Now, when a stall is named Nice Rice, one can only assume that the rice is nice, right? As literal as its name, this hidden hawker gem within a clandestine coffee shop along French Road in Lavender serves nice rice bowls with Japanese and French influences.
I came across the two-week-old hawker stall just like everyone else—on Instagram. It’s funny how the algorithm magically knows what I like to see, especially when it comes to food recommendations.
I found out that the owner of Nice Rice, Mandel Ban, was just 25 years old. He had previously worked in a One Michelin-starred Bacchanalia, and later at Vianney Massot. That said, he’s clearly no stranger to the dining scene and it’s only given that one would hold high expectations of the young chef.
Utterly mesmerised by the few images shared by people I assume are family and friends of the owner, I had to clear my plans for the weekend to get a first look. Just saying—the beef bowl with an onsen egg and truffle sauce is priced at just S$10.80. A regular beef bowl from any other restaurant would easily be priced more than twice this price. Plus, was it just a one-hit-wonder?
The location itself was a tad iffy, as it occupies the corner stall of the coffee shop under Block 802 along French Road. Diners were few as were tables, but uncles chilling with a beer bottle or two were aplenty. I won’t lie, but it did seem out of place to be feasting on the fancy bowls within a dim and quiet space.
Oh well, enough about the atmosphere. It’s time to determine if Nice Rice has nice rice (I couldn’t resist).
What I tried
The main character of Nice Rice hands down goes to the Cow Bowl (S$10.80), which features roasted rump cap steak, truffled onsen egg, garlic confit, roasted eggplant, and scallions on rice—seasoned, of course.
What can I say—this was sublime. The beef slices were beautifully charred to present a mildly crisp exterior and a blushing pink interior. Despite not being the best cut of beef, the execution did the cow justice. So tender and smooth, and worth every cent.
Every component of this bowl deserves a huge shoutout. From the execution of the perfectly seared steak slices to the well-balanced seasoned rice and perfect onsen egg—it’s awfully hard to believe this only cost S$10.80. Even the garlic confit was a divine touch, bringing the bowl together. A living testament to Chef Mandel’s culinary skills and love for French cuisine.
Again, for its price point, it’s impossible to find a fault in this dish. You get what you pay for and I’d willingly settle for Nice Rice’s superior Cow Bowl if I’m craving for a beef bowl while on a budget.
Now, the bar is set really high. Instead of opting for a chicken bowl, I jumped onto the unassuming Fish Bowl (S$7.80), featuring grilled sea bass. It’s not every day you find a white fish rice bowl within a hawker centre, right?
So, sea bass is pretty common in Western contemporary cuisine. Hence, it was exciting to see this option that Chef Mandel added to the menu. It steers away from typical choices and I’ll be honest, I’m so glad there’s a white fish option. It’s always salmon, salmon, and more salmon. About time the other fishes get the spotlight!
I squeezed the lemon atop the fish and rice and gave it a good mix. The skin was not as crispy as I wanted but hey, who am I to complain? This is as good as it gets when it comes to hawker delights.
Yes, yes, and YES. The emphasis is necessary to get my point across. The fish fillet was soft and tender, but not quite melt-in-your-mouth, which I personally favoured. The kick of lemon helped to tone down the fishiness, which was crucial for this bowl.
While the bowl was on the dry side, the flavour combination came through with the seasoned rice to make this a spectacular find. I’d say it’s worth adding a sauce of your choice from the sides menu to coat the dish as it seeps down into the rice, uniting the two core elements.
Ugh, as if it couldn’t get any better, I turned to the final bowl of the meal with expectations through the roof. The Super Bowl (S$8.80) is one for salmon lovers, and at its given price point, I don’t see how anyone would hesitate to get this.
Graced with the usual suspects from the previous bowls, this one swaps the regular protein with a generous helping of aburi (flamed-torched) salmon slices with the house special aioli. It’s topped with tobiko (fish roe) and a cheeky little fried salmon skin. Of course, as basic as I am, I added the Truffled Onsen Egg for an additional S$1.20. I mean, why not?
Again, no surprise this was a stunner. The flame-torched salmon slices were well-cooked on top, and slightly under on the bottom. Together with the umami fish roe and mayonnaise, it’s almost impossible to go wrong with this combination.
It made me wonder, how would Chef Mandel take on the mentaiko trend, if he were to jump on the bandwagon? All I know is, if he’s going to be adding new items to the Nice Rice menu—someone better call me!
Already reeling from the spectacular rice bowls, I tried the Battered Onion Rings with Garlic Aioli (S$4) which was recommended to me by the staff. These golden rings are made in-house, battered upon order, and served with a house special sauce.
Crispy, crunchy, and seasoned perfectly. It was not too oily, unlike how most I’ve tried were. No doubt, the garlic aioli was much thinner in consistency, yet it succeeded in playing the trusty sidekick to the hero snack. I wouldn’t skip this if I were you.
Come for the Cow Bowl, stay for the entire menu. Unearthing this hidden hawker gem is by far one of my best finds this year and it’s only a matter of time they get the recognition they deserve.
While the location could definitely be improved, the bowls are worth enduring the dodgy space. Mad respect for Chef Mandel and the team; now, excuse me while I plan my next visit!
Expected damage: S$5.80 – S$10.80
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Our Rating: 4.5 / 5
802 French Road, #01-69, Singapore 200802
802 French Road, #01-69, Singapore 200802