IVINS: No-Frills Peranakan Satisfaction
Reviewed by : Stephanie Lim. Other Foodadvisor Writers?
Tucked away in a little corner of Bukit Timah, away from the culinary haven of Sixth Avenue and its vicinity, is a little gem unknown to many. Ever since it opened its Binjai Park doors in 1988, IVINS is one of the Peranakan community's best-kept secrets and they have since expanded to another outlet in Upper Thomson. Contrary to popular belief that the cuisine is all about the spice and chilies, not everything is spicy, though the richness is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
- The Vibe
Compared to other Peranakan restaurants in Singapore, with their art, décor and ambience, IVINS pales in comparison, even with its recent renovation. The minimal décor and ordinary lighting of the restaurant enhances rather than detract the homely dining ambience, a welcomed respite for all victims mourning the loss of traditional home-cooked Peranakan food.
- The Food
The portions at IVINS are notably small but this is reflected in the very affordable prices as well. As such, diners can order a larger variety of Peranakan specialties to savour, especially when dining in a group. Dining here is consequently a very social activity, making it a rather rowdy affair.
A distinct character of their cuisine is the use of mini-claypots in serving their stews and soups, with the Ayam Buah Keluak ($5.50) being one such example. The buah keluak has long been renowned for its acquired taste, but it really does make the dish exceptional. Tender cuts of chicken are stewed in tangy gravy and they blend extremely well with the smokey flavour of the buah keluak. The resulting blend is sharp and piquant, complementing the steamed rice very well.
Another spicy offering will be the Curry Fish Head ($13.20), which comprises of half a fish-head and assorted vegetables. Unlike the Indian variety, the curry is thick and packs a good assam punch, bringing out the sweet succulence of the fish. The ladyfingers served alongside are cooked just right, providing a good bite with its freshness.
To balance the richness of the other dishes, soups like the Bakwan Kepeting ($5.50) cleanses the palates for more tantalising flavours. The clear soup with bamboo shoots is flavourful yet not overpowering, perfect for those who appreciate lighter flavours as compared to the thick aromatic gravies. The well-shaped meatballs, with fresh crab meat mixed in, are generously-sized and enough to satisfy.
Items such as the Sotong Sambal ($4.50) and Sambal Kangkong ($4.50) will send you back on track on your spice adventure. The squid in the former are of the medium-sized variety and these are known to be sweeter and tenderer. The rempah used is chunky and large slices of chilli provide a crunchy dimension to the enjoyably chewy squid. The water convolvulus used in the sambal kangkong are small and are, therefore, less fibrous. The use of dried shrimp in the dish gives it a fragrant undertone that complements the sambal perfectly. Thick and scrumptious, the Otak Otak Panggang ($1.60) here at IVINS is also worth a try.
For individuals who lament the fact that you never have enough space for desserts after the main course, small dessert servings allow no room for excuse. With a wide selection of hot and cold desserts, some find themselves ordering two portions instead, just because they want to have the best of both worlds. Hot offerings include Buboh Cha Cha ($1.10) and Buboh Terigu ($1.10), with the latter proving to be warm and comforting. The cold desserts, such as the Gula Melaka Sago ($1.10) and Chendol ($1.10), afford a welcome respite from the heat of the tropics, with the chendol outshining the former with its multiple textures and stronger hint of gula melaka.
- The Service
While they do get a little flustered by the crowd during the busy meal hours, you are served with everything you need, including ice water and that special pick for the buah keluak.
SD Food Advisor's take on IVINS
Do not be fooled by its affordability, good food can be inexpensive too. IVINS definitely goes down as one of the most value-for-money and authentic Peranakan restaurant in Singapore, though authenticity is debatable due to the differing styles in Peranakan homes of yesteryear. The idea of inter-racial amalgamation has made their language (a mix of Malay and Chinese dialects) unique and their food, out-of-this-world, albeit subjective to the non-Peranakan individuals. In my opinion, this is the kind of cuisine that truly embodies the Singaporean culture, an exciting mish-mash of ethnicities blending seamlessly into one.