“Singaporeans love to queue, but only for good things” says Vincent Chua, Hawker Chan Melbourne’s operations manager. “Same thing with Melbourne, you don’t see them queuing for something that’s bad”.
By that logic, Hawker Chan is very, very good, with queues snaking out of the Lonsdale Street restaurant and up the street when it opened in late December.
The Melbourne location is the first Australian franchise of a restaurant chain that began in 2009 as a hawker food-stall in Singapore, owned by chef Chan Hong Meng. Meng’s life changed when, in 2016, he was awarded a Michelin star.
“One day he was in his stall selling chicken rice as usual; an inspector just sat down, had his chicken rice, then said, ‘This is good’,” says Chua.
A news frenzy about the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal ensued, and locations in Thailand and Taiwan soon followed.
The Melbourne outpost has been carefully designed to replicate the fit-out of the original Hawker Chan: a food-court restaurant in Singapore’s Chinatown Complex.
The result is a 92-seat space, simply furnished with functional tables and wooden chairs. Booth-seating lines one wall, and timber light fixtures reference the chain’s inauspicious hawker stall beginnings. A wall leading up to the counter is furnished with framed reviews of the famous Hong Kong soya chicken-rice dish, promising those in line it’s worth the wait. Chan is tight lipped about his marinade recipe, but has revealed it includes cloves, coriander seed, star anise and Chinese angelica root. The chicken is soaked in the marinade overnight, then braised. The dish costs $6.80 with rice, and $8.80 with noodles.
The rest of the small, Cantonese-inspired menu is largely unchanged from the original. In addition to the soya chicken, there’s also roast pork, char siew (barbeque pork) and pork rib, which come with a choice of rice or noodles. Side dishes of Thai-style tofu, a wonton soup, soy bean sprouts and seasonal vegetables round out the offering.
Despite Hawker Chan’s growth, Meng still makes every batch of his dishes’ secret soya sauce in a small, cloistered kitchen in Singapore, which is then shipped to the other locations.
“There are windows, but they’re blacked out from the inside – he’ll spend the whole day in there,” says Chua. “There were many times that I asked him, ‘Can I just have a look inside, see how big the space is?’ He said, ‘No.’”
Hawker Chan Melbourne
157 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 3000
(03) 9650 8808
Hours: Mon to Sun 10am–10pm
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