COVID-19 indeed remoulded the entire F&B environment; not only has it changed the way we dine, many owners and chefs are also struggling to keep up with the new norm. With that, several F&B establishments are forced to switch up the way they operate. Laifabar is one of them.
Situated in the buzzing food enclave of Ann Siang Hill, Laifabar appears to be an intimate restaurant embedded within an elegantly restored shophouse. Cloaked in greyscale sensibilities and pops of reds, one will never expect it to be a place that sells a dish Singaporeans are most familiar with, wanton mee.
Truth to be told, the establishment originally started as a gastro wine bar serving up tapas and mains to merrymakers in the area. The shockwaves of COVID-19 later took the country by storm and as a result, Laifabar’s business took a hit—as did our entire economy.
In an attempt to continue pursuing his restaurant dreams, Chef-owner Royce Lee decided to revamp Laifabar’s business model by changing the restaurant’s focus. This time around, the spotlight is on the humble wanton noodles and dumplings—hawker fares inspired by Royce’s grandmother, who used to be a hawker herself.
Step into the premises of Laifabar and you will instantly be transported back in time. The restaurant’s laid-back colonial setting seemed somewhat dated yet perfectly suited for the area its located in. Dark walnut wooden decks lay base to the white flushed walls. Vestiges of the wine bar remain; a lavish-looking bar counter and wine coolers half-filled with bottles of vintages.
My meal started with Laifabar’s signature Dry Wanton Noodle (S$5.50)—a recipe inspired by Royce’s grandmother. The bowl came with liberal amounts of thin egg noodles laying the foundation to the char siew and blanched vegetables lined neatly on its surface.
By its side, was a bowl of hot wanton soup, softly crying out for me to savour its goodness on that wet and rainy day.
Mixed in with the restaurant’s secret sambal based sauce, each strand of noodles was generously coated, exuding a tinge of spice in every bite. Tiny cubes of lard elevated the brilliance of the dish, complementing the springy and bite-prefect noodles with a layer of richness.
I was told that leaner cuts of pork are used to prepare the char siew in the Wanton Noodles for its flavour to work in hand with the wantons. Indeed, compared to the char siew in the Char Siew & Crispy Pork Noodles, these used in the Wanton Noodles appeared to be that malnutrition sibling.
No complaints though; the meat still retained a nice chew with the classic sweet-savoury notes which I always enjoy.
Hard-core carnivores will relish in the Char Siew & Crispy Pork Noodles (S$7.50), a satisfying bowl that captured my heart with its complex melange of texture and flavours. The char siew in this bowl was made with bu jian rou (or bu jian tian), a cut of meat from the underarms of the pig.
Seasoned and roasted with a honey glaze, it exuded an unmistakable smoking-sweet char that kept me going back for more. Each slice of char siew had a distinct layer of fats in between the lean meat, which crumbled in my mouth, slowly dissipating into nothingness without much of a chew required.
Contrasting the soft and tender char siew were cubes of crispy pork. Coated in puffy bubbles all over its surface, the golden-brown pork crackling gave way to a beautiful crunch when bitten into.
It was an absolute firework of texture exploding in my mouth especially with the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly.
If the heat that is mixed into the noodles is not up to your expectation, feel free to challenge Laifabar’s infamous Super Spicy Chilli Sauce. But be forewarned as this bright orange concoction has a heat rating of 10/10. I’ve tried it for myself, and let me tell you, the kick from the spice is a normal one. It’s a Bruce Lee kick—potent and deadly.
A trip to Laifabar will be a wasted one without trying some of their side dishes. To go with your noodles, I highly recommend the Taupok (S$8) and Wanton in Red-Chilli Oil (S$8).
Taupok is a humble Hakka dish Chef Royce learnt from his grandmother. The airy taupok was filled with minced meat, then fried as a whole. At first glance, I did not expect much from this. After all, it just looked plain and mundane. But I was wrong. Dip it into the chilli served on the side and its savouriness was immediately brought to life by a piquant zing from the chilli sauce.
Since Laifabar serves Wanton Noodles, why not make use of the existing wantons to create an alternative for lovers of these meaty parcels? With this in mind, Chef Royce created the Wanton In Red-Chilli Oil.
Since these wantons were not soaked in broth, they had more of a bite compared to their silky counterparts in the wanton soup. The plump wantons were enrobed with mala chilli oil. Albeit spicy, they were balanced with the acidity from the vinegar, leaving only a slight numbness on your tongue that was more shiok than uncomfortable.
The price for a bowl of Wanton Noodle might be a little higher than average but considering the ambience that I was dinning in and the ingredients used, it was worth every penny spent.
I do have my favourite wanton mee spots situated in neighbourhood hawkers centres but with Singapore’s sweltering weather, I definitely won’t mind paying that extra bit once in a while to enjoy my noodles in an air-conditioned environment—don’t you agree?
Expected Damage: S$5.50 – S$12 per pax
Our Rating: 4 / 5
33 Erskine Road, The Scarlet Hotel, Singapore 069333
33 Erskine Road, The Scarlet Hotel, Singapore 069333