WOK & ROLL
April 30, 1999
Unmistakably Wok & Roll: just take one look at the ceiling, and you'll know where you are
150 Orchard Road #03.70 Orchard Plaza Singapore 238841
Tel: 6836.6626 Fax: 6836.6878
Update 12th Aug 2000 : Wok & Roll restaurant is no longer open to non-members of the Fort Canning Country Club
E A S Y O N T H E E Y E
At Wok & Roll, Tan Su Yen gets to choose from eight different categories of Asian cooking, and reacquaints herself with some regional favorites
After the old Shanghai elegance of Club Chinois and the revolutionary zeal of House of Mao, the Tung Lok Group's latest restaurant has latched on to an idea that is simplicity itself. Wok & Roll at Fort Canning Country Club is all about "easy dining" says Andrew Tjioe, the Group's president.
The restaurant actually started life as a New Asian restaurant. But that fusion experiment was short-lived - in fact, the party to launch the restaurant was called off at the eleventh hour.
Says Mr. Tjioe: "We had a problem because the word New Asian has been overplayed and adulterated. First, the concept was not convincing because Asian cuisine is so diverse, it is impossible to melt everything into one menu. Secondly, trying to do that was a very unsatisfying experience."
Mr. Tjioe wisely chose to go back to the drawing board with the support of his understanding landlord. Ten months later, Wok & Roll was, literally, ready to roll.
Says Mr. Tjioe of the latest baby in his 15-restaurant stable: "We want to create an easy dining place where people can relax and enjoy what they grew up eating or the food they enjoy from their travels in the region."
Designed by food and beverage interiors expert Ed Poole on a shoestring budget of $100,000, Wok & Roll is certainly easy on the eye.
Forty woks are suspended from the ceiling, both in deference to Andrew Tjioe's age and the wok's exalted place in the Asian kitchen. The walls are a restful shade of ruby and the anklung music is relaxing but not so soothing that you fall asleep thinking you're at the Banyan Tree spa.
The all-Asian menu stands out for its sheer variety. There is an a la carte menu, but most meals are presented as single price, "eat-all-you-can" offerings.
At lunch, there is a popiah set lunch priced at $12.80 for a minimum of two persons. It includes a soup, either kambing or chicken with sweet corn, roll-it-yourself popiah and dessert from the buffet.
The dinner set, priced at $5, offers the most bang for your buck with selections from eight categories from seafood to satay to steamed offerings.
It was certainly a hit at a media party last Thursday - there is something about sharing gado gado out of the same plate and comparing your self-wrapped popiahs that encourages a certain bonhomie even among jaded journalists.
Also, there was the thrill of that teahouse favorite - bubble tea. Wok & Roll's bubble tea comes with fancy, multi colored crystals made out of sago flour. Fragrant yam is reminiscent of air Bandung, while red tea is like the milky, iced tea you get in coffee shops.
Lychee, however, is an inspired concoction made from jasmine tea and lychee juice - fragrant, slightly tangy but not sweet.
When we returned on Saturday night, it looked like another party, only this time there were huge extended family groups.
You help yourself to salad, soup and dessert from the buffet, and items like Asian wrap (popiah by another name), satay and grilled seafood which you order and re-order at your pleasure.
Among the appetizers, the strong, spicy flavors of soup kambing attracted quite a following. But it was the ox-tail soup that scored for being unusual and yummy. The consommé was delicately flavored with a tom yam-like sourness that masked the strong beefy flavors of the ox-tail. The Asian wraps on the menu include a fat, crispy Vietnamese spring roll stuffed with tamarind duck. Far from clichéd and very filling. More ordinary but much more fun was the roll-it-yourself popiah with all the condiments laid out in a little portable turntable. The turnip stew that forms the bulk of the filling is almost vegetarian, with no hint of a meat stock, and the dry herbs among the condiment adds a nice, aromatic touch. To cut down on wastage, you get one popiah skin per guest. If you want more you just order again.
But it's best to move on to the generous selection of five different types of satay. We liked the juicy, just cooked yakitori chicken and its Indonesian cousin, the Javanese satay, thick with the flavors of its coriander-based marinade. On to the grills, and here the grilled mackerel (or ikan tenggiri) on banana leaf was moist and just sufficiently oily for the fish skin to be a treat to eat. The sambal in which it was cooked tasted freshly-made and hot without being overpowering.
No self-respecting Asian would pass on seafood and just about every table in the restaurant last Saturday night had a plate of crabs.
The chilli crabs came with an authentic, lightly-spiced sauce, best mopped up with French bread. We tasted the sauce again and again but failed to detect any of the artificial flavors of bottled sauces.
Similarly, the black pepper crabs rang true to their peppery roots. Our only quarrel with the seafood was that it lacked the succulence that would have made the dish sparkle.
The same "fresh enough but not superb" observation applied to the grilled king prawns. But then again, the portions were large and we could have seconds or more.
There was the Asian steamer category to go but we passed on the dimsum and went straight to the steamed otak. Flavoured with basil and limau perut, it was served in a little green jar and topped with coconut cream.
At the press party, the desserts got the thumbs up for being at once Asian and novel. We ate very well on a cempedak roll, in which the sweet. moist fruit was encased in filo pastry, a comforting Thai pumpkin and kaya confection, and a wine- based jelly.
When we returned over the weekend, there was a durian-flavored sago pudding and a mango sago soup but, alas, a Swiss roll stood where the cempedak roll had been.
Still, at $25+++ per person, we really couldn't grumble as the evening was easy on the pocket and we rolled home happy.
Overall rating: 6.5 out of 10 Dress Code: Casual