Passion. The single most important factor for me when I do any evaluation of any kind. Be it when I was managing teams or when assessing cooks and their food. Today's review is on a wanton mee stall, and the chief motivator for the stall has so much passion for his noodles, I really have to sit up and listen.
A recent graduate in chemistry from NUS and soon to be bound for his Ph.D. in either Cambridge or the US...this passionate young man spent some 9 months trying to perfect his idea of the reference wantan mee. The stall is tucked in a corner in a coffee shop by Holland Drive. And his mother Esther takes charge.
They sell only one type of noodles...with home made char siew and home made deep fried wanton. No soup option, no wanton in the soup either. And with the signature red ring of chilli...which is actually incorporated into the sauce.
The preparation story is almost as interesting as the tasting....the noodles are cooked to perfection and precision that only a scientist would be able to make possible. The cooking is done with a special automated machine, imported from Japan.
Cold water is fed into the cauldron continuously and exchanged all the time. This is to prevent the starch from building up on the cooking water which fouls up the taste. Precision in that the temperature is kept at 100C and the noodles are cooked precisely for 25 seconds. For a bit firmer noodles, this can be tweaked to 21 seconds, and for a softer version, 30 seconds. Impressive.
How does the noodles taste? For me, the 25s version was slightly soft...it was cooked through, and a bit shy of al dente which I prefer. So for me, perhaps the 21s noodles would be the answer. I did not try that. The noodles were nice, smooth, no alkaline (kee) flavour. And absorbs the very special, spicy sauce very well.
Prepared fresh, and only cooked on order. Made with prawns and fresh pork by hand in-situ. Fried to a beautiful crisp. Taste very good. Very good indeed.
And the char siew?
No lapse in attention in the preparation. Roasted daily from scratch without any preservatives, or colouring. The red colour is not from colouring as is the norm in most char siew, but as a natural chemical reaction as the meat is being roasted. This is a complex reaction prior to achieving Maillard, and renders the pink/red meat.
Roasted with a mangrove charcoal specially imported from Malaysia in the roaster shown above right at the coffee shop. Made fresh daily. The pork used is the pig's armpit meat (bu jian tian), and is tender, a bit of marbling. Taste wise it is very nice. But not enough for me to come just for the char siew. For me, the Malaysian style of char siew...crispy almost burnt on the outside, nice and juicy on the inside as exemplified by Meng Kee in KL is still superior.
But taken as a whole, the wanton mee is very well balanced. The noodles are nice. The soup stock is very flavourful and savoury. The signature chilli sauce is quite complementary to the noodles and provides a nice kick. The wantons are the highlight for me...succulent insides, very crisp, fall apart outsides. And the more than capable char siew rounds it up. But it is the passion to excel and to be the best wanton mee in Singapore which won me over. They do have some ways to go before they can achieve fame and perfection in the taste, but I am sure they will continue to improve and be very successful. Red Ring was no more than a fortnight old when I was invited by the owner to come for a tasting. Thanks to Esther for the invitation and hospitality.
Red Ring Wantan Mee
Blk 46 Holland Drive
Red Ring Wantan Mee