1. Two Hands
Holland Village Food Court, 33 Lor Liput, S277744. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-2.30pm & 5.30pm-1am; Sat & Sun 11.30am-1am. Last orders 15 mins before closing. www.twohands.sg
Two Hands is a fortnight-old hawker stall in a kopitiam at Holland Village near the open-air carpark. It takes over the budget steak stall iSteaks, which now has its own stand-alone restaurant across the street. Here, young men in smart aprons work till past midnight, pushing out skewered meats, rice bowls topped with steak slices, and other Japanese-influenced Western plates. It’s run by social enterprise ENI Concepts, which also owns Garcons, an affordable French eatery chain with stalls in Duxton Road and Upper Thomson. Both Garcons and Two Hands aim to give ex-offenders a chance to make an honest living by equipping them with kitchen skills. The chef running the show here is 25-year-old Kevan Tan, who was in and out of jail before discovering his love for food while helping out at Garcons. There, he proved himself ready to run his own stall, and has been promoted to helm this Holland Village joint. Owner Immanuel Tee, 29, a graduate of At-Sunrice who’s done stints as a line cook at French fine-diners such as Restaurant André, says the initiative comes from his business partner, Enoch Teoh (not pictured), 27, himself a former convict. “He feels for these at-risk youth, and really sees the need for this kind of social enterprise,” Immanuel says. “Now, instead of using their two hands to commit a crime, they use them to make an honest living”.
ON THE MENU: Unlike Garcons, which features classic French bistro fare at affordable price points, the food here is mostly comforting European-style fare with Japanese touches, like pasta or rice bowls topped with Black Miso Salmon ($16.90). There’s also a wide selection of charcoal-grilled skewers, with premium meats like Marbled Striploin (see below). Snacks such as Truffle and Parmesan Fries ($10.90) round off the offerings. Because the rent in Holland Village is higher than at the Garcons outlets, prices here average about $1 to $2 more a dish. In the coming weeks, the same stall will offer a separate menu under the name Broth, serving four-tier hotpot, featuring seafood that you can cook on a hotplate, in broth, or in a small steamer, all within the same contraption.
Marbled Strip Loin Skewer, $2.90 each (8 DAYS PICK!)
Each skewer is grilled over Japanese binchotan charcoal, which imparts a pleasant smokiness to the meat. The Australian beef is wonderfully tender, fatty, and well-seasoned with a glaze of garlicky soy, mirin and sake. The smoky bell peppers add a nice, sweet crunch. Also good is the Pork Collar ($1.70 each), which is similarly succulent, and paired with yummy grilled cherry tomatoes.
Foie Gras Skewer, $7.90 each
Each lobe of duck liver comes sandwiched between two shiitake mushrooms. It’s meltingly soft and rich, with a sweet, fresh flavour. Comes with a little pat of seasoned Japanese rice on the side to soak up the fat. For a cheaper duck option, we’d go for the lovely Duck Tsukune instead (below, $1.90 each), a meatball of minced duck with a rich meaty flavour and subtle sake fragrance.
Chicken & Leek, $1.70 each (8 DAYS PICK!)
A well executed classic yakitori number. The plump nuggets of chicken thigh, seasoned in a shoyu marinade, have delicious crisp edges. The charred leeks are equally good.
Black Pepper Steak Rice Bowl, $16.90
Sticky Japanese rice capped with slices of grilled strip loin steak, an oozy onsen egg, broccoli, pickles, and served with miso soup. We enjoy the tender beef that’s slightly pink in the middle, and its tasty, if not particularly elegant butter-enriched black pepper soy sauce. Quite satisfying.
Duck Leg Confit Aglio Olio Spaghetti, $15.90 (SKIP THIS!)
The bird is dry and its skin a little limp. The pasta is overcooked and bland too.
BOTTOM LINE: Prices here are higher than at your typical western food hawker stall, but the tasty dishes boast better ingredients and are well-prepared. A great place to grab supper, since it’s open till late. $
2. Plum And Rice
#01-45 216 Bedok North St 1, S460216. Tel: 9130-1200. Open daily except Mon. Tue-Sun 7am-2pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/PlumandRice
“We could’ve gone on to open some hipster place after graduation, but we didn’t think that’d be meaningful,” says mild-mannered Raphael Sim between serving elderly customers at Plum & Rice, a five-month-old fusion Teochew porridge stall at Bedok North Market. He, together with fellow owners and cooks, Eric Lee and Gladwin Yat, all 26, opened the stall right after graduating from the Singapore outpost of the Culinary Institute of America. All three cook here daily. “We think that hawker culture in Singapore is fading, so we decided to do our part”. Yet this is not quite your grandmother’s hawker stall. There’s the minimalist wood-accented Japanese-style storefront. And then there’s the unusual fare the boys dish out: jasmine rice and Chinese-style porridge flavoured with Japanese umeboshi (pickled ume, a tart fruit often mistaken for a plum, though it’s from the same family), paired with braised pork and steamed cod. The comforting food is a deliberate choice, Gladwin says. “A lot of people don’t have time to eat at home anymore, so we decided to provide home-cooked flavours at our stall”. But the boys wanted to give it an edge over other hawker options, and that’s where the umeboshi and Japanese flourishes come in. They first tasted umeboshi rice as part of a Japanese breakfast during a trip to Japan, and thought it would give their food a unique flavour boost. The food here is especially popular with Bedok North’s older folks who were apparently apprehensive at first, but are now among the lads’ most regular customers.
ON THE MENU: There are only three dishes on offer, including Braised Pork Belly, from $4. Each is paired with your choice of umeboshi rice (above, the grains are mixed with mashed umeboshi after cooking, and comes topped with a crispy home-made dry-fried “furikake” of seaweed, curry leaf, oats and chilli), or porridge (below). Despite the faint Japanese touches, the food tastes very homely and local. Each set comes with a Chinese soup (a light and sweet radish soup on our visit), and Japanese-style pickles, which changes daily. Ours was lightly vinegary cucumber dressed with sesame oil, soy sauce, and topped with bonito flakes.
Braised Pork Belly, $4 (8 DAYS PICK!)
A wonderfully fragrant lor bak (soy-braised pork), stewed for two hours in a simple soy-based braising liquid which renders the chunks of belly meltingly tender. Gladwin tells us that the dish is a combination of traditional family recipes (all the boys have Teochew blood) and professional kitchen techniques they picked up at CIA. It reminds us of Japanese kakuni (soy-braised pork). We like this with the fluffy umeboshi rice — the pickled fruit lends a nice zinginess that helps undercut the fattiness of the meat. Meanwhile, the furikake garnish adds crunch and depth with its fragrant curry leaf and chilli. A simple, yet refined $4 meal.
Lean Pork, $4
Prepared the same way as the belly, but using a less fatty shoulder cut. Although this is a bit dry, it pairs quite well with the porridge, a clean counterpoint to the sharpness of the umeboshi. We like the bonito-kissed pickled cucumber, too.
A smallish fillet of Pacific cod braised in a light soy-based sauce, then heaped with caramelised sautéed garlic. The fish has an almost creamy mouthfeel and a pleasant oiliness. We like this with the porridge, which is thicker than the usual Teochew muay, but still thinner than congee. Heavenly with some of the garlicky fish oil stirred in.
BOTTOM LINE: Homely Teochew fare with an elegant hint of Japanese flair and gourmet touches. Eating this makes us feel almost Zen in the middle of a crowded hawker centre. Pity the stall closes at 2pm daily. $
3. Taste Affair European Cuisine
#02-128 Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd, S069111. Tel: 9139-5870. Open Mon-Fri, 11am-2.30pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/Taste-Affair-729520223883533
The two founders of the hugely popular affordable French food restaurant empire, Saveur, recently sold off their shares to their third partner and have since struck it out on their own. Saveur started out as a hawker stall in Joo Chiat in 2008, and the duo went on to open four casual restaurants over the years, including the fancier Saveur Art at ION Orchard. While Dylan Ong, 30, recently opened a casual bistro, The Masses, at Beach Road, Joshua Khoo, 33, has returned to his hawker roots. The two men, who met while studying culinary arts at SHATEC, remain good friends, but Joshua says the split came about because of a difference in vision. “I was always the more price-sensitive person in that group, and I just wanted to provide good food at [more] affordable prices,” says Joshua, who now helms this humble three-month-old stall dishing out mod European-style plates on the second floor of Amoy Street Food Centre. Joining him is former banker, Joel Tan, 33. The two of them man the store full-time, with Joshua doing most of the cooking. On making the transition back to becoming a hawker, Joshua says it’s a struggle that he enjoys. “I was doing a lot of back end management work at Saveur after it expanded, so it’s good to be back in the kitchen again. It’s what I know [best]." There are plans to open a café soon.
ON THE MENU: Think lo-fi hipster grain bowls, cooked to order. There’re 12 items, essentially variations of the same three combinations. Prices start from $5. Instead of mostly French food like at Saveur, the plates here feature generic European flavours with some Japanese influences, like sous vide chicken leg and asari clams over your choice of carbs.
Sake Butter Clam Pasta, $6 (8 DAYS PICK!)
Japanese asari clams sautéed in butter and lashings of sake before being ladled onto a mound of oil-slicked angel hair pasta with a poached egg and sautéed shitake mushrooms. The resulting broth of buttery-briny clam juice and rice wine, bound together with a runny egg, forms a nice sauce for the garlicky pasta. Comforting, and a steal at $6.
Diced Prawn & Chorizo Sausage Rice, $7 (SKIP THIS!)
Seared chunks of shrimp are finished with prawn stock, then paired with some mild, forgettable chorizo, parmesan shavings, sautéed mushrooms, and a tobiko-topped poached egg. Despite the treatment, the prawns don’t have much flavour, though they have a nice bite. And the basmati rice is bland (luckily they’re changing this to Japanese rice soon).
BOTTOM LINE: The grub here could use punchier flavours. But it’s still a step above your average Western hawker stall fare, and the prices are very decent. $