Onaka Restaurant & Wine Bar: RESTAURANT WEEK 2013

Official Website: http://www.onakagroup.com/ (View menu here)
Address: 460 Alexandra Road #01-32 Alexandra Retail Centre (ARC)
Tel: 62702012
Opening Hours: 11.30 – 22.30 (Mon to Fri); 10.00 – 22.30 (Sat, Sun and PH)
Budget: $20-$30 for ala carte, $18++ for 2-course set lunch on weekdays

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In view of a –cough cough- special day coming up next week and since it was Restaurant Week, I was assigned the task of planning a family dinner.

As the Health Nazi of the family, I was naturally drawn to Onaka because of their slogan, “Eat Consciously, Live Mindfully”, which totally resonates with me. According to their website, ONAKA stands for “Optimum Nutrition And Kitchen Arts”. In addition, they claimed that their food contains “all-natural ingredients without artificial additives, chemicals, colorings, flavorings, MSG, and trans-fats.” Sounds like my type of food! After reading several positive reviews, I placed a reservation without further consideration.

The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived; not surprising given their secluded location (it’s near Labrador Park MRT). We were seated immediately but things went downhill from there…

FIRST AND FOREMOST, THEIR SERVICE SUCKED! Apart from taking our orders promptly, their staff clearly lacked initiative. For example, although we had been seated for quite some time, none of them bothered to help us pour water into our glasses. They also expected us to share menus across the long table by handing us 2 menus when we had 7 people. In addition, after each course was completed, there was a long lag time before our plates were cleared. This had never been the case for other restaurants we’ve visited previously (be it fine dining or just normal eateries serving 3-course menus). The final straw came when they took at least 10 minutes to serve SG Boy’s and my dessert, even though everyone at the table had the same order. By the time our dessert arrived, the rest of the table had already finished their share. While waiting, I shot so many dagger stares that their supervisor had to come over to apologise. Perhaps you could argue that the restaurant had started to fill up since it was dinnertime and they were understaffed, but that was clearly not the case. Most of their waitstaff were just standing around and gazing into space, behaving as though diners were non-existent. >:(

The food, thankfully, was quite tasty even though my mood was already partially ruined by their horrendous service.

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Watermelon Tartare

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Oysters & Egg

For starters, SG Boy had Oysters & Egg while I chose the Watermelon Tartare. The slightly sour balsamic caviar provided a tangy twist to the sweet watermelon, and the combination was rather refreshing. SG Boy, on the other hand, complained that his oyster was rather pathetic as it wasn’t cold and had a fishy aftertaste.

For the mains, everyone at the table tried different dishes. I went for the Pear & Salmon while SG Boy selected the Duck Pancake. My mum, who sat next to me, chose the Maritime Barley Risotto. In general, the various dishes were well-plated and one could really feel the chef’s efforts in preparing the dishes.

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Pear and Salmon

I thought my dish was well-executed. Although the salmon was rather plain by itself, its flavour was enhanced by the thin layer of light sesame soy sauce at the bottom. The sweet and crunchy julienned pear also complemented the fish really well. What really sealed the deal was the soft-boiled egg because I am a huge fan of runny yolks! It was a pity that I accidentally burst the yolk by poking it with my fork so part of it was left on the plate. L According to a review I read (after I came back), apparently the yolk was supposed to be consumed together with the fish but obviously the inattentive waitstaff had failed to inform me about that. Tsk tsk. What a waste of the chef’s effort! Also, I liked the fact that they served the salmon on the sauce instead of the other way round. As a health nazi, I hate having my food drenched in sauce. Thus, in this sense, Onaka caters well to health-conscious people like me by enabling diners to vary the amount of sauce they want on their meat without having to make special requests while ordering food.

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Maritime Barley Risotto

The risotto was vastly different from what we tasted at Chef D’ Table, mainly because barley was used to replace the traditional Arborio rice. Despite the portion being quite huge, it wasn’t too overwhelming or creamy (like normal risotto). The broth-infused barley was cooked to perfection and wasn’t too hard. One could easily polish off the whole dish without feeling sick afterwards.

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Duck Pancake

The Duck Pancake resembled a Chinese Roasted Duck Wrap. It reminded SG Boy of the roasted duck that he had at Da Dong in Beijing, and I’m pretty sure he was reminiscing his exchange days in Beijing while operating on the dish. The dish was aesthetically pleasing, but SG Boy’s gripe was that the rolls were cut too coarsely. Despite having a humongous mouth, SG Boy found that it was near impossible to stuff the whole roll into his mouth in one bite. As such, the pancake had to be deconstructed for consumption. This defeated the purpose of eating it as a wrap because the various components fell apart upon slicing. Thus, much remains to be elucidated as to whether the ingredients really complemented one another well, if at all. SG Boy also commented that the dish was a tad too oily despite it being served in a “health food restaurant”.

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Grand Tour of Desserts

The dessert was abit of a miss though. Although the avocado and chocolate mousse was rather light and not overly sweet, the sorbet was too sour and left a bitter aftertaste. I think we would have preferred a cake for dessert instead.

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At the end of our meal, a choice of organic healing tea/coffee was served. The tea came in teabags and weren’t really memorable. If they didn’t come as part of the set menu, I probably wouldn’t order them as they cost $6/pot.

FINAL VERDICT
Here’s the much-awaited question: Was it worth it? Definitely not for Restaurant Week. $35++ is rather steep even though some dishes were indeed unique and memorable. Also, I absolutely cannot fathom why 10% service charge was included in the bill when their waitstaff provided such lackluster service. The bill would probably have been a lot cheaper if we had gone ala carte, so I kind of regret choosing the Restaurant Week menu. Lesson learnt! Although there were several interesting dishes on the menu that caught my eye, until they ensure that all of their staff undergo proper training, I doubt I’ll return anytime soon.

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2 thoughts on “Onaka Restaurant & Wine Bar: RESTAURANT WEEK 2013

  1. Hi FatSG Boy,
    We visited onaka recently despite your negative comment on the restaurant.. We found it that they have much better appreciation towards dinner and food that what you have described above.. The fact that the restaurant is newly opened (we did asked and the chef answered!).. I think the service is rather ok.. The people seems sincere and really polite.. At least they didnt pretend as much as the pompous managers in many food outlets.. When asked.. the chef told us about the philosophy of the whole place which was to make a change in the society back to its roots of slow down and smell the roses type of attitude.. I thought your comment was rather curt and too singaporean.. maybe you dont really deserve eating at Onaka… for they take a stand and are proud of it.. unlike keyboard warriors like us who hides behind the screen, commenting at everything we could…

    • Hi jace,

      Thanks for your comment. First and foremost, we would like to clarify that we’re not paid for tasting sessions and instead, we (bloggers at fatsgboy) aim to report objective accounts of our dining experiences from an ordinary diner’s perspective.

      It’s heartening to know that your dining experience was enjoyable, unlike ours. However, we still stand by our view that the service we faced then was unsatisfactory. Our different experiences could be attributed to several reasons. (1) The service staff may have changed from our time of visit (March 2013) as we noticed that many of them looked young and were likely to be part-timers. This is not surprising since the F&B industry usually has a high turnover rate. (2) Perhaps the management had taken the conscious effort to improve their service standard after our ‘less than positive’ review. (3) Maybe they weren’t used to handling large crowds, like during Restaurant Week.

      Let me cite some examples of unsatisfactory service. Firstly, we felt that making 7 diners share one menu across a long table was unacceptable, when the staff could have easily provided more copies. We did ask for more copies but unfortunately it did not materialize. Secondly, although the manager did eventually apologise for making 2 diners wait about 20 minutes longer than the rest for the dessert, we felt that it would have been more polite if they had warned us about the delay from the start. Thirdly, we also felt that the servers could have been more attentive in other aspects, such as refilling water for diners when they were not busy at all. These were our honest opinions from an objective diner’s point of view.

      As normal consumers, we were definitely not expecting personalized service (e.g. being able to talk to the chef etc). Instead, we had expected better service for the price we were paying (S$35++ per pax). In essence, service standards change (our review was in March 2013) and therefore we respect your point that perhaps their service standards have improved sharply.

      In addition, do take note that our review was not 100% negative per se. In terms of food quality, we enjoyed the food at Onaka (save for several grouses or ‘misses’) and agree with their philosophy on food and life. However, it is unfortunate that for our case, we felt that their theoretical philosophy failed to translate into satisfactory service quality in practice.

      Lastly, we feel that your criticism of our review (“maybe you don’t really deserve eating at Onaka”) appears unjustified. Perhaps we may seem like difficult diners who are hard to please, but we definitely did not make a din or complain during the dinner. If bloggers who provide a true and accurate recount are described as ‘keyboard warriors’, then we are afraid that other readers will never get to read about the true state of affairs at eateries. To end off, perhaps the best comment is, to each his own. ☺

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