Timbre+ is one of the hottest food places in Singapore at the moment. And in more ways than one.
The three-week-old eating place is packed at lunch and dinner. You have to go early if you want a seat or wish to avoid the long queues for food. That means 11am if you are going for lunch or before 6pm for dinner.
The place is also sweltering at all times of day and night. There is no air-conditioning and ventilation is poor, leading to soaring temperatures, especially in the centre seating area.
Make no mistake. Timbre+ is a hawker centre, no matter how hip or colourful the place looks.
When I popped by at about 11.45am last Thursday, it was packed with an office lunch crowd from the JTC buildings next door and Fusionopolis across the road.
WHEN:6amto midnight (Monday to Thursday) and 6to 1am (Friday and Saturday), closed on Sunday. Hawker stalls open till 6pm, while food trucks and mini eateries start opening from about 11.30am or when the food is ready
ADMISSION: Prices of dishes vary
INFO: Go to timbreplus.sg
All the tables were occupied, some of them "choped" with tissue paper packets, but mostly with security passes or umbrellas that the office workers presumably used to shield themselves from the sun on their walk there.
But when I returned at 10.30am the next day, it was less crazy.
Many of the stalls look like typical hawker centre ones selling noodle and rice dishes. What makes the place interesting, though, is that it is also more than a typical hawker centre.
When I went for dinner in the evening, a live band came on stage at about 7.30pm. That added a lively atmosphere to the place and branded it as a product of Timbre, which is better known for its music venues.
The band was not bad and it is laudable to promote local music, but the music was also much too loud for the venue, adding to the almost unbearable cacophony.
Some of the stalls at Timbre+ are designed like food trucks, though they are not mobile. These sell more interesting fare, such as burgers, pizza, fusion dishes and Indian chaat and briyani.
There are also mini eateries with their own seating areas where you can find restaurant-style food. But these are not cheap, with a meal starting from almost $10 a person, compared with the hawker stalls where a bowl of noodles starts from about $3.50. D's Joint even sells a wagyu steak for $80.
What is also interesting is the tray- return system. Each time you buy a meal, you pay an extra $1 for the tray you carry the food on. You get it back when you return the tray with the dirty plates at an automated tray- return zone that you cannot miss because of the bright blinking lights above it.
But as with all machines, glitches happen. No coin came out for one of the trays I returned and although a cleaner said I could try to get it back from the drinks bar staff, it meant I would have to squeeze through the crowd and spend time explaining what happened just to get my dollar.
On the whole, the food has more misses than hits.
The stacked noodle dishes ($7 for two small stacks) from Food Anatomy, for example, were bland and tasted nothing of what they were supposed to. And a mix grill of "hamburg" (a hamburger patty) and pork belly from Teppei Daidokoro was overly salty. The lechon (roast pork) from Iskina Cebu was tender and garlicky, but the skin was hard and not crispy. For me, a good crackling is a must for lechon.
Still, with some digging and repeated visits, we discovered some nuggets worth making a trip there for. If you can bear the heat, that is.
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Dusk by Slake
I was a bit reluctant to part with $28 for the Iberico Jowl Cutlet here, but it turned out to be really good.
The piece of pork is breaded and fried like a tonkatsu, but stands out because of the slightly springy and juicy meat that is streaked with fat. It comes with a sriracha mayo that adds just enough kick without being overbearing.
Chef Damian D'Silva, known for his Singapore heritage dishes at now-defunct restaurants such as Immigrants in Joo Chiat and Soul Kitchen in Purvis Street, runs one of the mini eateries selling food from a mix of cuisines.
I love his Lim Peh Slider ($8), a non-spicy beef rendang stuffed into a super crispy flaky pastry.
The Hakka Fried Pork ($8) is good too, with the tender and juicy belly meat deep-fried till crisp on the outside. There is also a distinct flavour of nam yu, or red fermented beancurd cubes.
I mistook the Kai Fan ($8) for chicken rice, which is what the dish is called in Cantonese. But D'Silva explains that it is an old hawker dish that disappeared from Singapore streets in the 1960s.
It is rice in chicken broth that is topped with shredded poached chicken and pieces of char siew and lup cheong. You push all the meat down into the broth to soak for a couple of minutes to let the flavours blend before stirring everything together. It's a dish I have never eaten before, but I find it comforting, like a warm bowl of porridge.
Dancing Crab Shack
This seafood-in-a-bag concept from the chain by TungLok sells basically the same dishes as its older siblings at The Grandstand, Orchard Central and VivoCity - such as seafood combos in sauces such as Zesty Garlic Butter and Beurre Blanc.
But the Dancing Crab chef has created some items just for this outlet too. The standout new dish is Crab Fried Rice ($10), which boasts good wok hei (wok heat) and is packed with sweet crabmeat and pieces of corn, carrot and raisins. This is restaurant-standard fare and worth the price.
Add $2 for a Fizzy Lemonade, one of the carbonated lemonades that Dancing Crab is known for.
What is fun at this fried chicken wing joint are the Salted Egg Yolk chicken wings, with a thin coat of the yolk sauce on the wings. The flavour is not very rich, but that means the wings are not too heavy either. I like that they are juicy too.
A set meal comprising four pieces of chicken (basically two wings) with rice or fries and a soft drink costs $8.90. You can have six pieces of chicken for the same price, without the carbs and drink.
The fries are decent, but do not stand out. So if you do not need a drink, go for just the wings.
Wong Kee Noodles
To be honest, I had never heard of this wonton mee from Maxwell Market, but it is really good.
No wonder, then, that this stall has one of the longest queues in the hawker centre.
But that could also be because owner Kelly Wong takes a bit of time cooking the noodles with a helper arranging the char siew piece by piece so that each plate is Instagram-worthy.
The noodles not only look good, but they are also springy and do not clump.
I tried the Spinach Wanton Noodles ($4), which come drenched in a delicious sauce. The wontons - two deep-fried and two boiled - are above average with plump fillings of pork and shrimp, and I like that the char siew is sliced thick.
But I think it would be even better if there is a bit of fat in the pork.
The Fishball Story
I first tried young hawker Douglas Ng's fishball noodles when he was still at Golden Mile Food Centre and liked it.
But it is even better now, as the freshly made fishballs have a slightly more springy texture and still boast a distinct flavour of fish. The sliced fried fishcake, too, is unmistakably handmade.
Mix in some good-quality egg noodles and a decent chilli sauce and you have a winning bowl of fishball noodles.
It's not the best I've eaten - those are in Kuala Lumpur - but it won't be easy to find a better version in Singapore. Definitely worth the $4.50 price tag.
Be prepared to queue though.
Ban Mian Unit
I wouldn't have noticed this stall if an ex-colleague I bumped into at the hawker centre had not pointed out that it sells a dry version of ban mian.
The ingredients are almost the same as soupy ban mian, which is what most other stalls around Singapore sell - freshly made flour noodles topped with minced pork, vegetables and an egg.
The difference is that the soup is sieved and served separately. Then the old hawker adds a dash of soya-based sauce and chilli sauce to the noodles and tosses everything together, topping it with fried ikan bilis and fried shallots. The result is a bowl of minced meat noodles, with the crispy bits of ikan bilis quite a pleasure to bite into. The noodles are not a must-try, but the stall gets points for joining a new trend.
I was intrigued by the idea of a chicken curry rice bowl ($10) with grilled chicken, but it turned out to be a misnomer.
What Kush calls a curry is actually more of a rendang gravy that is poured over a piece of grilled chicken.
But no matter. The chicken is moist and smoky, while the gravy is fragrant with coconut milk and delicious.
It is served in a rice bowl together with an onsen (soft-boiled) egg and fried sambal kangkong.
This is a winning combination that captures the imagination and pleases the palate in a way that the other food trucks I tried fail to do.
Kush also sells skewers of chicken ($2), Angus beef ($4.50) and wagyu beef ($7), among others, that it describes as "charcoal licked". If that means the same appealing smokiness found in the chicken curry, it's worth going back for.
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