One of the special things about Singapore is the hawker food experience in old coffee shops and food centres. These are places that are usually warm and congested, with hardly any ambience or service worth talking about, but with good food at affordable prices. However, there is a trend of hawkers opening up standalone eateries in posh locations. Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Esplanade is the latest hawker stall to move upscale. From Pek Kio Market in Little India to the Esplanade Mall by Marina Bay is a big leap. Does the good old prawn noodles taste the same in a modish air-conditioned environment?
Founded in 1951, Wah Kee in Pek Kio is a very popular stall selling prawn noodles with big prawns and firm noodles in a robust soup. At the end of 2016, it opened a new 60-seat air-conditioned restaurant in Esplanade, complete with an electronic tablet ordering system. The new restaurant in Esplanade sells prawn noodles starting from $6, just $1 more than the dish sold in Pek Kio Market. However, it now also offers other items befitting its plush locale – like oysters, mussels and other sea food as well as wine and mocktails.
Currently, Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Esplanade has a simple printed menu as well as an electronic menu which lists mainly beverage items. In addition to the items on the menu, there are specials of the day. Below are pictures of the printed menu and a page for the electronic tablet menu.
When we visited Wah Kee at Esplanade, orders were still taken manually by the waiting staff. They were busy and seemed to have a hard time coping with the many customers there for lunch.
We ordered 2 bowls of the $6 prawns noodles – one with the signature mee kia and one with bee hoon & mee. We opted for the dry version, which had soup served in a separate bowl.
Apparently at Wak Kee, prawns would always be cooked only when orders were received. That might explain the rather long wait, of about 15 minutes, before our bowls of delicious looking prawn noodles were served.
We could hardly see the noodles in the bowls of Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles, as they were topped by the big sliced prawns and plenty of deep fried lard (or la pok) and fried shallots. The dish looked colourful and inviting.
The Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles using mee kia tasted as good as it looked. The prawns had slightly firm texture and a clean taste. The mee kia was thin and had a nice bouncy chew. The noodles were well coated with just the right amount of sauce and the la pok and fried shallots added layers of taste and texture to the dish. It was an enjoyable bowl of prawn noodles.
The Bee Hoon & Mee version had the same ingredients. However, because the noodles were thicker, they did not absorb the flavours as well as the thinner mee kia. We preferred the mee kia.
The orangey soup that came with the noodles was rich and slightly sweetish. According to its Facebook page, “the broth of Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle is made purely of seafood” and they “do not add pork in the making of the broth”.
It is good for local hawker fare to find a new platform and reach out to a greater audience. Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Esplanade will mean that more people can enjoy the delicious bowl of prawn noodles in air-conditioned comfort. We enjoyed our prawn noodles at Esplanade. We liked the air-conditioned environment but somehow the place did not feel quite right – perhaps the oysters and electronic tablets were incongruent intrusions; or perhaps we just missed the theatre provided by the Wah Kee Auntie in Pek Kio.
Food : 4
Service : 3
Value : 3
Atmosphere : 3
Overall Rating: 4 TOPs
Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles
8 Raffles Avenue
Esplanade Mall ##01-13C
Tel: +65 6327 9187
Lunch : 11am to 2.30pm
Dinner : Sun-Thu 5pm to 10.30pm;Fri, Sat & Eve of PH 5pm to 11.30pm