Mak’s Noodles vs Wanton Seng’s Noodle Bar: Who does it better?

Should you throw carb-free caution to the wind and lustily indulge in the offerings at MAK’S NOODLE from Hongkong and mod Singaporean WANTON SENG’S NOODLE BAR? We tell you

Mak's Noodle
Mak's Noodle
22 Jul 2015

Mak's Noodle

#01-63/64 THE CENTREPOINT, 176 ORCHARD RD, S238843. TEL: 6235-5778. OPEN DAILY 11AM-10PM. LAST ORDERS AT 9.30PM.

The restaurant is but a cramped corner shop in front of the escalator. We look in dismay at the heaving 40-seater. “Table for two?” says a tall middle-aged man pleasantly in Cantonese.

We later learn that he is Tony Yung, 54, the Hongkong co-owner of this famous noodle joint’s outpost. He waves us inside towards a small, slightly greasy table with barely any elbow space. A waitress takes our orders in robust Cantonese. Meanwhile, a line starts forming outside. We silently thank the food gods for allowing us to snag the last available seat. Through the tiny glass-walled kitchen, three cooks, including glum-looking head chef Chan For Kam (above, right), 64, stationed here from Mak’s Wellington Street flagship branch in Hongkong, endlessly dunk noodles into roiling water. The tables are so tightly spaced we are forced to listen to every word uttered by the two old ladies to our left. “Eat mine first!” urges one to her hapless friend who waits almost half the meal for her tardy order. A bunch of cubicle rats to our right discuss office politics.

Yes, dining at Mak’s Noodle in Singapore brings back memories of eating in a packed Causeway Bay hole-in-the-wall joint. The popular eatery opened a week ago at The Centrepoint. This outpost is co-owned by Yung, the son-in-law of the HK chain’s second-generation owner, and a local F&B company called Asia Gourmet. The brand was first introduced to Hongkong from Guangzhou in 1920 by Mak Woon-Chi (his fans reportedly included Chiang Kai-shek), and has since become a fave among locals and tourists alike.
 

Mak's Noodle: The Look
Mak's Noodle: The Look
22 Jul 2015

Mak's Noodle: The Look

More posh than its Hongkong outlets, which look like glorified kopitiams. Here, it’s green, brown and nondescript, save for the soup bowls used as decorative lamps. It looks a lot like the other famous Hongkong export, Tim Ho Wan. With another outlet opening in Jurong’s Westgate in September and more to come, it’s set to follow in the expanding dim sum chain’s footsteps, too.

Mak's Noodle: The Noodles
Mak's Noodle: The Noodles
22 Jul 2015

Mak's Noodle: The Noodles

The menu is relatively easy to navigate: just variations of wonton/dumpling/beef brisket/tendon noodles. Lucky for us, our food arrives quickly. Now, we’ve never really understood the appeal of Mak’s petite rice bowl-sized soupy wonton noodles, even in Hongkong.

The dumplings are good, but the soup is, well, pretty bland. And there are better rival offerings to be had there, honestly. That being said, what we slurp up today on the restaurant’s third day of operations in Singapore is still better than most HK-style wonton noodles found here.

The signature Wonton Noodle Soup ($6.90; it costs about $6.30 in HK) looks and tastes pretty much like what we’ve had in the motherland. Except the four wontons lurking beneath the stringy HK-made duck egg noodles here appear smaller than what we remember. They’re delish though, each silky-skinned parcel crammed with chunky prawns, albeit less bouncy than the HK version, perked up with umami bits of dried flounder and shrimp roe.

The MSG-free soup is characteristically clean and lightly kissed with more of that toasted flounder. But our noodles are slightly soggy — ironic, since the whole point of its modest serving size is to apparently prevent this from happening. The texture of the skinny strands fare much better in the dry Tossed Noodle with Dumpling & Oyster Sauce ($9), which has a slightly larger portion to suit Singaporean stomachs. Deeply al dente and crunchy, it’s sparingly dolloped with flavoursome if aggressively salted oyster sauce. This is accompanied by a small bowl of broth plopped with shui gao, essentially larger, yummier wontons pimped up with pork, springy black fungus and mushrooms. 

Mak's Noodle: The Side Dishes
Mak's Noodle: The Side Dishes
22 Jul 2015

Mak's Noodle: The Side Dishes

The Beef Brisket & Beef Tendon ($16.50) is relatively appetising, but the chef is heavy-handed with the five-spice powder, and the stiff brisket needs more time on the stove. Better to order just the plain tendon ($14.70) for its addictive gummy-gooey mouthfeel, if you’re into that sort of thing.

VERDICT: Fast, generally good food in a chaotic, cramped setting. Too bad we can’t just stroll around the corner for an equally authentic post-lunch cup of HK milk tea and bo lo bun.

Tip: don’t follow the herd, skip the blander signature soupy noodles more susceptible to soggy strands and go for the tastier dry version instead.
 

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar
Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar
22 Jul 2015

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar

52 AMOY ST, S069878. TEL: 6221-1336. OPEN DAILY EXCEPT SUN. MON-THUR 11AM–11PM; FRI TILL 1AM; SAT 5PM–1AM. LAST ORDERS 30 MINS BEFORE CLOSING. WWW.WANTONSG.COM

It seems almost implausible to think that wonton mee can be cool, until we drop by Wanton. This three-week-old wonton mee hawker bar sits on gentrified Amoy Street, right beside Amoy Street Food Centre. Instead of a grumpy uncle toiling behind a soup pot, you have heavily tattooed hipsters delivering steaming bowls to your table. Don’t dismiss this as just another F&B gimmick yet — the food has both substance and form. But more on that later.

Wanton is a $280,000 partnership between The Establishment Group (which runs the nearby Gem Bar and Pluck restaurant) and hawker chain Seng’s Wanton Noodles. It’s co-owned by a pair of childhood friends Benson Ng and Brandon Teo. Brandon (left), 30, the executive chef of The Establishment Group, designed the menu and cooks full-time at Pluck. Benson (right), 28, the affable “chief noodle flipper”, helms Wanton’s kitchen.

He’s also the young towkay of Seng’s, which started in 1968 as a hawker pushcart before moving to Dunman Food Centre. It has two other outlets in Bedok. Benson bought over the business from Seng’s chef-founder Jimmy Tan, a “close family friend”, in 2013 for $150,000 and spent two years learning the ropes. Both Seng’s and Wanton share the same local noodle supplier, and wontons are handmade daily in-house. Benson is also thinking of combining Seng’s current three hawker stalls into one spot. “But it’ll be more traditional [and less hip] than Wanton. I haven’t found a place yet, but I’m looking to consolidate them by next March,” he shares.

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Look
Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Look
22 Jul 2015

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Look

The narrow shophouse space with mostly counter seating has been transformed into an unfussy yet sophisticated ode to mod hawker nosh. Much like Benson and his edgy, personable and competent wait staff, who are all dressed in black. A stylo-mylo flag hung on the wall was inspired by the idea of a “revolution as we want to extend Seng’s legacy”. But viva la revolución doesn’t mean the pioneer generation has to pack up their melamine plated noodles and beat it.

We spy an elderly couple eating wonton mee with their middle-aged kids, and Brandon tells us that “the chicken rice stall auntie from the [nearby] hawker centre swings by with her friends to tapow wonton mee too."

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Food
Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Food
22 Jul 2015

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Food

There are three types of mee to choose from during lunch, including the Wanton Noodles with Roasted Pork Belly (above extreme right, from $6 a bowl). The noodles are good, but oddly, Wanton’s eponymous dumplings are almost like an afterthought — sad, dry, peppery pork lumps. And the sous vide, blow-torched char siew is tasty but lacks sexy char. Go during dinner instead, ’cos you get to ramp up your carbs with more gourmet dinner-only side dishes. “I was inspired by bak kut teh where I can combine many dishes with rice,” quips Brandon.

You can customise your bowl starting with a pile of Nudles ($2) — Seng’s plain noodles dressed with shallots and lard — and add on sides. The noodles are al dente and eggy just like what we tasted from Seng’s hawker stall in Bedok South Food Centre ($3 a bowl). We enjoy it on its own, but it’s even better with free-flow pork lard from a container labelled ‘Yummy’. Also shiok: the original Seng’s chilli sauce, which Brandon tweaked to be less fiery to “cater to the ang mohs”. But it still has a good kick.

The Roasted Pork Belly ($12 for about eight slices) is juicy and fatty with salty, sufficiently crispy crackling. The Slow Braised Trotters (above centre picture, $16) are savoury, melt-in-your-mouth and thoughtfully torn into bite-sized chunks. We adore the Batalong Egg with Spicy Mayo (extreme left picture, $7) the most. It’s a scotch egg with tasty char siew marinade, fish sauce and flowy golden yolk. You may feel like pecking at some veggies virtuously after all that meat, but the Japanese Cucumbers with Amoy Dressing & Dou Miao ($8) is middling. Its fish sauce and chilli dressing is passable, if unmemorable.

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Drinks
Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Drinks
22 Jul 2015

Wanton Seng's Noodle Bar: The Drinks

Wanton’s only cocktail is the Ju Hua (above, $14), a fairly refreshing blend of house-brewed chrysanthemum tea spiked with lychee liqueur and Skyy vodka. We wish the tea was chilled in the fridge instead of with ice cubes, which diluted the drink. The cocktail is made by 21-year-old Italian-Chinese bartender Adam Trombetta, whose heavily-inked face looks a bit intimidating at first. But he’s really a nice, friendly chap. The reformed bad boy and former chef at Eighteen Chefs confesses that his bartending cred is “a two-hour crash course”. But his Ju Hua is decent, and he adeptly serves up craft beers like the HK Dragon’s Back Pale Ale ($15). Wines like a deliciously gravelly New Zealand Matakana Estate Chardonnay ($10 a glass) are also on the menu.

Bottom line: The prices here may not be hawker standard, but it has decent SG50-worthy local food modernised with premium ingredients and hip, likeable staff in a cool setting. And you don’t have to chope your table with a packet of tissue either. Just make a reservation.
 

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