Cheap & Good

Claypot mac 'n' cheese at The Cafe Menu in Sengkang

The dearth of good hawker food in Sengkang is a common lament I hear from friends who live in the area in the north-eastern part of Singapore.

Naturally, my expectations are not high when I drop by Happy Hawkers Coffeeshop in Sengkang West Way on a recent visit to the estate. However, among the typical hawker offerings such as economy rice and fish soup, a photo of a claypot filled with macaroni and cheese at the Western food stall, The Cafe Menu, grabs my attention.

It turns out that the month-old stall is co-owned by Mr Julian Peh, 33, who ran Legitimeat, a hip Western food stall in a Bukit Merah coffee shop that served steak frites and fish tacos. The stall folded in April this year because the location was not ideal, he says.

The Cafe Menu serves more generic Western dishes such as bacon aglio olio, seafood baked rice and grilled pork chop. They are mostly priced between $5 and $6.50.

One of the more unusual dishes is the Chicken Mac & Cheese ($5), which is served piping hot in a claypot. The dish, which requires a 15- minute wait, is baked upon order and almost filled to the brim with macaroni napped in bechamel sauce, nacho cheese sauce made with cheddar, and mozzarella.


    Happy Hawkers Coffeeshop, Block 433A Sengkang West Way, 01-01, open: 12.30 to 9pm daily, closed on alternate Tuesdays

    Rating: 3.5/5 stars


Instinctively, I pick up the spoon and toss the pasta, peas and chicken slices together like I would with claypot rice.

The streaks of gooey cheese make the dish somewhat awkward to eat, but this is a happy problem as I relish the lashings of nacho cheese sauce that perk up the pasta with an umami and peppery kick.

Steak frites, which was on Legitimeat's menu, has been replaced by a more heartland- friendly name: Wagyu Steak ($15.50). It is the most expensive item on the menu.

The 150g piece of Australian oyster blade steak, which is a cut of beef from the shoulder of the animal, is plump with meat juices. The meat is done medium rare, but the pink middle is a tad wet. While the meat is a little sinewy and has uneven marbling, the steak is still value for money.

Served alongside is a shredded lettuce salad and fries jazzed up with paprika powder and herbs.

Another popular main course is the chicken chop ($6), which is pan-fried instead of grilled.

This ensures that the marinade of paprika and chopped herbs, such as basil and thyme, does not turn bitter when it is over-cooked, which occurs more easily during grilling, says chef and co-owner David Teo, 49. The crisp golden-brown layer of chicken skin conceals firm and succulent meat.

The stall has a rather primitive way to get customers to collect their orders.

Mr Peh shouts out the order numbers, which can be easy to miss in a noisy coffee shop. So it is best to sit near the stall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'Claypot mac 'n' cheese'. Print Edition | Subscribe