NOTE: Whole Earth is undergoing renovations now. We visited it about a month ago.
Whole Earth at Tanjong Pagar, which was established in 2003, serves Peranakan-Thai vegetarian cuisine. It is the only vegetarian restaurant to be awarded by the Michelin Guide; it didn’t get a star but it received a Bib Gourmand, that is, outstanding food below $45. (We paid about $50 a pax.)
The moment I stepped in, I wanted to vomit. The stench of the place. It was like sour fetid sweat mixed with wet dog odor. Calm down, take three deep breaths. You can get used to all smells after 3 breaths. HOW DID THESE CUSTOMERS STAND THE SMELL???
When Ms Atas came in, I asked her, “Can you smell it?”
“No… it’s just food smell.” Then 5 minutes later, she said, “OMG, I can smell it now. It’s revolting. What’s that vile stink?”
We asked the waitress if we could move to another table because the smell was terrible. The waitress laughed and said the smell was everywhere, it was the smell of their homemade sambal. So no sambal dishes for us, thank you.
The extensive menu is clearly divided in soups, Peranakan, Thai, etc. The royal scallops on pea shoots ($24.90) is way, way too expensive. Pea shoots, which I often cook, are only $1 plus a big packet at supermarkets. Maybe the cost comes from the king abalone mushrooms, which have a nice shredded texture similar to scallops. The dish is very delicious because of that savory, sticky stock sauce, but still for stir-fried vegetables, the price is over the top.
The owners of Whole Earth want to make diners feel like we are eating meat even though if we aren’t. But unfortunately, the homemade honey ribs ($27.90) were our least favorite dish for that night. It is hand-rolled from monkeyhead mushroom, shiitake mushroom and lotus root. The lotus root is an ingredient that give long threads of fibre, so you may feel spiderwebs on your chin. This dish doesn’t work because it does not look or taste like ribs at all–in fact, it tastes like nothing–although we must acknowledge the effort that goes into it.
The Peranakan dish, Penang rendang ($20.90), is amazingly robust and rich that I didn’t know vegetarian food could be like this. It consists of shiitake mushroom. This is a must order.
Another amazing dish, olive rice ($8.90/$13.90) or olive brown rice ($9.90/$14.90), is very savory, and full of flavors and wok hei, each grain separate from the rest. I can see how the food deserves a Bib Gourmand.
Whole Earth is a restaurant of contradictions: the food and service are excellent but the odor and casual decor of the restaurant do not commiserate with the steep price tag. It’s too expensive to be a casual restaurant, and too shabby to be a fine-dining.
I can’t think of a reason I’d bring anyone here; I won’t bring my family, date, or friends from overseas. But if a Singaporean vegetarian friend suggests to have a friends’ gathering here to accommodate their vegetarian diet, then yes I would return.
76 Peck Seah St, Singapore 079331
Tel: +65 6323 3308
11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm (last order 9.15pm)
Ambience/decor: 2/10 (Sorry I can’t stand a smelly place.)
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.