Ask any Singaporean to pick one dish to represent our country and there’s a high chance that it’ll be Chicken Rice. There are a few frontrunners in the Chicken Rice scene here and everyone backs their own go-to place for obvious reasons.
Chicken Rice is essentially a hawker dish though and is generally sold at hawker prices (cheap AND good) so Mandarin Orchard really shook things up all those years back when its award-winning restaurant, Chatterbox, started selling this popular dish for 10 times the price of that in hawker centres.
But it was GOOD and soon spearheaded the whole atas hawker fare that’s now taken our nation by storm.
If you never jumped on that bandwagon and are still not quite ready to fork out $27 for this iconic dish, Express by Chatterbox will get you the famous rendition at a fraction of the price.
Housed in the new Downtown Gallery at Shenton Way, you office folks can now satisfy your cravings for local food in a beautifully decorated space and (most importantly) in the comfort of air-conditioning.
As its name suggests, Express by Chatterbox aims to get you your food quickly, so order at the counter, grab your drinks and wait for your queue number to pop up. This also means… no service charge!
There’s even a private dining space that you can request to book if you’re hosting local-food-loving clients. Needless to say, I immediately set up base there to dig into this popular Chicken Rice in peace.
The Signature Chicken Rice ($8) looked just as delectable as an $8 plate of Chicken Rice should. There was a sizeable portion of steamed chicken and I could smell the familiar fragrant rice from the moment I picked the tray up at the counter.
I’ve eaten at Chatterbox once before (yes it was my birthday so yes I wasn’t paying), and I was interested to see how this express version would compare.
The chicken definitely lived up to the Mandarin Orchard standards, boasting the same quality. I checked with the Chef and apparently, the same preparation and cooking processes are followed, and the price difference is mainly because of the quantity.
I am no Chicken Rice connoisseur, but the ratio of meat to fat was pretty perfect and I especially liked the accompanying chilli sauce. The rice was also steeped in flavour from the poaching broth and I was pretty happy even just eating it on its own.
The soup, on the other hand, didn’t leave much of an impression but it tasted quite healthy and served as a good palate cleanser between bites. All in all, a very satisfying lunch option for those working in the CBD.
If you’ve heard of the Mandarin Chicken Rice at Chatterbox, then you must have heard about the Lobster Laksa. Before everyone started putting lobster in and on everything in Singapore, Chatterbox was ticking boxes for those who could afford it.
Sadly, you won’t find any lobster in the Express version of the restaurant, but the Signature Laksa Noodle ($10 with Prawns, $8 for Traditional or with Chicken) features the same laksa broth and is chocked full of ingredients.
Missing the lobster, I obviously went for the next best thing. There were three pretty big prawns in my bowl and lots of fishcakes, tau pok and my favourite tau geh (don’t hate).
The prawns were fresh and meaty and created a nice bite together with the al dente thick bee hoon. They were the highlight of the dish for me, together with the laksa broth which had just the right amount of coconut milk and spice.
It was definitely a nice change savouring a steaming bowl of this local favourite in the cool air of the restaurant.
Because my eyes are always bigger than my tummy, I also ordered a side of the Chicken Ngoh Hiang ($5) which came served in convenient bite-sized pieces that were delicious together with the sweet soy dipping sauce.
The combination might be too salty for some, so go easy on the black sauce!
As I grabbed my drink, I also grabbed dessert (oops) and the Mango Pudding ($4) was a great round up to the meal. It wasn’t too sweet and I loved the creamy texture that had chunks of mango mixed in.
If you see this in the display, dabao one back to the office!
Speaking of dabao, I saw these takeaway boxes of interesting sushi at the counter that I will most certainly be back to try – I mean, a Chicken Rice Maki? Yes, please.
Express by Chatterbox is in the CBD, but you’ll be happy to know that it stays open every single day until 10pm. All you people staying late in the office, Chicken Rice for a late dinner is possible!
Get your atas hawker fare fix today at a not-so-atas price.
Expected damage: $8 – $15 per pax