Where: Hawker Chan, 157 Lonsdale Street Melbourne
What: A taste of home somewhat
Who: Boneless Bestie
Bloat score: 4 – If I were lying prostrate on my tummy, it would have looked as though I was levitating
Boneless Bestie was only in town for two weeks, so we devised a clear strategy to tackle the queues at new Michelin-starred Singaporean restaurant Hawker Chan, which had set up shop on the drab end of Lonsdale Street. She would start lining up at 11.30am and I would leave my office nearby at midday, saving my lunch break from being spent in a queue.
It worked. At midday, Boneless Bestie was at the front of the queue and ready to order – proving the queue outside Hawker Chan looks intimidatingly long, but it does move along fairly quickly. I guiltily crept up to join her, much to the chagrin of the patient bystanders. At Hawker Chan, you order first and find a seat after. You grab a number and watch the screen as orders are read out in quick succession, after which you collect your order on a tray. In terms of its efficiency and low price points, it’s not unlike McDonalds. I was scared we wouldn’t find a seat but needn’t have worried – it isn’t the type of place where you hang around and there is a constant turnover of tables.
Because I was dining with Boneless Bestie who abhors any reminder that animals have carcasses, I knew the pork ribs would be off limits. We instead went for the famous soya sauce chicken with rice, char siew pork with noodles, seasonal vegetables and Thai-style tofu – the last item in place of the wonton soup that had run out.
Everyone around us had only ordered a dish each, so it was slightly embarrassing when Boneless Bestie picked up our tray of food and we could barely fit all our dishes on the table. But we reasoned these were not gargantuan Australian portions and that we’d easily finish everything. We were right.
I was slightly tentative ordering the soya sauce chicken because I knew Boneless Bestie wouldn’t like the bony bits. What I didn’t expect was all the bits to be bony – the five measly bits of chicken we received hardly had any flesh on them, though the flavours were nice enough. The grainy rice was blanketed in a salty sweet soy concoction, but despite this, it erred on the dry side.
The char siew pork with noodles more than made up for the lacklustre chicken. The caramelised edges of the charred roast pork were rich and succulent, while the springy egg noodles were slurp-worthy, having absorbed the saltiness of the oily dark soy sauce they were sitting in. This tasted more like the home food I was used to.
The seasonal vegetables turned out to be lightly steamed bok choy topped with fried garlic and prepared with sesame oil and soy sauce. I carefully dusted the fried garlic to the side, though of course this was the best part of the dish. The Thai-style tofu was decent – square slabs of firm tofu had been deep fried and doused in a sweet chilli sauce and sautéed peanuts.
What I loved most were the self-serve condiments of sambal and pickled green chilli, the latter of which I’d never seen in a Melbourne restaurant and the sourness of which goes especially well with egg noodles. Again, I was transported back to the wantan mee hawker stalls back home.
Of course, avoiding the fried garlic atop the steamed bok choy wasn’t enough to prevent a bloat catastrophe. The wheat in the egg noodles and the traces of onion and garlic that the pork and chicken would have been marinated in, not to mention the sambal, was enough to result in a four-bloat score.
But the char siew noodle dish was so delectable I’ve been dreaming about it ever since and at $9.80, it is the most expensive dish on the menu. I’ve talked to enough Malaysian friends who’ve had positive experiences at Hawker Chan to surmise that my lacklustre soya sauce chicken was a dud – I’ll be back to shell out $6.80 on it with the sincere hope that it too transports me to the steamy, fan-ventilated hawker stalls in Malaysia.
Hawker Chan is open every day from 10am to 10pm.