Sengkang's VendCafe: Heat and misses

Mutton Rendang With Briyani Rice.
Mutton Rendang With Briyani Rice.ST PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN, KENNETH GOH

Do the hot meals from the vending machines in Sengkang taste good? The Sunday Times puts them to the test

Curious diners are queuing for more than an hour at VendCafe, a cluster of vending machines that serves hot meals, drinks and snacks at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive in Sengkang.

The star attractions are the two Chef In Box vending machines that dispense 19 Asian and Western dishes such as seafood hor fun, chicken bolognese spaghetti and curry chicken with rice.

The Sunday Times does a taste test.



ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

MUTTON RENDANG WITH BRIYANI RICE

Price: $5

Verdict: My favourite part of this dish is the aromatic saffron- hued basmati rice, which is flecked with spices such as cloves, onions, cinnamon and mint leaves.

The chunks of mutton are also tender, though they have more fat than meat. If you are hankering for a serious dose of spiciness, you will be disappointed as the dish is mild.

The side of aloo gobi, spice-laden cauliflower and potatoes cooked in tomato sauce, is on the sweet side.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars



ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

GRILLED SALMON WITH MIXED VEGETABLES

Price: $5

Verdict: This meal looks and tastes like an in-flight meal in economy class. The two pieces of salmon are tender, though most of the flavour comes from the sweet and citrusy brown sauce.

The salmon comes in a lighter shade of pink than the freshly cooked version. The side of mashed potato tastes like it comes from an instant mix. The broccoli, cauliflower and carrot slices are too wet as they are soaked in gravy from the mashed potato.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars



ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

SEAFOOD HOR FUN

Price: $4

Verdict: The pack comes piping-hot with stir-fried kway teow drenched in a starchy gravy. It is topped by two shrimps, slices of fish cake and chicken breast and chye sim.

The chicken breast is chewy and the shrimps are tougher than those found in freshly cooked hor fun.

As expected, the kway teow does not have wok hei (fragrance from the wok), but if you are willing to overlook that, the gravy has an umami flavour and tastes like the hor fun served in foodcourts.

A decent hor fun.

Rating: 3.5/ 5 stars



ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

SALTED EGG YOLK PASTA WITH SHRIMPS

Price: $5

Verdict: The sauce for the spaghetti smells vaguely like salted egg yolk, but tastes like a weak curry.

The four pieces of shrimps have a firmer bite than freshly cooked ones, as is typical of those found in a re-heated frozen meal.

When I toss the spaghetti with the sauce, the mixture looks grainy. The pasta, however, is springy and the amount of sauce is just right, but the recipe for the sauce needs some tweaking.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars



ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

CLAYPOT CHICKEN RICE

Price: $4

Verdict: When I lift the bento box from the machine, one side of the container is cold.

As expected then, some of the rice is cold and hard due to uneven heating. However, the rest of the rice, chicken, chicken sausage and mushrooms are warm.

The name is misleading - the rice has none of the smoky flavour of claypot rice and tastes like it has been mixed with soya sauce.

The thin slab of chicken is like those found in lor mai kai and I find the chicken sausage too soft. The saving grace are the dried shrimps in the rice, which give the dish much needed texture and flavour.

Rating: 2/5 stars


Other hot food vending machines

CHEF MARIO

What: The machine's built-in pizza oven bakes pizzas at 400 deg C in three minutes. Flavours include Pepperoni and Hawaiian.

Where: Singapore University of Technology & Design, Block 57 Staff & Student Housing Facility, 8 Somapah Road, level two (enter from Changi South Avenue 1 gate); and Singapore Polytechnic, 500 Dover Road, T12 Building

Price: $7.50 for a 10.5-inch pizza

HOT PIZZA SALE POINT 24/7

What: The pizzas from this machine are prepared and baked by Italian restaurant No Menu's chef Osvaldo Forlino before being frozen and packed into takeaway boxes. This machine is outside the eatery.

When you order, the pizza is re-heated in the machine's built-in convection oven, which takes three minutes.

Each machine holds 36 pizzas in more than 10 flavours such as Hawaiian and they are topped up a few times daily.

Where: 31 Boon Tat Street, outside No Menu restaurant

Price: $12 for a 12-inch pizza. The machine accepts payment only by Nets and credit cards.

FRSHLY

What: These machines, which start operations late next month, will offer dishes such as nasi lemak from Ponggol Nasi Lemak; chicken briyani and roti prata from Sakunthala's Food Palace; and pork chop rice bento boxes from Woo Ricebox. There are 15 to 20 dishes from more than 10 restaurants. The machine will be stocked before meal times so you can expect the food to be fresh.

Where: Several locations, including German Centre, 25 International Business Park; and The JTC Summit, 8 Jurong Town Hall Road

Price: $5 to $6 a meal. Only cashless payment options such as EZ-link card and credit cards.

HOTBAKE 24/7

What: Two types of sandwiches are carried at one time and varieties are rotated among more than 50, ranging from Mushroom Melt to New York Sausage Omelette to Tandoori Special, which are toasted when you order. The halal-certified toasted sandwich vending machine company, which has been around since 2003, makes the sandwiches daily in a central kitchen.

Where: More than 100 locations including National Library, 100 Victoria Street, Level 5; and Health Promotion Board, 3 Second Hospital Avenue, Level 1. For more information, go to www.hotbake.com.sg

Price: From $2.30

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Heat and misses'. Print Edition | Subscribe