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Hawker Bar

No thread on this yet? Singaporean food downtown, we're supposed to be getting excited. The chef is from Melbourne, which has a pretty awesome Southeast Asian food scene.

http://www.blogto.com/restaurants/haw...

http://www.toronto.com/blog/post/7225...

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  1. Wow, downtown laksa!!! Great to know. If it's half as good as the laksa I ate in Oz (or frankly, just about any of the Pan-pacific food I ate in Oz), I'll be very happy. Thanks for posting - hadn't heard a peep about this place.

    3 Replies
    1. re: peppermint pate

      what is laksa?

      1. re: kwass

        Sorry kwass, missed this question...laksa is basically a coconut curry soup with noodles, shrimp and other goodies. I ate it a lot in Malaysia and Singapore,typically from street hawkers, also in Australia. The soup is based on a spice paste made from all the usual SE Asian goodies - lemongrass, garlic, galangal, shrimp paste, coriander, etc. Spicy, creamy goodness in a bowl, Torontonians often lament the absence of a great laksa option in this city (the one place that seems to get the most recommendations is Gourmet Garden, a Malaysian restaurant in Scarborough, which I've yet to try).

        1. re: peppermint pate

          Thanks pp!!

    2. I have this on my radar, but ... I don't know if I should bring my family or not! I've decided to go first and then see if it's worth hauling the relatives down town for. Otherwise I'd never hear the end of it if it was bad.

      1. fyi, they dont have their liquor license yet. and some of the chairs are just wood stumps.

        2 Replies
        1. re: KhaoSanRoad

          Sounds awful, guess I'll go to Khao San Road instead! Just kidding.

          1. re: childofthestorm

            ha! we plan on going there as soon as they get their license. its just that when we get time to out, its nice to have a beer too :)

        2. I love that they have veg options. It's definitely on my to-try list.

          1. Let's just say it wasn't anything to write home about.

            The fish was decent, but it needs way more sauce. The satay tasted like the sauce was put on after the fact, plus it was overcooked.

            It's no Gourmet Garden that's for sure.

            1. Would it be tacky to say that the place's just opened and should be given a few months to get their house in order before being given negative criticism?

              10 Replies
              1. re: biggreenmatt

                You only get one chance to make a first impression. I personally have started two businesses during my life and I wouldn't open the doors until I was ready for prime time. You're just setting yourself up for these types of comments.

                1. re: JennaBean

                  "You only get one chance to make a first impression. I personally have started two businesses during my life and I wouldn't open the doors until I was ready for prime time."

                  Agree 100%. As soon as you're charging people full price for food,there's no excuses.Work out the kinks with soft openings..

                2. re: biggreenmatt

                  Months would be too long. Two to four weeks tops, to be running well (not perfect). Too many people would have gone in and out after a couple months of negative reactions. Hard to recover.

                  I'd give new openings slack if the food was good. I think that if you haven't gotten the taste of your food right, there are problems no amount of good service/decor/plating/etc will fix.

                  1. re: jlunar

                    The "tree stump" comment is misleading IMO. Makes it sound like they just grabbed some stumps to use as a temporary measure. In fact they are purposely made/polished/shellaced/whatever they do to them as it was their choice of stool. I think they are pretty neat. Would love to have some of those in my home, but don't know how to do it.

                    I have no idea how to make one of those...but I'd guess if you had to buy one, it would cost way more than a stool would!

                    1. re: szw

                      was commenting more to a comfort thing for some. wasnt trying to be positive or negative. just stating a fact. the look cool. and some may like it. some may not. but either way expect it. just like telling others they seat you communal sometimes at khao san road.

                      sorry for the mislead.

                      1. re: KhaoSanRoad

                        I actually found the tree stump stools more comfortable than the bar stools at the high tables.

                        As for the food, I was generally impressed. There were definitely elements in the plating and use of ingredients that reminded us of Lee (at a fraction of the price).

                        I got the cucumber salad, fish special and banana fritters and was pleased with all my choices. The whole sea bream with the banana blossom salad was good; it was a daily special but I see they're repeating it again today. I hope it (or a similar whole fish dish) makes it on to the regular menu.

                        I had tastes of various other dishes. The laksha was good; my friend who spent some time in Singapore said it was the closest to authentic. The chili salt tofu was great and I don't usually care for tofu. Great texture and the seasoning was good. Not too spicy.

                        I'd skip the Hainanese chicken - plain boiled chicken with the sauces served on the side; it read the best on the menu but definitely underwhelmed in person. The Ice Kacang was good but needs to be served in a bowl instead of a plate. Watching my friend chase ice around her plate was amusing, though.

                        Despite not having a liquor license they had some interesting mocktails on offer and offered plenty of free ginger tea. I'll definitely be going back once they have their liquor license.

                        1. re: Jinks

                          You reminded me of the ginger tea, which was gross.

                          It was literally just ginger boiled in hot water. Add some citrus, add some honey, add something to tame the peppery notes of ginger.

                          I also had the cucumber salad, which was under seasoned. The nam prik pao on the son in law eggs had a terrible consistency. It was literally stuck onto the plate/leaf like silly putty. Took real effort to get it attached to the egg.

                          The food just wasn't polished enough, I didn't get my money's worth. Rather spend my money at Gourmet Garden for the realness.

                          1. re: aser

                            I ordered most of the menu for take out tonight. It's the sacrifice one must make when you have kids. But the ice cold beer at home makes up for it .I must say that the comments above reflect a pretty pretentious, jaded crowd. I'm grateful that Singaporean food has made its way back into the city centre.

                            The wings were perfectly cooked and lovely without the sauce, with it...fantastic. I'll pass on the satay next time. The fried seam bream was a winner. My son complained that I was eating too fast (true). The Hainese chicken is credible. The son-in-law egg is worth the effort. Ya, the sauce's consistency was odd but it smelled and tasted delicious. The cucumber salad needs more oomph.

                            I'm looking forward to dining in soon. I hear that the liquor license is days away.

                            1. re: parisodeon

                              I am dying to try this place and I'd like to take my mother, but she's not a fan of spicy food. Is everything on the menu spicy, and if so, just how spicy?

                              1. re: parisodeon

                                The food wasn't good, why is it pretentious to call a spade a spade.

                                Go try Gourmet Garden and compare for yourself.

                  2. Thank you for posting the photos from blogto.com!!

                    Based on their name, I was very excited and was planning to make a long trip downtown to give it a try. However, one look at the satay photos and I have more than second thoughts. Look and taste should tie together hand in hand. However, the obviously 'non-charcoal' grilled satay sticks and the limp looking sauce did not reflect well on the product. I was in S'pore a couple of years ago and the food at Hawker centers like Newton and Maxwell were amazingly good! Especially the satays. I'm not looking for exact replicas, but at least they should make an effort to create something close. Unfortunately, their satay example was way off! ( compare photos of the authentic char-grilled ones I ate in S'pore ). If they are so complacent on such a common, popular and easy to make dish, I hate to imagine how deviating some of their other dishes going to be?!
                    May be per Aser's suiggestion, I should just stick with the closer Gourmet Garden?!

                     
                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      Based on the experience of friends whose Malaysian food judgment I trust, I would say don't make the trek, Charles. Stick with Gourmet Garden.

                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        Thank you!!!
                        What a pity! The name and the Bio., sounded so promising!!

                      2. re: Charles Yu

                        After eating the entire menu, I feel that this is the Australian version Sing hawker food. Or something. Just not real Sing/Malay hawker food. It's not even close.

                        Please stick with Gourmet Garden, Lion City, Restoran... they're all going to be more authentic and will more closely match your expectations of eating in Singapore and Malaysia. Going to Hawker Bar will disappoint on so many levels (even discounting authenticity).

                        Funny enough, I showed my family - and specifically my aunt/cousin from Singapore - and they couldn't stop making fun of the food (visuals only). But it's true.. you can totally tell. The rendang! It's ...saucy!! And the chicken rice was ... boiled.

                        Sorry. Had to rant. Stopping now.

                      3. Yet another place with overpriced Asian food. The problem with opening up an Asian joint is - there are plenty of places to get decent Asian food for cheap. It takes a lot of creativity and culinary talent to wow you over into paying the extra few $$$. Their Cucumber Salad was bland and tasteless; the Rendang Curry (w/ Ox Cheek) had weird flavour combos (a tart curry and a dessert-sweet coconut rice?); the Son-In-Law Eggs were interesting but one egg yolk was overcooked. The only saving grace was the Banana Fritter which is wrapped in a Pandan leaf and then deep fried which adds plenty of flavour. I agree that I would stick with Gourmet Malaysia. Unless you're in the mood to throw money away.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: th3hungrycat

                          It was pretty terrible. The best thing on the menu was the totally unauthentic chicken wings, which were tasty but not particularly Singaporean. The Hainanese Chicken Rice was a disgrace. While the rice itself was decent, the chicken tasted like it had been boiled in a plain water broth - completely tasteless, without any sort of flavour. The worst part, however, was the hipster waiters explaining to us how to eat our food. I will give them the ice kachang: that was pretty great.

                          1. re: th3hungrycat

                            Totally agree. The BC spot prawn dumplings were good but $3 each? The Singapore noodles were so salty that they were inedible. The silken tofu sat in a sea of intensely salty soy sauce. The salt level is way over the top.

                            1. re: meanmartin

                              Libretto was packed so we decided to try Hawker Bar...

                              Appetizers:
                              Dumplings were tender and tasty but small and incredibly expensive.
                              The Pork satay meat was nice and juicy but the overall only ok. They too, were 3 to a serving.

                              Mains:
                              Our Singapore noodles were not too salty and the shrimp were thankfully not overcooked. I liked the spiciness and sliced snow peas/bell peppers for crunch.
                              The sea bream was well fried and impressive to look at. I'd recommend this dish, it's also the one in all the promo shots.

                              Sides:
                              Yellow soy broccoli was worth ordering but something I could make at home.

                              The accompanying cucumber salad garnishes seemed soggy and not much more complex than a but of rice vinegar and mirin...

                              For 2 people we managed to eat everything with leftover noodles to take home.
                              With one cocktail it was $78 all in.

                              I liked the decor and service was fine but I don't think I'd go back. Maybe only to try the laksa if it's well reviewed.

                          2. Oh dear.. I"ve wanted to try this for a while, and I'm meeting a friend for lunch there on Saturday. Does anyone have anything good to say about it, or should I go back to my first choice (which was saving grace)?

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: rstuart

                              I only had the wings when I went, and I wasn't particularly impressed. But there are other things on the menu that look interesting. I say give it a try. I'm definitely going to go back to try some other things on the menu.

                              1. re: rstuart

                                If you have no particular cuisine preference, I would definitely go with Saving Grace. I think people go to Hawker for the novelty (for some anyway) factor rather than the calibre of the cooking. I have been to Hawker often enough to observe the kitchen's lack of consistency.

                                FYI, it is a Bar. I see it more as a snack/drink place rather than a sit-down dinner. On that note, I really like their bartenders - always friendly and have a short but fun cocktail menu lined up.

                                If you have always been curious about the food, then I'd say by all means give it a try. I don't think the food will blow your socks off, but it's dark, fun, and bustling with energy.

                                The MIL egg and rendang curry are nice. Their laska is the signature dish. I prefer the vegetarian version of it.

                                1. re: happycamper

                                  Think that I've give it a try.. although I was wondering if we should go down the street and try A-OK instead!!

                                  1. re: happycamper

                                    So it was fun.. it ended up working out well for us because my friend had a large breakfast, so was only in the mood for a snack.. he had the dumplings which he liked. I had the laksa lemak (good but too rich for me!) and the cucumber salad.. also OK.. but I thought could use more vinegar (which probably says more about me than the salad). I'd go back with friends for some drinks and nibbles.. a bit expensive for what you get, but I liked it.

                                    1. re: rstuart

                                      Nice. I think you will like A-OK. Their shoyu is not my favorite rendition, but relatively lighter than others in the city.

                                      Best place for nibbles and drinks in the hood is probably Oddseoul for me.

                                      1. re: happycamper

                                        Both places on my "to try" list!

                                  2. re: rstuart

                                    For a brief period around when it opened, I was kind of a regular here haha.

                                    The food was always pprretttyyy meh, but I just liked it as a cool place to hang out and get <$10 cocktails. But now it's filled to the gills on a nightly basis so... there goes that.

                                    Never had the sea bream though. I want that sea bream.

                                    Anyway, now it's all about Oddseoul! Or somewhere wwaayyyy West on Dundas.

                                    1. re: mnajji

                                      The sea bream was actually pretty good. I also enjoyed their tofu dishes at Hawker Bar. But the rest of my meal fell short of my expectations. Mind, this was when they first opened too, so maybe they've improved.