Grandma's Kitchen at the Paragon seemed to have improved the quality of its offerings lately, especially with its appointment of well-known local Nyonya chef, Shirley Tay, as its Peranakan food consultant. Many Singaporeans will recognize Shirley Tay from her TV role as the exacting Bibik matriarch in "The Ways of the Matriarch", the successful comedy which featured actual preparation and cooking methods for Nyonya food, televised back in 2002. Grandma's Kitchen, whose banner announces itself as "Proudly Singaporean" has, with Shirley Tay's contribution, began to live up to its moniker.
What we had:
- Babi pongteh: a slow-braised pork stew flavoured with fermented beans ("taucheo") and palm sugar ("Gula Melaka"). The version at Grandma's Kitchen was tasty, with fall-off-the-bone tender pork. But the sauce was overly-sweet and may not suit some diners.
- Otak-otak: very good rendition here, and as good as the best ones from other Peranakan restaurants in town (e.g. Guan Hoe Soon, Ivins). A moist , pillowy block of steamed-then-barbecued spiced fish mousse with generous pieces of snapper inside.
- Nyonya "chap chye": I'd *never* ever had a good Nyonya "chap chye" outside a home in Singapore, and the one here was no different. At home, Nyonya "chap chye" is flavoured with "rempah titek" consisting of a complex mix of "sambal belachan", galangal("lengkuas"), onions, fresh turmeric ("kunyit") and fermented beanpaste ("taucheo"). The slow-braised vegetables - mainly cabbage and carrots - will have "foo chuk" (beancurd-sticks), "tim chuk" (sweetened bean-sticks), wood-ear fungus, mung bean threads ("tung hoon"), shitake mushrooms and sometimes tiger lily buds ("kum chum") will be added. Then, an intensely-flavoured pork-prawn broth will be added for braising.
Commercially-available versions will inadvertently involve only cabbage, carrots, and sometimes "foo chuk" and/or "tung hoon", flavoured with "taucheo" - no "rempah titek"spices, no pork-prawn broth, no complex layers of flavours at all. It's annoying - we have more than a dozen or so self-proclaimed Peranakan-Nyonya restaurants, yet *none* of them (not even top ones like Candlenut, True Blue or Peranakan Flavours @ Ardennes Hotel) even tries to cook the real, complete version, often resorting to the boring, bland, concatenated one.
- Fish fillet curry: very strong, assertive flavours here, with an almost overwhelming scent from Indian curry powder used to bolster the "rempah" spices used. The fish was fresh, and the okra & tomatoes lent additional textures and tastes to the overall fish. Very good. I almost wished they'd include torch-ginger ("bunga kantan") to add an additional taste dimension, like what one finds in Penang-Nyonya or Melaka-Nyonya "gulai tumis" - but that would have been a different dish.
- Ayam buahkeluak: very tasty here - the chicken was moist and extremely flavoursome, and the sauce was dark and intensely-flavoured from the "buah keluak" flesh. The difference here is that the whole, cracked nuts were discarded, instead of being stuffed with spiced pork-shrimp filling (I love those). But it's a different rendition here, done in some Peranakan households, so perfectly acceptable to us.
Overall, the food standards were pretty good. Service by the almost all-Filipino wait-staff was efficient and friendly. The pricing, considering its prime Orchard Road location, was very reasonable: dinner was only about S$80 (US$60) for 3 persons.
290 Orchard Road
Tel:+65 6737 7931