Pek Kio's popular Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles expands to Esplanade Mall

Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle's Kevin Lau (left) is partnering Mr Andrew Tan of Japanese restaurant Tomo Izakaya to open an eatery.
Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle's Kevin Lau (left) is partnering Mr Andrew Tan of Japanese restaurant Tomo Izakaya to open an eatery.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle, which draws long lines at Pek Kio Market & Food Centre in Cambridge Road, is going places, with a restaurant opening tomorrow at Esplanade Mall.

But when Mr Kevin Lau suggested expanding his father's business, he faced "a lot of objection".

Mr Lau, 45, says: "My father kept telling me that it's very tiring and a lot of hard work. He was also concerned about the consistency of the seafood. He believes that if he cannot get the prawns in the market from his usual supplier, it means that I can't get them too.

"I had to convince him that this is long term and sustainable. If I can get all the ingredients through the suppliers, he will be taken care of too."

The business was established by his grandfather in 1951 and the Wah Kee stall is run by Mr Lau's parents - Mr Lau Fook Wah, 75, and Madam Tham Lay Mon, 73. The stall is known for serving prawn noodles topped with large deep-sea prawns, freshly fried shallots and pork lard in a robust soup.

 

The seafood and shellfish broth is simmered for at least 2½ hours and does not include pork ribs or pig tails, common additions to prawn noodle soup.

The modern 2,100 sq ft Wah Kee restaurant is a partnership between Mr Lau and Mr Andrew Tan, 55, who is behind Japanese restaurant Tomo Izakaya in Clarke Quay and Esplanade Mall, as well as Japanese food arena Eat At Seven in Suntec City.

The 60-seat restaurant costs $600,000 to set up - complete with an iPad ordering system - and it will also sell the same big prawn noodles priced from $6. At Pek Kio, the price of a bowl starts at $5.

Apart from the famous prawn noodles, the restaurant will also serve fresh oysters, blue mussels, oyster omelette and grilled Japanese squid. Wine and Japanese whisky are available to pair with the food.

Mr Tan says that they picked Esplanade Mall for its ample parking, tourist traffic and the fact that the restaurant can open till late.

Mr Lau got in touch with Mr Tan through a friend, after mulling over the idea of expanding the business as he noticed how stalls selling big prawn noodles were gaining popularity.

He recalls helping his parents in the 1970s, when Wah Kee was operating from a pushcart plying the Rangoon Road and Owen Road areas.

When the family set up shop at Farrer Park food centre in the 1990s, the senior Mr Lau started using big prawns instead, upon customers' request.

When it moved to Pek Kio in the late 1990s, the brand focused on serving big prawns only.

Mr Kevin Lau says: "The usual local prawn noodles use just small prawns, served with fishcake and pork. Customers would ask my father, why don't you try using big prawns? He would go to Tekka Market to find large prawns and the response was good."

Calling Wah Kee a "legacy brand", Mr Tan says: "We need to continue the legacy, especially when it is a Singapore brand. The quality will be consistent once we control the cooking and preparation with technology, just like how many ramen shops in Japan operate. We do not have to depend on individual chefs."

He has plans to set up a central kitchen after setting up more Wah Kee outlets and is looking to open express kiosks at food halls in malls.

Tapping his experience in the food and beverage industry, he is able to set up proper restaurant procedures, which is not something Mr Lau is familiar with.

Mr Tan says: "Hawkers are independent entrepreneurs. They buy ingredients to use for the day because they have no space. But running a restaurant is different. You need to invest in freezers, prepare in advance and have enough storage."

• Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle opens tomorrow at 01-13C Esplanade Mall, 8 Raffles Avenue. It is open from 11am to 2.30pm daily, 5 to 10.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 5 to 11.30pm (Fridays, Saturdays, and eve of public holidays). For more information, call 6327-9187 or go to www.facebook.com/Wahkeebigprawnnoodles

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'Pek Kio big prawn noodles now at Esplanade Mall'. Print Edition | Subscribe