker crust is dressed in a perky tomato and vegetable reduction, an ambitious move that smashed the ideality of that old school sweet ketchup-inspired sauce. Good riddance. Just the peas cooked ‘petit pois à la Française’ and flecked with chope kale alone, will cause you to feel like a winner.
Other dishes worth investing your money in are the Fish Curry with Roti Jala—the fragrant and creamy curry thrumming with a potent infusion of spices in coconut milk. Use the traditional laced pancake to ferry it to your face. A little more foreign would be the Mulligatawny Soup, an English soup of South India origin; a proud representation of the times of British Colonisation on our tiny island. It’s a slice of comfort in an otherwise grandiose setting and no broth is left behind.
Throughout the meal, Violet’s journalistic background comes to light. Her curiosity towards understanding the different cultures and nuances unfold in perfected classics that aren’t vaguely Peranakan. Take for example the Bubur Cha Cha Panna Cotta, which is a rich custard jazzed up sweet potato, yam and agar agar jelly. It comes with enthralling rivulets of gula melaka that quickly make its way into my ravenous belly. The Kueh Beng Kah is also immediately likeable; a warm slice of fresh tapioca cake that is equally fragrant and delicious. This precise exercise of textures and a warm injection of coconut are capable of lifting the most disconsolate of souls.
“Capture, curate and chronicle before Singapore’s food heritage dies,” she says adamantly. “It’s a race against time”—and their flagship at ION Orchard couldn’t have come at a better time. Apart from what I have tasted on the menu, a quick tour of the retail section solidifies the group’s advancements to propel Singapore food to a global stage. From Sugee cookies to Nyonya Kaya and Handmade Pineapple tarts, sophisticated design elements play out in a very thorough manner even on the packaging, which resembles a Peranakan tile.
Chairman of Violet Oon Singapore, Manoj Murjani (who founded TWG Tea) reveals that the expansion of the group builds on their culinary history and is aligned with bringing the best of Singapore’s cuisine to the world. Before that, there are plans to increase their presence in Singapore, with the group’s next outlet at Jewel Changi Airport slated to open in a few months time. What is driving the core of the business is this passionate Peranakan psyche of warmth, generosity, and the spirit of hospitality. Although it is a lot to take on for the brave Ms Violet Oon whom I have had the fortune of exchanging many words with that night, I’m certain she will go the distance.
Address: ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #03-22; Tel: 9834 9935