Truth be told, my visit to Yes Natural was driven more by convenience than planning. For Yes Natural is located a short amble from (the
artist eatery formerly know as) My Loving Heart, which, to my dismay, appears to have closed down (but soon to be re-opened, apparently). I actually clocked Yes Natural whilst walking along Sims Avenue, from the bus stop to MLH. Its sickly blue signage (which spans no less than three frontages – retailer, bakery, and resto – possibly one of the most sprawling vegetarian enterprises in Singapore? Ever?!) serves as a beacon of sorts. Don’t ask why, but for some reason it just screamed “vegetarian”. Whoever said there’s no such thing as a vegedar was wrong, clearly.
The Yes Natural empire spans businesses and locations (Geylang, Tiong Bahru, Clementi), although the Geylang branch is very much the nerve centre of the whole operation. As can be fathomed from the rallying war cry of a name (Yes!!), this conglomerate is big on healthy, do-goody-type stuff. Organic, vegan, eco-friendliness, additive (and MSG)-free; you name it, they push it.
The restaurant itself is a cross between a den of vegetarianism and a childcare centre. The atmosphere is quiet and homely, but the brightly-coloured lotus and other iconographic Buddhist murals on the walls make it seem a little puerile. The service is brisk but friendly, and the menu is large and largely Chinese. It’s typical of many quasi-religious vegetarian eateries on our hallowed Singaporean shores.
We started by sharing the Pocket Salad (SGD 6.00), which, conveniently, comes as a pair. This was essentially a pita pocket stuffed (I mean, stuffed – the one on the left was literally bursting at the seams) with salad (mostly alfalfa sprouts, but also some pea shoots and sliced tomato) and mock ham, and drizzled with a lemon mayonnaise dressing. It delivered exactly what it promised, but I couldn’t help but think that I could have made a better version myself. In particular, the flavours of the dressing could have been ramped up to provide a more decisive punch in support of the crunchy kick of the salad.
Next came the Vegan Honey Pork Slice (SGD 12.00), along with two bowls of dry brown rice. Whilst I do not crave the taste of meat in any way whatsoever (honest), there are certain meat-glaze flavour combinations that will always tug at my tastestrings. Honeyed pork is one of them. The sweet tackiness of honey is the perfect bedfellow of pork – a meat so prone to dryness that I have always felt that its well-known derivative – pork scratchings – refers to more than just pig rind alone.
Thanks in large part to the batter, this vegan replica dish nailed the crunchy-sticky tradeoff. It was smothered with honey glaze, which itself was extravagantly peppered with sesame seeds (a rare treat that I try and replicate whenever I eat yong tau foo – I have been known to shake that shaker for minutes on end). The sweet-nutty flavours and crunchy textures pandered perfectly to my palate. De-lish.
Finally came the Bean Curd with Sauce (a.k.a. Ma Po Tofu – SGD 10.00), the sauce of which was much needed to cut through the dryness of the brown rice. Ma Po Tofu always strikes me as being a bit cheeky. The name itself translates loosely as “pockmarked grandma’s beancurd” (what’s that I see flying out the window? Nothing, just filial piety…), whilst the flavours usually hinge around chilli, and how much the chef thinks he can get away with using. I like it a lot, not least because it’s about as protein-packed and tasty as vegetarian food gets.
This dish included the mandatory tofu, some chewy (and ultimately superfluous) mock meats, and assorted sliced mushrooms. The shiitake mushrooms stood out for the precision with which they were sliced (to me they resembled fish skin), and characteristically pungent taste. The sauce was spicy and yet rather thin. The flavours were a little one-dimensional, erring too much on the side of spice than a more interesting blend of mushroom, ginger, black pepper, and/or fermented black beans. Better when served in – or from – a claypot I think.
Overall, I can foresee that a second visit to Yes Natural is definitely on the cards. The food is, on the whole, well-prepared, tasty, and healthy. It’s a place best visited with friends, as the menu is clearly skewed towards dishes to be shared. And if for nothing else, eating here is a good way to cleanse the soul before partaking in some of the more hedonistic attractions that Geylang has to offer.
I refer to durian, of course.