Wanton Seng's may just be the fanciest place we've ever been to for the humble wanton mee, a local dish ubiquitous to hawker centers but never featured as the highlighted draw of a restaurant. To be honest, but for a foodie friend's rave review, I'd have never thought to visit the CBD bistro bar. I mean, why would anyone go to a hipster upscale restaurant to eat wantan noodles, right?! It'll probably be worse than the Orchard Road food courts, severely overpriced and bitterly underwhelming. Or so I judgmentally thought.
I'm glad I dumped my preconceived notions and heeded Ivano's recommendation, Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar is so much more than just an upmarket wanton mee outfit that also hawks alcohol. Wanton Seng's deconstructs the humble hawker fare and elevates, reinvents, and refines the local favourite into a modern artform. It's everything that you're familiar with wanton mee: the traditional, comforting, and hearty flavours, but made exquisitely contemporary. And so its premium prices are totally justified.
On this note, we always lament the dying out of heritage hawkers, but this is a way to keep our hawker culture alive. I'm all for the raising of hawker prices,
if that'll ensure the longevity of our notable hawkers. I really don't
understand why Singaporeans are happy to shell out $15 for a plate of mediocre
pasta, but whinge about the inflation of 30 cents for a bowl of stellar char kway teow. The proliferation of 'Best Hawker Food at Under $3"
lists will attest to that stingy mindset. If you can afford a $20/pax meal once a week
at a middling restaurant, you can also afford an excellent
inflated-but-more-value-more-money $10 plate of hawker dish twice a
week. You get more bang for your buck anyway. Both upscale fare and
hawker food take just about the same amount of skill and time to
perfect, yet for some reason, Singaporeans seem to have this resistance,
mentally, to hawker food costing more than $5 a dish. *end of aside*
A twist on the standard red-tinged char siew, the Aburi Pork Belly ($13), slow-cooked for 18 hours, was meltingly caramelised and beautifully charred. This was most excellent and a must-try.
Another must-try, the Betalong Eggs ($10) was an Asian take on the classic English scotch egg. A soft-boiled egg, perfectly molten, was swaddled in a breadcrumb coat of pork mince, and topped with micro sprouts.
Wanton Seng's has clearly jumped on the salted egg food fad du jour, with their rendition of Salted Duck Egg Chicken Wings ($10). Deep fried to a golden brown, these were garnished with red radish, fried shallots, and curry leaves for a subtle kick.
The Boiled Dumplings ($8), stuffed with a blend of pork mince, chestnut nubbins, and diced shrimp, was commendable, albeit a tad forgettable. The broth, was rich in depth, and redolent of an earthy Chinese herb.
I much preferred the Fried Wantons ($6) an all pork mixture that was superb. Another must-order.
Despite the no-carbs-at-night diet, I couldn't resist the Nudles ($1), a small bowl of egg noodles that were delightfully springy, and devoid of the reek of that typical alkali treatment. Slicked in the classic dressing of soy, sesame and a little something-something, this was a most pleasant surprise, for its traditional taste. Ask for extras of the shallots, the garnish really made the noodles 'pop'.
Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar
52 Amoy Street
Tel: 6221 1336
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner;
Fridays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays