Type of Institution: Vegetarian
Address: 99 East Coast Road, Singapore 428795
Tel: +65 6348 6780
Naive is the brainchild of Whole Earth, a restaurant that I’ve been to many times for its amazing Peranakan-Thai cuisine (I’ve been rather lazy so I haven’t reviewed Whole Earth yet though), but the qualityof Naive’s food pales in many respects, as I will explain shortly. I’ve been here twice.
But before I continue, I want to highlight a misrepresentation in advertising. The point is not to be an annoying vegan – I think it is of interest to all potential customers of a restaurant that they realise there are inaccurancies in advertising. As at the point of writing (05:33 on Sunday 16 October 2011 – I am unhappily plagued by insomnia and jet-lag), Naive’s website proudly boasts under “about naive – naive food” that they have created a “fantastic and healthy asian menu from purely plant-based ingredients with no meat, no seafood, no eggs, no onion, no garlic, and no MSG… We love serving such tasty and natural food that everyone can enjoy.” VEGANS BEWARE: The Naive menu is NOT PURELY plant-based.I found this out the hard way. After my companion and I finished our meal, the manager (who is very friendly and attentive) came over to ask about our dietary habits. I said I’m vegan, and she asked, “So you did not have the Button Steak”? The menu had stated that the Button Steak contained rennet-free cheese (as do some other items on the menu) but as I had felt assured that Naive created food based on “purely plant-based ingredients” I thought “cheese” in this instance must be referring to vegan cheese. Apparently not. I probably also neglected to clarify with the staff because I was having dinner at 21:30 The Naive menu contains dishes that use rennet-free cheese, which, while being vegetarian, is not vegan. (Don’t know the difference? Here‘s a handy guide:) )
Another thing to note is that many of the items on Naive’s menu are either very similar or identical to that on Whole Earth’s menu. For the similar items I’ve tried, Whole Earth usually does it better, as I’ve described here.
Now on to the review. Before we began our meal, there was a Japanese-inspired “blessing of the sesame seeds” ceremony. Basically, a set of quite beautifully crafted and efficient Japanese mortar and pestle was set before us so that we can grind fragrant toasted sesame seeds which can then be sprinkled onto the dishes. The smell of the ground up sesame seeds was intoxicating, though I wouldn’t add it to every dish – goes well with the olive brown rice though.
To start with. This was purportedly one of Naive’s specials. It contains cabbage, baby asparagus, strawberries “with [vermicelli] crystal bits served with Asian tamarind dressing. Refreshingly delicious.” It would have been nice if it was indeed “refreshingly delicious” since this was the first dish but what killed it for me was the dressing – there was too much of it, and it was too overpowering. A salad dressing is supposed to complement and bring out the flavours in the ingredients, not drown it into oblivion. Not to mention that the flavour of the dressing was rather boring. I suppose the strawberries were supposed to serve as an effective, refreshing contrast to the other ingredients and the dressing, but the strawberries were not fresh and not very tasty, so it hardly did the job.
Enchanted Forest (Monkeyhead Mushrooms with Broccoli)
I’ve been to Naive twice and both times I’ve ordered it – best thing I’ve tried here. It’s sick.The unique, meaty texture of the perfectly braised monkeyhead mushrooms has to be tried to be believed – I don’t think monkeyhead mushrooms should be cooked any other way after trying Naive’s version, which is superior to the ones I’ve tried in other restaurants. The mushrooms are swimming in a delicious lightly flavoured herbed broth with wolfberries (obviously very healthy) and nestled amidst crunchy almost-raw broccoli florets. I could probably eat two plates of this by myself, it’s so good?!
Tamarind Tofu Cake and Curry Tofu Cake
The tamarind tofu cake, which was what I had the second time I went to Naive, was satisfactory, but nothing to shout about. The texture of the tofu cakes was quite pleasant, closely approximated to that of fish, but it wasn’t as good as Whole Earth’s Thai Mango and Tamarind Fish. The texture was aided by the crispy fried layer surrounding the tofu cake. The cakes were adorned by pineapple strips, which were again sadly not very fresh – my friend had difficulty identifying the strips as pineapple because it wasn’t very sweet. I liked the Tamarind sauce though – adequately spicy and tangy.
I had the curry tofu cake the first time I went there – it’s along the same lines as well. Not particularly memorable, but I definitely enjoyed the curry sauce.
This had a characteristically fancy name but unfortunately I’ve forgotten it. Anyhow, my companion liked it a lot though it was so-so for me. Each lotus root was topped with a meaty substance (my guess is mushroom), which was quite tasty on its own, without the dipping sauce (again I don’t know if it’s vegan). It came with a small side of penne in a creamy dressing with strips of capsicum which was not bad.
The button steak is made up of mushrooms and topped with rennet-free cheese, accompanied by a serving of ketchup. While the flavour of the mushrooms was not bad, it was ultimately a boring dish. And as mentioned above, it was not vegan. 😦
Sambal Long Beans with Tempeh
I loved the long beans, nicely sauteed and very crunchy. Not so sure about the tempeh (Indonesian bean cakes) though – I don’t mind tempeh but these ones just had a really strange texture…
Olive Brown Rice
Flavourless, especially when compared to Whole Earth’s version. No idea why it was marked out as one of Naive’s better items on the menu.
I don’t know if the desserts are vegan – I ordered them the first time I went to Naive because I had made the similar assumption that “purely plant-based ingredients” = vegan. But I’m going to review them anyway.
I ordered the chocolate brownie twice, not because it was that great but because it did the job – it was sweet and chocolatey and I wanted something sweet and chocolatey. 🙂
Sencha Pudding with Japanese red beans
Didn’t like it, particularly the texture of the sencha pudding – basically very soft and wobbly.
Jug of Lime Juice
Not what I’ll want in my lime juice, which is a strong sour kick punctuating its sweetness. The flavour was really bland.
Conclusion: Will come again, if only to have the braised monkeyhead mushrooms with broccoli for a third time. But other than that, the food has never blown me away. Also note the food isn’t cheap.