The Wok & Barrel is a quintessential success story. This used to be an apparently famous nasi lemak stall at Maxwell Food Centre, called Madam Tan’s Nasi Lemak. Owner Shen Tan did so well that she decided to open her very own restaurant at Duxton Hill. Since we haven’t tried the original one at Maxwell, we came without any basis for comparison, although we had read a number of good reviews from both her longtime customers as well as new fans.
They have a slightly different menu for lunch and for dinner. I think the famous nasi lemak is available as a set lunch, but at dinner time you have to order each component separately, i.e. the rice, curry, chicken wing, omelette, achar etc.
We ordered a plate of the rice, and the beef rendang. The rice wasn’t as rich and lemak as I expected, nor particularly coconutty, but I liked that it came with two different types of sambal. There was the usual sweetish nasi lemak sambal, and a fiery, more savoury sambal belacan that really packed a punch. No prizes for guessing which sambal we each gravitated towards.
The beef rendang was awesome. Every single piece of beef was super tender, and the sauce didn’t skimp on flavour at all. Although we want to try some of the other curries, like the mutton and chicken, I’ll be hard pressed not to order this again, it was that good.
Besides nasi lemak, they have a few other dishes that are modern takes on Singaporean classics. We tried the lamb char siew drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and served with crispy fries and baby spinach. This was another stellar dish. She used lamb neck so there was lots of flavour and just the right balance of fat and lean. The meat was perfectly done, and the seasoning enhanced but didn’t overpower the flavour of the lamb. The crispy fries were really good too – tasted like old school A&W curly fries!
Another lauded dish is her Bak Chor Mee Pasta, which would ordinarily have me dying to try it. However, after I read a few reviews and descriptions, it turns out that it’s just a nod to bak chor mee, and doesn’t actually have minced pork nor chilli and vinegar. It’s actually tagliatelle tossed with the chef’s signature five-spice pork. That being the case, I decided a whole plate of pasta wasn’t a good idea, and instead just ordered a plate of the pork on its own.
In comparison to everything else so far, this was a bit of a letdown. I guess it’s also not meant to be eaten on its own (we had long since finished our rice by then), because the five spice flavours are quite strong, and being almost like a pulled pork in texture, it became a bit too one note after a few bites.
Dessert was by far the most disappointing though. We ordered the Shendol – a coconut panna cotta topped with chendol jelly, drizzled with gula Melaka and served with red bean ice cream. It should have been really good, but everything didn’t really work. The panna cotta wasn’t light or wobbly enough, and the red bean ice cream was thick and slightly gummy, which really didn’t make for a good mouthfeel at all.
I would pass on desserts in future, but I definitely want to come back to try some of the other curries. And have more of that amazing beef rendang.
I can’t decide if it’s upscale nasi lemak or what happens when the chi-chi crowd pseudo-slum it with some old school dishes. Either way, the service is pretty good considering there’s no service charge, and most of the food is good, especially the beef rendang. Probably the only minuses for me were the bad (noisy) acoustics and the very dense and powdery ice cream (potong gone rough).
The Wok & Barrel
3 Duxton Hill
Tues to Sat: 11.30 am to 10 pm
Sun: 11.30 am to 4 pm