For starters, the short, suave server with perfectly sleek hair recommended, “The May May Bossam ($12, pictured below) is like Korean BBQ when you wrap the meat in lettuce, but I won’t tell you what meat it is. You have to guess.”
After I tasted it, he returned and asked, “Do you know what it is?”
I replied, “Is it watermelon? I had it at other restaurants before.”
He looked disappointed that he couldn’t elicit a look of surprise from me. That was the game I played the entire night–figuring out May May’s menu–and it wasn’t hard. May May mixes up familiar Asian food–mostly Korean, Japanese, Thai–in different combinations.
Case in point: the overly salty double fried chicken ($16), probably a play on Taiwanese fried chicken 咸酥鸡, came with a dip as if BBQ sauce and ssamjang had a baby.
The starters were fairly disappointing but the mains were a surprise comeback. The lobster noodles ($30) had a rather complex, but greasy, broth: started like a non-spicy tom yum, ending like a green curry. Similar to a donburi, wagyu beef ($32), also greasy, came with Japanese rice that was seared on the surface so its texture was like crispy rice bibimbap on hot stone. The dish only works if you eat a bit of crispy rice, seaweed salsa verde, and rocket leaves together, giving a mix of textures and flavours of crispiness, crunchiness, softness, bitterness, sweetness, and piquancy.
But the biggest flaw of the mains is the meat has no interaction with the carbs. You could take the lobster out of the lobster noodles, and take wagyu out of the beef donburi, and the dishes still work.
To a Western palate, I suppose the food can hold some surprises (the customers were mostly Whites that night); but to my Asian palate, the Asian fusion food is like a desperate man who tries too hard to impress a woman he is wooing, and because he’s overzealous, comedy or tragedy ensues. I’m hard-pressed to think of a reason why I would recommend anyone well-versed in Asian cuisine to May May when Tanjong Pagar is rife with authentic Korean restaurants, and when Singapore has over 800 Japanese restaurants.
Overpriced black sesame mochi ($12).
To be fair, the food at May May isn’t bad. And comparing with Ding Dong just a few streets away, which has a similar Asian fusion concept, May May is far superior in terms of food, pricing, decor, and service. When I first entered May May with a wide open space of tall ceiling and skylight, I felt as if I was on a mountain top and, away from the city, I could finally breathe properly.
We paid $102 for 2 persons. When we saw there was no service charge, we quickly tipped them the 10% because the service was impeccable; the suave waiter could banter with us, and I appreciate appropriate small talk. This is a case where the service and space ameliorate the disappointment in food.
65 Tras Street, Singapore 079004
T: +65 6221 4698
M-Sat: 11am-3pm (lunch), 3-6pm (coffee), 6-11pm (dinner)
Rating: 3.75/5 (I gave the service 8/10, and decor 10/10, pulling up the average score)
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.