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TEAM POWER: Wanton noodle with char siew and pork belly.
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TEAM POWER: The noodle bar, which seats 28, is run by childhood friends Benson Ng (right) and Brandan Teo.
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TEAM POWER: Batalong Egg with Spicy Mayo.
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CUSTOMISED TO THE INDIVIDUAL Braised Pork Noodle (S$6) is a bestseller. Customers can choose from five different types of noodles imported from Thailand, levels of spiciness, and whether the noodles are served wet or dry.
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EATING CLEAN: Kake Soba (hot) & Tsuna-Salmon Bowl. Soba may be less prominent but it's a lot healthier than ramen if you stick to the pure buckwheat version.
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AT THE HELM: Chef Dicky Chen (above), who comes from the Wellington Street outlet, is manning the kitchen here.
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AT THE HELM: Mak's Noodle's wonton, packed full of chunky prawns.

Noodles strike back

Ramen has pretty much displaced the humble noodle in Singapore's Japanese-obsessed food scene. Can a spate of new noodle shops challenge its dominance? BTWeekend looks at their chances
Jul 4, 2015 5:50 AM

Wanton mania

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar

52 Amoy Street

Opening hours: Mon to Thurs: 11am to 11pm; Friday: 11am to 1am; Saturday: 5pm to 1am Dinner menu from 5pm

Tel: 6221 1336

http://wantonsg.com/

IT seems like a daring idea, opening a noodle bar selling only wonton noodles when there are several other famed wonton noodle stalls in a food centre nearby.

But Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar, located at Amoy Street, with its bar counter seating, late hours, and most importantly air-conditioned setting seems to be able to hold its own. The food is fairly good too.

The brand is a collaboration between The Establishment Group and Seng's. The former owns modern European restaurant Pluck in Club Street and Gem Bar in Ann Siang Hill. Seng's was started by Jimmy Tan in 1968, as a street-side stall in Koon Seng Road, before it moved to Dunman Food Centre. It now has two other branches in Bedok South Food Centre and Bedok Marketplace in Simpang Bedok.

The noodle bar, which seats 28, is run by childhood friends Benson Ng, Seng's new owner, and Brandan Teo, executive chef of The Establishment Group. The two grew up eating Seng's wonton noodles. "We are excited to represent a new wave of the 'wanton generation', enhancing diners' experience with our personal twist to the local favourite, says Chef Ng.

He adds that Seng's noodles never fail to bring about fond memories. "So when the opportunity arose to take over the business, I felt it was the right thing to do, to continue the tradition and extend the legacy to a new generation of noodle lovers."

Chef Ng who is a family friend of Mr Tan, bought over the business and recipes for S$150,000 in 2013, after hearing that the founder wanted to retire.

Calling himself a professional noodle flipper, Chef Ng took two years to learn the skill, and later took over and tossed noodles at the Dunman Food Centre outlet for about a year.

The egg noodles at the noodle bar are served al dente, just like at Seng's. Chef Ng cooks each bowl of noodles individually to keep them springy and loose. "It is all about timing, controlling your heat and removing the starch," he says.

For lunch, a small bowl of wonton noodles with house-made char siew, starts from S$5.50 while the roasted pork belly option starts from S$6. There are also side dishes, such as the five-minute egg, shrimp dumplings and steamed baby kailan.

The dinner menu is more exciting. The idea is to start with a bowl of Nudles (S$2), or plain Seng's noodles tossed in onion oil, and then add on the sides. Diners help themselves to free flow crispy pork lard, broth and chilli. But the noodles are good enough on its own, even without the extra condiments.

For sides, pick from Roasted Spanish Pork Belly, BBQ Char Siew, Slow Braised Trotters, Boiled or Fried Wantons and Shrimp Dumplings. The BBQ Char Siew (S$12) is good, cooked sous vide style and then blow-torched to finish. The Roasted Pork Belly (S$13) is another winner. It comes without skin, topped with fried crackling. Chef Teo says it is served this way, "so that everyone can enjoy both the fats from the pork belly, and the crispy skin".

He is largely responsible for the sides, including the Batalong Egg with Spicy Mayo (S$7). This is the duo's version of scotch egg, a hard boiled egg wrapped in minced char siew and deep fried.

The noodle bar also serves a cocktail, called Ju Hua, which is a vodka-based chrysanthemum tea cocktail served in a pot.

His fancy wonton noodles are lucky to be a hit with the local crowd, but he doesn't think that wonton mee will be the next big thing.

"I've been a fan of wonton mee all my life, so to me it's not so much a trend than it is a staple in a Singaporean diet. I just want to give each bowl of noodles the same respect and love as Seng's has for the past 38 years," says Chef Ng.

By Tay Suan Chiang

taysc@sph.com.sg

@TaySuanChiangBT


A boat-load of authenticity

Noodle Cafe

5001 Beach Road, #B1-08 Golden

Mile Complex

Opening hours: Every day between 12pm and 9pm

Tel:8666 6675

www.noodlecafe.com.sg

LIKE something straight out of Fear Factor, Thai boat noodles or kuai teow ruea boasts pig's blood as the crucial ingredient that gives it flavour. Used to season the soup, the animal blood is mixed with salt before adding, and lends a reddish hue to the dish.

You can find the full experience in Thailand only, as the ingredient is banned in Singapore, but Noodle Cafe at Golden Mile Complex offers the next best thing: an authentic Thai boat noodle bowl minus the controversy.

Business development and marketing executive for the cafe Jason Ho says: "We've modified our version of boat noodles to taste as close to the original as possible. We make up for the lack of blood in the recipe by boiling the beef and pork bones for a much longer time, and it actually creates a more intense flavour. We have Thai people commenting that they can't really tell the difference. That's the thing about operating in Golden Mile Complex, or 'Thaitown' - if you aren't authentic, you won't do well."

Their Braised Pork Noodle (S$6) is a bestseller, and like all their other dishes, is customised to the individual, and cooked on demand. Customers can choose from five different types of noodles imported from Thailand, levels of spiciness, and whether the noodles are served wet or dry. If you're not sure what to have, just have it all, as they charge S$1.90 for tasting portions (available for most dishes).

Noodle Cafe is owned by three Thai women in their 30s who married Singaporeans and settled here. Having learnt the recipe from one of the famous boat noodle stalls in the Victory Monument area in Bangkok, they wanted to bring it to their new home, explains Mr Ho.

The first outlet to offer boat noodles in November last year, Noodle Cafe has influenced a host of other food stalls opening around them serving up the same, but not many can boast the kind of crowds that gather in anticipation outside the cafe, which can seat 30 people at a time, every day.

Mr Ho, 30, says: "The outlet is actually quite small, so we decided to open another one in April with more space that's wheelchair-accessible and child-friendly. It even has outdoor seating."

The 48-seater cafe at Sim Lim Square is modelled on the success of the former. Its chefs are deployed only after six weeks of training at the main outlet - four of which focus on getting the soup base right. "We're proud of being the most authentic boat noodle place in Singapore, and we really make sure we maintain the quality so our customers come back for more," adds Mr Ho.

By Avanti Nim

avantin@sph.com.sg


Healthier choice

Healthy Soba Iki

#04-47, One Raffles Place

Opening hours: Mon to Fri: 11.30am - 9pm Saturday: 11.30am - 4pm

Tel: 6438 6022

www.ikihealth.com

CONTRARY to popular belief, ramen isn't the only noodle Japan is known for. Soba may be less prominent but it's a lot healthier than ramen if you stick to the pure buckwheat version. Aiming to prove that soba can be both healthy and delicious is Yusuke Noguchi, who started Healthy Soba Iki more because he was tired of eating salads whenever he wanted a clean meal.

The 39-year-old Japanese native opened his soba noodle bar at One Raffles Place last year, and specialises in noodles made fresh in-house from 100 per cent buckwheat flour. According to Mr Yusuke, their flour comes from one of the biggest organic companies in Japan, and is gluten-free.

"Our concept is simple - healthy food that's tasty and affordable," says Mr Yusuke, who comes from Kanagawa prefecture. He adds that buckwheat soba is considered healthy because it is high in fibre, helps lower blood pressure, and even has anti-ageing effects.

At Healthy Soba Iki, the menu includes at least five different styles of cold sobas from a basic Mori soba (S$9) to a mango salsa soba (S$12), and seven hot soup sobas such as his bestselling smoked duck soba (S$11) and mushroom soba (S$12). There's also a rice bowl menu with seven items at either S$12 or S$13.

Personally, Mr Yusuke's favourite kind of soba is a Mori soba - a plain basic version which he also serves at his restaurant at S$9. It's something he grew up eating, since soba is a traditional Japanese noodle, and he still has fond memories of eating it after football practice when he was younger.

"If it's good quality buckwheat soba, it's most delicious when cooked simply because of the soba's natural smell, texture, and crunch," he explains.

Through his noodle bar, he hopes to introduce Singaporeans to the flavours of fresh buckwheat soba, although he admits it's quite a challenge because buckwheat flour is very delicate, so temperature and storage methods easily affect the taste of the noodles.

It's probably why there aren't as many restaurants in Singapore selling soba as there are selling the much hardier ramen noodles, says Mr Yusuke.

However, that doesn't stop Mr Yusuke from believing in his concept as he remains confident about the draw of fresh healthy buckwheat noodles. "Once soba is more accepted in Singapore, we will open a second or third shop. I strongly believe we can succceed here in Singapore and change the F&B scene, and I have to try. After all you only live once."

By Rachel Loi

@RachelLoiBT

rachloi@sph.com.sg


Another Tim Ho Wan?

Mak's Noodle

The Centrepoint, #01-63/64

Opening hours: 11am to 10pm daily

Tel: 6235 5778

IF past experience is anything to go by, there will be a long queue of people at Centrepoint this afternoon. Why? Mak's Noodle, from the famed noodle chain in Hong Kong, will open to the public today from 3pm. Mak's Noodle here is a joint venture between its current third-generation owner Tony Yung and new food and beverage company Asia Gourmet.

According to an earlier report, Mr Yung is the son-in-law of the second-generation owner, and his daughter will eventually take over the business.

Mak's Noodle, started in Guangzhou in 1920, has six outlets in Hong Kong. The chain is known for its springy noodles, either served plain or with prawn roe, and its wonton, packed full of chunky prawns.

For its Singapore outlet, the noodles and wonton skin will be imported from Hong Kong. Chef Dicky Chen, who comes from the Wellington Street outlet, is manning the kitchen here. He will be here for two years.

A bowl of wonton noodles will cost S$6.90, while the most expensive item on the menu is a side dish of beef brisket and beef tendon for S$16.50.

When BT Weekend visited the 900 sq foot, 40-seater restaurant yesterday, it was opened to friends who were seen sampling the beef brisket noodles.

Shoppers who were passing by were invited to sample a bowl of wonton noodle soup. The noodles have the same bite and the dumplings were full of chopped prawns. With Chef Chen at the helm, the food should be of the same quality as the Hong Kong outlets.

If it takes off the way Tim Ho Wan did in Singapore, wonton noodles might well be the next big thing after ramen. Time will tell, but Mak's Noodle is already prepared - it opens its second outlet at Westgate next month.

By Tay Suan Chiang

taysc@sph.com.sg

@TaySuanChiang