Type of Institution: Non-Vegetarian
Address: 44 Rochester Park
Tel: +65 6778 0246
I was informed by a reader a couple of months ago that one of my favourite non-veg*n eateries serving delicious and wholesome vegan food in Singapore, Onaka, had shrunk to “a little café with only some salads and sandwiches on their menu”. I finally made it to Onaka recently and was very disappointed to find that that was still the case, as the company was undergoing “restructuring”. It comprised of a small “kitchen” with only a couple of tables in the outdoors seating area. The menu consisted of appetizers, salads, toasted sandwiches, and drinks, i.e. nothing particularly interesting. Everything I loved on the old menu has vanished, and the vegan options on offer were pitiably limited. The fact that they no longer use free-range eggs but use caged eggs belies cost-cutting measures. However, the quality of the ingredients generally remained adequately high.
If you’re curious about what Onaka used to be like, I’ve attached the old and comprehensive review at the bottom of this new and shorter one.
Dip Platter – Guacamole and Organic Hummus
For starters, I opted for two of my all-time favourites for the Dip Platter. Both the guacamole and hummus came in small portions and were served with fresh crudités and vegan Carr’s biscuits. The Carr’s biscuits felt out of place – call me traditional, but the only carbohydrates that should accompany guacamole and hummus are tortilla chips and pita bread respectively. The hummus, made of chickpeas, tahini, olives, spices and extra virgin olive oil, paled in comparison to the more satisfying guacamole, made from avocadoes, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, cilantro, and a hint of lemon. ($6.50 for each flavour, also comes with salsa)
Tofu Avocado Salad
I enjoyed the Tofu Avocado Salad as much as the salads at the old Onaka. The Tofu Avocado Salad came in a healthy portion size and was packed with the freshest ingredients – crisp romaine lettuce, rocket, sweet orange cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, semi-firm soy-marinated tofu cubes, creamy avocado slices, chopped crunchy walnuts, all topped off with a small handful of alfafa sprouts. The salad came with a side serving of daikon-shoyu dressing, which I used sparingly because it was rather salty. (9.50)
Annabelle’s Gluten-Free Bakery’s Vegan Cupcakes
I was very excited to try the vegan cupcakes Onaka brought in from Annabelle’s GF Bakery – it’s always a pleasant surprise for a vegan in Singapore to find new dessert options, no? Make space for the Banana Walnut muffin, which were moist, sweet and utterly heartwarming. But I wasn’t a huge fan of the Dark Chocolate muffin, which while flavoursome, were dry and crumbly. ($3 each)
Conclusion: Onaka has become a rather ordinary café after the company restructuring –the food was satisfactory but unexceptional, and the limited menu (especially for vegans) was disappointing. I only hope that the café would return to what it once was.
Review on 15 February 2012
This is the third time I have updated my review of Onaka @ Rochester Park. I previously wrote a review raving about Onaka on 30 August 2011 after my first visit, and I’ve been back about 6 more times, so I’ve consolidated my opinions into a comprehensive post for you.
To state at the outset, I absolutely love Onaka. Onaka is not an entirely vegetarian restaurant, so you can bring your carnivorous friends there as well. Vegetarians will rejoice since more than half of its extensive menu is comprised of vegetarian items and it also caters to specific dietary needs. Aside from the fact that most dishes are delicious and presented beautifully, I love the fact that Onaka uses only whole grains, healthier cooking methods, and fresh, natural, organic and wholesome ingredients that are free from synthetic additives, colourings, flavourings, preservatives, trans fats and MSGs – you can really taste and feel the difference. (This was written in my first review of Onaka. While I was very enthusiastic about Onaka when I first discovered it, and I still am, the quality of the food has been inconsistent. I’ll elaborate upon the discrepancies in the quality of the food below.)
Moreover, the Onaka menu is distinguished from that of other restaurants as it has clear and specific labelling catering to various dietary restrictions, e.g. gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, sugar-free. This is important to me because it shows that they are concerned about providing for every customer and his or her dietary needs. I feel that appropriate labelling is something very much lacking in almost every Singaporean eatery. However, I have found inaccuracies in the labelling. For example, the miso tofu melt contains mozzarella but the menu stated that it is dairy-free. I only found out when I unfortunately tasted the cheese (yes, I said unfortunately) in my food.
Finally, the service has always been outstanding and extremely friendly. On my first visit, upon finding out that I was vegan, the staff was very helpful in checking with the kitchen as to which dishes were vegan and which dishes could be modified easily to become vegan. When they ran out of what seemed like the only vegan dessert available on the menu (the cocoa mousse), one of the staff actually called their boss to check if another one of their desserts was vegan. I haven’t seen her in my past few visits though.
Extremely fresh, smooth and buttery avocado with cucumber, lettuce, spinach, and rocket. The crunchy sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds gave a satisfying texture to the dish while the sweet dried cranberries, yellow cherry tomatoes and lemon and cucumber dressing were refreshing. ($13)
Starters and Sides
The hummus, made from organic chickpeas and tahini, was flavourful but a bit too watery for my taste. The pita crisps were interesting – thin and crispy but didn’t taste amazing. I liked the inclusion of the black olives since I’m a big olives fan.
Mushroom Siew Mai
A must-try — I’ve had these on all my separate visits! They were so so delicious and the steamed whole button mushrooms stuffed with shitake mushrooms and brown rice gave it an amazing flavour and wonderful texture. I could have 20 of these at one go. Dip it liberally in the chilli relish and/or the Tabasco mayonnaise – they were both delightful. On the first visit, the only complaint I had was that the wonton wrappings were a bit too thick and they fell apart quite easily and failed to hold the mushroom stuffing adequately. On my second visit, it appeared they remedied the wonton wrapping situation and even made the stuffed mushrooms bigger and more satisfying.
Unfortunately, good things don’t last forever. The chef told me that he had decided to dispense with the siew mai wrapping after complaints that the skin was too thick (perhaps he read my review…? haha). So now the siew mai stuffing is placed inside a mushroom cap. I was quite disappointed because this meant they could use much less stuffing for each siew mai. Also, on one of the occasions that I tried it, the mushroom caps were not well-cooked and were quite tasteless… I miss the original siew mai! :< ($14)
Another one of my favourites. The steamed tofu stuffed with organic brown rice and mushrooms had a perfect semi-firm texture that contrasted well with the crunchy edamame peas. Comes with a Shimeji mushrooms salad and sesame-tamari dressing. ($16)
The marinated firm tofu and tempeh skewers sitting on a bed of leaves made up a light dish. I liked the texture of the firm tofu though I wasn’t mad about the tempeh. The Balinese sambal matah was an interesting addition. (This item is no longer on the menu.)
Asparagus, red and yellow capsicums, and zucchini. These were underwhelming. ($8).
Organic Brown Rice
While the menu states the brown rice is prepared with herbs and spices, my brown rice was very plain. Therefore although the brown rice was well-cooked, I didn’t think this regular portion of brown rice was worth $3. ($3).
The baked beans with garlic and onion were quite flavourful, but nothing extraordinary. ($6)
Gratin of Portobella
Another must-try! The staff made sure the dish was done with soy cheese so that it was vegan (it normally comes with parmesan) 🙂 It tasted as wonderful as it looked. The dish consisted of a stack of portobello mushrooms, roast peppers, zucchini, aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes topped with soy cheese, and sitting on a bed of herbed quinoa, with the tomato-based napolitana sauce on the side. ($24)
Spicy Eggplant with Olives
I’ve had this twice to satisfy my carb addiction, and I’ll have it again – nothing special but satisfactory. Al dente organic spaghetti with chilly marinated eggplant, olives and parsley in spicy arrabiata sauce. It isn’t very spicy, in case you’re worried about that.
Unfortunately, the third time I tried it, the pasta sauce was appallingly watery. ($17)
Onaka offers Soyato, which is a frozen dessert made of soymilk in various flavours. I don’t like Soyato because the texture doesn’t lend itself very well to freezing below a certain temperature – it becomes too much like ice. I’ve tried three different flavours at Onaka – vanilla, cookies, and green tea – but none of them tasted satisfactorily rich. If you are looking for a great vegan substitute for ice cream, Green Room Cafe does a pretty good job (as reviewed here). However, Onaka did an amazing job incorporating it into the …
Organic Chocolate Soy Milkshake
SO SO SO YUMMY. It transformed an otherwise dismal Chocolate Soyato into a completely satisfying milkshake with the addition of hazelnut powder, chocolate powder, cocoa, and organic soymilk. I should ask them what brand they used on my next visit because the quality of the soymilk clearly made a huge difference – perhaps it’s Silk?
That was written on my first visit. And the answer is that Onaka uses Silk, which is basically one of the yummiest organic soy milk brands in the world. ❤ Since my good friend Jen introduced me to it I’ve never looked back. 😉 Onaka certainly invests in quality ingredients! ($8)
I’ve also tried the Chocolate Soy Milkshake without Soyato. It’s cheaper ($6 instead of $8) and it was still delicious, but of course it tasted better with the Soyato.
Hot Chocolate (with soy milk)
Nothing jumped out at me. I was craving the richness and bittersweet flavour that a hot chocolate made with premium cocoa would provide but that was lacking. The drink was very sweet and too watery for my taste.
Conclusion: One of my favourite places to eat out in Singapore. Very chill, hidden in one corner of Rochester Park, delicious, healthy food… what’s not to like?