Vegetarians a decade ago were a lonely, unloved bunch.
Eating out was difficult then. You couldn’t just walk into a restaurant and expect to see a plant-based dish that is not a starter or a dessert.
Nowadays, as the world wakes up to the far-reaching impact of meat consumption, chefs aren’t just peppering their menu with basic salads and unimaginative meatless plates to cater to modern diners with varying requirements — they are doing it with a certain level of, might we say, swagger. Think a truffle gnocchi with kale and burnt hazelnut butter at Cure, a whole roasted baby cauliflower at Miznon, a barley risotto with pumpkin at Jaan, and a garam assam tau kwa with pineapple and pink ginger flower at Violet Oon Satay Bar & Grill.
That vegan rendition of Violet Oon’s well-loved garam assam barramundi is a friendly punch-in-the-face dish with smoke-kissed firm tofu, pineapple compote and julienned ginger flower. It’s a real knockout — and a testament of the cooking doyenne’s gastro-sorcery — which can also be said of the other items in the plant-based, gluten-free menu that the restaurant launched in the new year (except for the chargrilled corn on the cob, but only because corn is one of the few things I don’t eat). Naming a favourite would be asking you to name a favourite child.
Our dinner party starts with the heady eggplant goreng dip with emping crackers, and it throws me back in my seat with its slight bitterness (from the crackers) and savoury, aromatic tang of eggplant puree mixed with coriander and shallots. An onslaught of beautiful plates arrives as we finish our first, filling the table faster than we can feed ourselves. Meaty, earthy king oyster mushroom comes sliced and drenched in a creamy, turmeric-infused coconut sauce that soothes your insides. The meatless meatball rendang is one of the best “meatballs” I’ve ever had; these are in fact walnut and cheese dumplings braised in spices and flavoured with kaffir and bay leaves, then served in coconut cream sauce. I still can’t believe it doesn’t have any meat. Violet Oon is giving Impossible a run for its money with these balls of meaty, juicy perfection.
Speaking of Impossible, there is an Impossible satay. Patty is hand-formed and marinated in the brand’s signature satay spices and charred on the grill. It’s smoky and aromatic and tasty, but no, it doesn’t taste like Violet Oon’s regular satay, which is more succulent. Still worth ordering, though.
In the carb department, there’s lip-smacking nasi goreng kangkung that shouts at you and shouts at you until you finish every grain. I thought fried rice can’t get any bolder than this, until I spooned a mouthful of buah keluak fried, a black mess of jasmine rice tossed with the fermented fruit, oyster mushroom, kaffir lime leaf and chopped candlenuts. It’s earthy, savoury and mildly spicy, with flavours akin to salty black olives.
Sweets are decidedly safe, at least in the world of Peranakan food. The pulot hitam, topped with dairy-free coconut ice cream, and fresh tapioca cake with coconut milk and gula melaka go down easy and round off your meal with a satisfying sigh. I’d be back just for the “meatballs” or the nasi goreng. And some of the garam assam tau kwa. That and a ginger-infused cocktail and I’d be very happy.
Violet Oon Singapore Satay Bar and Grill, #01-18, Clark Quay, 3B River Valley Road, Singapore 179021, +65 9834 9935.
(All images: Violet Oon Singapore Satay Bar and Grill)