Singaporean Cuisine in Melbourne
Singaporean flavor is spicing up Melbourne's dining scene. IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER digs in at Hawker Hall, the place take on this tasty trend.
Published on Apr 21, 2016
CUSTOMERS ELBOWING THEIR WAY around tables laden with food and sauces. Woks clanging loudly in an open kitchen. Food that's spicy, sweet and sour, often all at the same time. No, it's not one of Singapore's famous food courts. It's Hawker Hall (98 Chapel St., Windsor; +61 3 8560 0090), an à la mode Australian interpretation set in a refitted 18th century horse stable on Melbourne's evergreen Chapel Street. A runaway success since its launch late 2016, it's the fourth venue by Chris Lucas, the Asian-fusion pop savant behind Chin Chin, a phenomenally popular Thai street-food joint in Melbourne's CBD, and Kong BBQ, by the Yarra River, a render of Korean barbecue.
Follow the signs to fill up at Hawker Hall. Ian Lloyd Neubauer.
The Singaporean eating-complex simulacrum follows in the footsteps of The Old Raffles Place (68 Johnston St., Collingwood; +61 3 9417 4450), a modest diner where Alan Han, the son of the executive chef at the British Consulate in Singapore pre-World War II, has been cooking Hainanese chicken rice and seafood laksa for more than 20 years—though a recent menu update promises some fresh recipes by the seasoned pro, like asam fish curry and Thai-style duck salad. And any buff of down-home Lion City fare will have gorged at Killiney Kopitiam (flagship: 108 Bourke St., CBD; +61 3 9663 5818) since its arrival from Singapore in 2013. This nearly century-old Hainanese-coffee-shop institution with franchises around Asia has three outposts in Melbourne shilling real-deal dishes like chili crab and durian pancakes.
While these old favorites familiarized the Melburnian palate with Singaporean zest, Hawker Hall—which capitalizes on the city's pervasive casual-cool dining trend—has so much to offer, it may be the tipping point for elevating hawker hang-outs to an all-out craze. The 350-square-meter space is many venues in one: a beer hall with 18 bespoke lagers and seven wines on tap; an alfresco sidewalk restaurant; a steamy front-row kitchen theater; a late-night cocktail bar with DJs playing on weekends; and a 160-seat food hall with snappy table service.
Choose from 18 beers and seven wines on tap. Courtesy of Hawker Hall.
The menu is as voluminous as the space. Guests can choose from 60-some dishes derived from Lucas's study of Singaporean hawkers who "fine-tuned their craft over decades in order to perfect a single dish," he says. Nearly all are above par. A few—dishes like the pork and chive wontons with chili and black bean sauce, and the Hainanese barbecue chicken and rice with bok choy—are almost criminally addictive. Sweet talk your way out of there with the Milo Dinosaur sundae, a powder puff of malt chocolate over coconut ice cream with chocolate biscuits, that's yet another Aussie-Asian fusion star sure to make you salivate.