The Peranakan is simply wild. If you think you are going to see another vintage dark wood bureau, or kebaya clad mannequin in this Peranakan restaurant, you’ll be happily wrong — as I was. Located on the second floor of Claymore Connect in Orchard Road, this new restaurant, simply called The Peranakan — is a gorgeous collision of extravagant French boudoir and colourful Nonya aesthetics. It sounds insane, but it works.
There’s always something to look at, and you just don’t want to blink in case you miss something. We love the elaborate water glasses that remind us of the great Nonya houses of old Singapore, the humble kettle from which water is poured, the profusion of flowers (plastic – but pretty), bright Nonya ceramics tableware and tiles, and the gorgeously dainty spoons that we are provided to scoop up tiny amounts of sambal. Small chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and etched, bevelled mirrors cover the walls. Sumptuous is the word. We could sip tea and eat kueh here all day.
Beyond good looks, The Peranakan surprises with its fresh concepts (more later) and its combination of traditional favourites and less-known dishes. This freshness is a much needed boost to Peranakan restaurants as a genre, which have become tired with their predictable menus and stereotypical decor.
The food is generally good at The Peranakan. Executive Chef and owner Raymond Khoo is Straits Chinese himself, and many of his dishes are family recipes from his mother and godma. Most dishes I had that lunch was enjoyable. They were authentic and prices were reasonable.
I really liked the pig trotter pongteh ($19), a stew which is usually done using chicken. Slowly cooked in a base of soy sauce and tau cheo, the meat is rendered savoury sweet, rather tender and what made this particularly delectable was the chewy, slightly gelatinous cartilage from the trotter. This is hardly found in Nonya restaurants and quite a treat.
The nasi ulam ($15) was excellent. Chef Raymond adds salted fish to it — again very unusual in nasi ulam — with a little sambal ulam and heightened by aromatic herbs of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and turmeric leaves. While the Malay version is completely vegetarian, the addition of salted fish, Chef tells us, is a Peranakan practice. The whole combination was complex and fragrant, with rice cooked just right — fluffy and grainy. Apparently it is the only Peranakan restaurant in town that serves nasi ulam this way.
The bakwan kepiting soup ($9) was admirable; while I found the stock rather bland, the meatballs were big and generous in the amount of crab meat and bamboo shoot. They were nicely done too – tender and bouncy. But most people preferred itek tim ($7), or duck and salted vegetable soup, which had heartier flavours. But as a homecook, I opted for the soup that called for more arduous preparation and skill. I spied deep fried bakwan kepiting on the appetiser menu and made a mental note to come back and try it.
The chicken buah keluak ($19), a must-have standard at all Peranakan restaurants, was very nicely done; the black nuts were respectably large specimens nicely filled, and the chicken well cooked through with the flavour of the stew.
The sambal udang gala ($27), huge prawns cooked in rich, savoury sweet sambal sauce would have been excellent too, but parts of it were very much undercooked and I had to put it aside. Look out for the sum chun satay ($19), pork belly fried in a special spiced rempah – fragrant, savoury, light and altogether delicious. It was served on a plate rather than skewered and is yet another little-seen dish that’s a must-try here.
While I enjoyed most of the dishes at The Peranakan, a few missed the mark, I feel. The liver ngoh hiang ($15) was a victim of its own generosity — it was a large roll of meaty filling, which had too much meat in relation to its beancurd skin; the balance was not quite there. I didn’t taste much liver in there, either. The kueh pie tee was not crisp, the filling a little scant and the strips of bangkwang did not live up to the Peranakan’s reputation for fine knife work, and the chap chye was not as flavourful as it could have been and the vegetables came in great pieces. Slicing them smaller would have made a bit more elegant eating, I would imagine.
I didn’t manage to try the desserts; but they looked promising – bubor cha cha with durian ($5), pulot enti with durian (glutinous rice with durian paste -$5), bubor hitam with mata kuching, coconut ($3.50) and durian ($5). Clearly the chef loves using durian for his sweets. For drinks, have the kumquat with biji selasih which was particularly refreshing.
The restaurant offers a number of fresh concepts too – like the tok panjang, a lavish communal menu of multiple dishes served on rattan baskets around a mound of ulam rice. The tok panjang at this restaurant plays on the Peranakan festive feast traditionally laid out on a long table like a buffet. While this presentation is not going to win over many purists, it is a good meal to invite a foreign friend to. Diners also go home with a certificate for having had this experience. A little kitschy, but cute. Pick from a $45 or a $65 menu.
Then there’s what Chef Raymond calls the Chef’s Table, like an omakase, where he decides the menu (from $165, 7 days advance reservation required) and comes with wine pairing. On the other hand, the 6-course degustation ($85 per person) is individually plated and best suited for a more formal style of dining. This is for a minimum of 6 people, and one day’s advance reservation is needed.
Finally, the excellent service staff here made the experience at The Peranakan heartwarming. The staff here, who had worked with Chef Raymond before, are mainly of an older vintage. They are warm, sincere, gentle and gracious — almost parental in their demeanour. They exude an old world charm and you feel very well taken care of. They make a big difference to this restaurant and makes it stand out.
It’s definitely a place I would go back to.
Level 2, #02-01
Claymore Connect@Orchard Hotel
Tel: 6262 4428