[Review] Tok Panjang at The Peranakan (Claymore Connect, Orchard)

October 07, 2017 0 Comments A+ a-

Tucked in a cosy corner of Claymore Connect, The Peranakan is a hidden gem and a gastronomic haven for purists of Peranakan cuisine.

The term "Peranakan" means "locally born" in Malay and refers to the descendants of foreign traders who married local women in Southeast Asia centuries ago. Peranakan cuisine is the result of blending Chinese ingredients with various local spices, resulting in food that is often characterised by its strong and spicy flavours.

Perfect for family gatherings especially if you want to bring your parents back in time, this restaurant delivers true blue Peranakan cuisine with much finesse. We heard that the recipes were passed down from chef-owner Raymond Khoo's own family.

As we wanted to try a little of everything that this dining establishment had to offer, the Tok Panjang (S$45++/ S$65++, minimum 2 persons to share) was a natural choice. Consisting of the signature soups, tasting-portions of the chef's signature dishes, a dessert platter and Malaccan coffee/ tea, we were treated to an aplomb of flavours during this feast.

Drinks & Starters
We first ordered a refreshing Soursop with Biji Selaseh (S$8++) which came with a generous dollop of plump fleshy soursop. It served as an amazing palate cleanser for the rest of the meal.

The drink also provided a stark contrast to the some deliciously spicy Hae Bee Hiam Rolls (crispy prawn rolls) which were served whilst we were waiting for our food.

The Bakwan Kepeting (pork and crab meat ball) soup is a pork bone based broth with pork mixed together with crabmeat/ pork/ prawn balls. Served nice and warm, there was absolutely no hint of MSG in the soup and the natural sweetness of the prawns was really evident.

The Itek Tim (duck and salted vegetable) soup was equally wonderful. Chef Raymond shared with us how a ratio of 70:30 for the duck and pork bone helps to lend the soup its well-rounded flavours.

When the main dishes were served, we were totally blown over. Tok Panjang means a "long banquet table of food" and we were awed by The Peranakan's interpretation with the 13 dishes beautifully presented in a round rattan tray-basket.

Featuring classic dishes such as Kueh Pie Tee, Ngoh Hiang and Ikan Goreng with Sambal Belachan, the cooking style brought out the natural flavours of the traditional premium ingredients.

My favourite was clearly the Ayam Buah Keluak or stewed chicken made with traditional black Buah Keluak seeds. The unique taste of this dish comes from the Buah Keluak seeds which is sometimes affectionately named "Truffle of the East" because of its rich, intense and bold flavours.

I loved how the paste from the Buah Keluak seeds was well-blended - definitely very different from other dining establishments where it is sometimes served a little coarse and sandy. When put together with the succulent chicken, the dish was overall just sublime and heavenly. The amount of paste in the Buah Keluak seed was also very generous and we later found out that the chef had actually packed in double the amount of paste back after blending it. No wonder!

If you have not tried Buah Keluak before, it tastes like a dark bitter chocolate with nutty earthy tones. Interestingly, whilst it is used in Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan cooking, it can be poisonous. Various processes of underground fermentation, soaking and cooking are required to prepare the seeds, so the Ayam Buah Keluek is overall a really tedious dish to cook.

I also enjoyed the Satay Babi or pork belly (3 layers meat) in satay sauce. Before images of the nutty satay sauce are conjured in your head, let me tell you that this dish is quite different because it doesn't contain peanuts. Despite being slow cooked for several hours, the meat was surprisingly very succulent. The sweetness of the dish came from the fatty parts of the meat and it was overall well complemented by the savoury gravy with strong lemongrass and coconut flavours.

One of the highlights is also the Nasi Ulam Istimewa, a flavourful mixed herbs rice that is served cold. The last time I had this was when my grandmother cooked it and I believe this could be the only restaurant in Singapore serving the dish. Preparing this nasi (rice dish) can a tedious process as lots of fine chopping is required for the raw herbs or ulam, vegetables, minced fish, salted fish and rempah. We were also told that the preparation of this dish could not be rushed because if the rice was not cooled  properly, the herbs may become cooked when added, rendering the overall dish bitter. 

Below are some of the other dishes served in the main course, the sight of which would surely be enough to make your mouths water.

Kueh Pie Tee with shredded turnips and prawn:

Ngoh Hiang with generous servings of minced pork, prawns and water chestnut wrapped in crispy bean curd skin:

Sotong Masak Asam cooked with with star fruit and belimbang:

Terong Cincalok or egg plant with fermanted shrimp paste:

Sambal Udang or prawns cooked in sambal chilli and ladies fingers:

Beef Rendang cooked in a rich coconut and spice:

Nonya Chap Chye or mixed vegetable stew:

As if we were not already won over by the main dishes, we were again courted by a beautiful display of the desserts. The creative presentation of pandan leaves in the glass pot of gula melaka (a Malaccan brown sugar) definitely deserves extra credits!

My favourite was the Durian Pengat made from premium D24 durian. Delightfully creamy and rich, this is a must-try for all durian lovers. My only grouse would be that the portion was too small. :)

Apom Bokwa, a pancake with banana and gula melaka:

Pulut Inti or steamed blue pea rice with sweetened grated coconut:

Featuring beautiful chandeliers and intricately designed, colourful flowery tablecloths and silver cutlery, the decoration and ambience reflect the majestic opulence of the rich Peranakan culture. 

With many Peranakan items tastefully adorning the restaurant, it somehow also feels like a Peranakan heritage museum and one cannot help but feel a sense of nostalgia.

If you are looking for a unique venue for your traditional Chinese wedding tea ceremony, I would recommend this area for its beautiful red elements and flowers motifs. As per Chinese traditions, flowers and birds are also commonly featured in Peranakan decoration for their auspicious symbolism.

Using premium ingredients, the dishes here at The Peranakan showcase fine culinary expertise and match the intricacies required for even the most complex cooking. The attention to details was evident in crafting every dish and even the dining establishment's decoration.

The service is top notch without being overly intrusive and I would certainly recommend this restaurant for family gatherings. I would daresay that even the most finicky Baba would be satiated. The food brings back a sense of nostalgia and is an authentic tribute to traditonal Peranakan cuisine.

The Peranakan
442 Orchard Road
Level 2 Claymore Connect
Singapore 238879

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