You snooze, you lose… out on the newest and third concept of Cookyn–Grub Noodle Bar–after Grub cafe and Fix cafe. Different from the cafes, the noodle bar aims to serve a supper crowd. Characteristic of Chef Mervyn Phan‘s style, the food is health conscious, bright, innovative, and possesses a Japanese element.
Having tried all 9 dishes on the short menu, the live tiger prawns ($15) left an indelible impression: muscular and fresh, they were steamed in sake, garlic, and ginger glaze, imbuing the prawns with the sweetness of the Japanese rice wine. I also liked the deep-fried battered baby cuttlefish ($9, below), a softer, tastier, chicken-popcornish version of calamari, great to pair with German craft beers on tap (Weihenstephan $12).
The plump Venus clams ($13) in beer, toasted ginger, and lemongrass broth received good reviews all round the table. An underaged boy, sitting with me, relished it, clam after clam. But there was a slight bitterness, probably from the beer, that I couldn’t take to. The Hokkaido scallop tataki ($15, below), lightly torched with mustard glaze and mandarin, was a Jennifer Lawrence, i.e., everybody loved it.
My Penang friend remarked that Grub’s Assam laksa ($13) wasn’t as shiok, as spicy, as sour, as robust as the Penang version; the Penang version would make you sweat instantly, he said. But I liked it. I liked that it was refreshing, and I could taste all different flavors at once: the sweetness of prawns, the sourness of pineapple, the piquancy of assam, the sharp pungent bitterness of red onion, the heat of chilli. I liked that in different mouthfuls, there were different combinations of flavors. I liked the lightness of the dense gravy, made from sardines, not the traditional mackerel, to keep the pricing competitive. I liked it that I could finish the entire bowl, and still crave for a second.
But no, don’t get a second. Get the beef noodles ($12-$19), the star of the shop. The soup, without MSG or artificial seasoning, is boiled for a full day and was very, very sweet. I drank two bowls. The thinly sliced beef dipped in chinchalok produced an uplifting umami. At first, I didn’t like the ramen, made freshly everyday, because it had a distinctive earthly flavor. But this boiled down to my personal preference, and not any fault of the dish.
What really shone through in this bowl of beef noodle was how elements from different cultures came together to such great effect: the Japanese/Chinese egg noodle; the Chinese zhajiangmian-like sauce; the (Swedish?) Western-styled meatballs; the Western Angus beef; the stewed mushroom (like Singapore’s bak chor mee); the Hainanese habit of eating beef with chinchalok; and an invented, sui generis beef broth. You can call this the United Colors of Beefnoddon. There is a lesson xenophobic people can learn from this dish.
With food this good, who wants to sleep? As my friend says, “Sleep is for losers. I’ll sleep when I die.” Everybody, stay up for supper tonight.
Grub Noodle Bar Singapore
221 Rangoon Road, Singapore 218459
T: +65 6341 5631
7pm-12.30am (closed Mondays, and last Tuesday of the month)
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
Thanks, Maureen, for the invited tasting.