The Wok & Barrel on Duxton Hill

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KF Seetoh once said to me as we were waiting for Nasi Lemak that Singapore has become a nation of fearful eaters because people have become leery of fat, sugar and other evils like trans-fat and carbohydrates. I have to agree and I can do nothing as I see some people who’d only eat lean meat, at the same time ingest pellets of oil for the sake of health.

With such a stigma against fat that can be traced back to the time when, in school, we had to attend classes on “Health Education”, I had a difficult time trying to write a blog entry on The Wok & Barrel’s Nasi Lemak which is literally “Fatty Rice”.

Fat and Carbohydrate: faced with the Twin Axis of Dietary Evil, it’s an uphill task against bad propaganda and misconceptions.

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Anyway, in hopes of joining the straggling revelers at a bar nearby after an epic 5-hour lunch at Bunyan, I staggered up Duxton Hill and spotted The Wok & Barrel. Despite being stuffed to the gills, I decided to pop in and have a chat with the cook patron, Shen Tan.

It turned out that we shared a common background in the martials where our two schools had close ties. But it was her description of how she cooks her food that made me want to do a proper visit, in broad daylight, to sample her food. But God help anyone who tries to rob her.

A week later, I managed to persuade Meilin to join me for lunch so that I’d have people to help me with lunch. Unfortunately Sharon was unmoved.

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The special of the day was fish curry and I was very happy that Meilin joined me for lunch: now I get to try everything. The fish curry was Red Snapper which seems to be getting very popular now that I am tasting it even in sushi joints.

For the cognoscenti, fish curry is the best tasting curry there is: the slight sourish lemak coupled with rice or prata or naan is quite unbeatable as comfort food. I remember when I was very young, my Indian classmates would catch catfish in the storm drains near our kampong school. His father would then cook catfish curry but would only let us eat it only after 4 days to let the curry develop its full flavors. Served with fluffy white rice, it’s something I still remember today.

Unfortunately, Shen’s fish curry was too “fresh” tasting, having only cooked it the day before. To be sure, the lemak and flavor was there and the fish was firm but I can’t help but wonder how awesome it would taste if she’d give it a few days for the flavors to further develop in the pot.

The 2 Brothers Gypsy Pear Cider was weak taste-wise but it proved to be the perfect complement to the fish curry. Immediately, the flavors of tart fruity pear cider came alive and provided a good counterpoint to the rich fish curry.

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It is believed that the less a muscle is used, the more tender to the tooth it becomes. So can you imagine how tender beef cheeks would be? After all, have you ever seen a cow smile? 🙂

Given that Rendang is slow-cooked over many hours, I am not certain that Wagyu Beef Cheeks adds much to the dish. However, there is a certain “luxe” value when writing “Wagyu Beef Cheeks Rendang” on the wall. When placed on our table, the strong aroma of coconut oil assailed our senses; some people might be overwhelmed by the pungency. But one thing for certain is that while it is wetter than most, Shen’s Wagyu Beef Cheeks Rendang melts in your mouth with an almost ethereal feel. With a trailing scent of coconut oil.

The Achar was a little too tart on its own for my tastes but it was the perfect foil to the rich lemak.

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For me, the most delicious of the lot was the Mutton Curry. Not as over-powering as the Rendang, it was full of that delicious muttony flavor that all meat lovers go for. I loved it and finished almost the whole bowl by myself. But I must credit Meilin who declared herself on a diet, an assist. 🙂

But what of the most important part of Nasi Lemak? All I’ve described are mere side-dishes, all of which collapses in a meaningless heap if the Nasi Lemak can’t cut it. Fortunately, the fundamental foundational “fatty rice” was excellent. This is because it is twice-steamed: first to flavor the rice, next to tenderize it.

The true test of nasi lemak is that it should be good enough that you don’t need side-dishes, just good Sambal and a sprinkling of Ikan Bilis. I must say Shen’s twice-steamed and very fragrant Nasi Lemak passed the test. Served with a fiery Sambal Tumis and a delicious Sambal Belacan and balanced with salty-bitter Ikan Bilis, I could have finished the whole plate of “fatty rice” on its own.

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One of the little known facts about the Wok & Barrel is that Shen is also a beer aficionado who brings in a small supply of craft beers and you would do well to take her suggestion at pairing her beers with the food at The Wok & Barrel.

Shen Tan used to run Madam Tan’s Nasi Lemak at the Maxwell Hawker Center and she can cook. She refuses, very wisely, to categorize her cooking; it is not “Peranakan” or “Indonesian” or “Malaysian” or whatever; all recipes are her own. This is a wise decision as it preempts comparisons by people about how their grandmothers can cook better Rendang. This is because the only response would be to ask said grandmother to come and cook.

The Wok & Barrel is at 13 Duxton Hill, Singapore, Tel: +65 6220 0595. Closed on Mondays, open from 11.30am-10pm Tues-Sat, 11.30am-4pm Sun. Call first to reserve the Nasi Lemak as it finishes fairly quickly.

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Posted on 16th Aug 2011 in Asian, Drink, Food and Drink, Singapore

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There Are 4 Comments

 

Xin commented on October 23, 2011 at 11:09 am


Singapore don’t make good Nasi lemak. Second rated at best


 

breadcrumbs commented on October 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm


Heading to W&B tmr. Hope our experience will be good 🙂


 

ivan commented on November 16, 2011 at 12:36 am


@Xin: For me, Nasi Lemak is a comfort food, as long as it evocative of fond memories of comfort and good times, I’m happy.


 

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