SINGAPORE - In my review of Botanico in this column last week, I wrote about how reasonable the prices at the Botanic Gardens restaurant are.
This week, however, I am shocked by the overpriced popiah at Po, a casual eatery in the new Warehouse Hotel in Havelock Road.
The menu may be by home- grown celebrity chef Willin Low, but that is no reason to charge customers $28 for DIY popiah. If you add prawns, it is $38 and with flower crab meat, it is $58.
Each order comes with four popiah skins, so it is $7 to $14.50 for one popiah. At a hawker centre or coffee shop, you pay $1.50 for a plain one - and the stallholder even makes it for you.
Even factoring in the nicer ambience and service, the restaurant is making a huge profit from the dish, which is made with low-cost ingredients such as shredded omelette, crushed peanuts, crispy flatfish, skinny strips of pork and vegetables.
Is it good? The filling of stewed vegetables and pork has a robust flavour, but it is not so good that I would order it again.
I would rather pay for the Paper Spring Chicken ($49). It is a whole chicken that is enough for three people as a main course. And it tastes really good.
The chicken is marinated with sesame oil and Shaoxing wine, and stuffed with glutinous rice cooked with conpoy, dried shrimp, Chinese sausage and mushroom. It is then wrapped in parchment paper and baked.
The marinade is delicious and well infused into the chicken. And the rice is soft and delicious, with a generous amount of conpoy in it.
If there is a fault, it is that the texture of the chicken is too soft, but the cause is the quality of the bird and not the skill of the chef.
I also like the Carabinero Prawns & Konbu Mee ($32), another main dish. This is a twist on fried Hokkien mee, another hawker dish, but in this case, the elevated price is justified by the two prawns. Carabineros, which come from the Mediterranean, are really sweet and when lightly charcoal-grilled, as they are here, are nice and tender.
Thin egg noodles usually served with Hakka yong tau foo are used for this dish, which I am not sure is better than the thick beehoon and yellow noodles used for Hokkien mee. I find it too soft for my liking, but I enjoy the crispy bits of deepfried lard sprinkled on the noodles.
A side order of Sambal Forest Mushrooms ($16) goes very well with the noodles. I am pretty sure the maitake, shiitake, honshimeiji, eringi and abalone mushrooms come from a farm and not a forest, but no matter. The spicy sambal belacan they are tossed in is excellent - aromatic and fiery.
The mushrooms come with a wobbly onsen egg on top, which you break up and mix into the dish. This is a good idea, as it layers the flavours of what would otherwise be a simple spicy stir-fry.
It could be a coincidence, but all the items I order from the Small Plates section of the menu fail to impress.
I cannot pick out the truffle mash filling in the Truffle & Duck Pie Tee ($19). It is a crisp pie tee shell filled with pulled braised duck and strips of burdock, which is not bad but does not improve on the traditional vegetable-filled pie tee.
The Warehouse Hotel, 320 Havelock Road, tel: 6828-0000, open: noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays
Food: 2.5/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 3.5/5 stars
Price: Budget about $80 a person, without drinks
The Kurobuta Char Siew ($19) is just bad. The pieces of pork collar are sous-vide for 24 hours until they have lost their natural springy texture. And the dark colour of the meat suggests it has been marinated too long. The result is dry pieces of meat with no juice or nuance in texture or flavour.
There is an Ice Cream Popiah ($15) listed under desserts, but I have had enough of popiah and choose the Teh Halia Panna Cotta ($14) instead. This is obviously inspired by the popular ginger milk tea, but the custard tastes insipid and lacks the spirit of the drink. Only the cubes of ginger gelee deliver the spiciness expected.
Po's appeal lies mainly in the consulting chef's reputation and the fact that it is in the trendy Warehouse Hotel - a new spot that will draw curious diners. But it will have to work harder to get them to return.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke
•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
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