Sunday, September 26, 2021

We visited every restaurant, stall, and diner in UTown so you don’t have to.

Michael Sagna
Michael Sagna, ‘23, is a GA major in Cendana. Bursting with unsolicited opinions, he passes his time playing volleyball (badly), eating rambutan alone in his room, and perfecting his shakshuka recipe.

Story | Michael Sagna, he/him, Managing Editor and Billy Tran, he/him, Editor

Photo | Michael Sagna, National University of Singapore

Food is something that can make or break your day. For UTown residents without kitchens, the importance of food is amplified simply because our options are so limited. 

So what does UTown have to offer? Which restaurants or stalls are affordable, and which should I avoid? Can I fulfill my dietary requirements in UTown, or am I doomed to ordering Haakon on GrabFood every day? 

As a junior, it took me two years to be acquainted with the food options at UTown. Continue reading for a comprehensive review of the restaurants, diners, and stalls of our campus. 

Disclaimer: Please note that the Indian stall in Fine Foods and the Nasi Padang restaurant in Foodclique were omitted, as they weren’t open during the testing period. 

Restaurants

*NEW* Chop Chop by Putien

5/5

$$

Credit: Michael Sagna

The new kid on the block, Chop Chop, is a brand founded by Fujianese Michelin-Star-winning restaurant Putien. Located at the Create Tower in UTown, the restaurant has a well-lit and classy interior, packing a lot of seating into  a relatively small space. 

Contrary to its glitzy appearance, the range of meals offered is quite limited, serving only 6 main course meals, but understandably so — Chop Chop is not meant to be a Putien imitation. Rather, it offers the more affordable version of a few of the restaurant’s highlights. A main course alone will set you back between $7 and $8, whereas a meal option adds the starter of the day and a drink for just $1 extra. 

Though the seaweed starter and Chinese Mustard Porridge are pretty standard, Fried Heng Hwa Bee Hoon is what really stands out. The noodles are aromatic and flavorful, but Putien’s chilli sauce makes the dish dance. Similarly, on its own, the cabbage rice can start tasting boring very quickly, but with chilli it really comes to life. If you’re extra hungry, I would definitely recommend adding the pork bun ($2.90) which is surprisingly well-made for its price point. 

No doubt, by next week Chop Chop will already be one of UTown’s favorite foods. Though the price point is higher than other UTown food, so is the quality one can expect from it. Putien knew what it was doing by opening this restaurant in UTown. 

Hwang’s

4.5/5

$

Credit: National University of Singapore

Hwang’s, a Korean diner located opposite fine foods on the South side of UTown Green, has grown to become very popular, not just among Koreaboos…

After going to the counter, you are greeted by an endearing Korean uncle or auntie who takes your order, which will be prepared fresh by chefs working in the back. Meals in the eatery are also affordable for most students, with most dishes in the $5 to $8 range including rice, kimchi, and soup. Furthermore, many of the dishes feel healthy.

Highlights include the dolsot bibimbap, tofu soup, spicy beef bowl, and tteokbokki, though you should only buy the tteokbokki earlier in the day otherwise the sauce gets thick and clumpy. 

Sapore’s

4/5

$$

Credit: National University of Singapore

Sapore, pronounced “Sa-poor-ay” rather than “Sa-poor,” is an Italian restaurant also on the south side of the green. Unlike Hwang’s, it is not a lunch-break type of restaurant, and for that reason it is often busier at night. 

The restaurant is also unlike Hwang’s in that its main customer base is not NUS students, but rather the (white) Western professors who work here. Every evening, around 7pm, one can observe a huddle of professors dining there, drinking beers and eating pizza. And it’s not difficult to see why: Anyone who has been to the restaurant knows that the scene offers a departure from the over-greasy and over-cheesed Singaporean style of pizza or the weirdly tasteless spaghetti bolognese which is popular in hawker centers’ Western stalls. The flavor of the dishes is well-balanced, even though some of them may not be what is found in Italy. 

The price of a meal is somewhat similar to what you would expect in Saizeriya. Whenever I go, I always budget $10-ish for the carbonara, which is decent, or a Quattro Formaggi pizza, and another $5 for the tiramisu which is definitely worth trying if you’re into it. Oh, and be sure to order from the student menu, or things get expensive quite quickly. 

Udon Don Bar

2/5

$$

Credit: National University of Singapore

Udon Don Bar is a Japanese restaurant on the corner next to the bus stop, specializing in udon and donburi. Its interior is nice and bright with a string of lights which try to encapsulate the vibrance of a place like Shibuya. 

Unfortunately, that’s probably the only good thing about it. The food is decidedly mediocre, with the pork donburi being especially flavorless and dry. Couple this with the higher-than-average prices (roughly $10 to $12 for a donburi or udon bowl), and it becomes less and less apparent why the ‘bar’ is often crowded. I would have assumed it’s because the place serves beer, but because its prices are astronomical, at $10 per bottle, it’s rare to actually see anyone drinking in the restaurant. 

The whole experience of that restaurant left me scratching my head, but it’s still in business so I guess it’s working for someone. 

The Royal’s Bistro

3/5

$$$

Credit: National University of Singapore

Owned by the cake company Royal’s Cakes, The Royal’s Bistro is a peculiar one just because it is not immediately apparent exactly who its target demographic is. 

It’s essentially an expensive Western food place. While you can buy a shepherd’s pie for $8 to $9, other mains like sandwiches, pasta, and lamb are more expensive at $12.90 and $18.90 respectively. At such a price point, you would expect the offerings to be more interesting, but, quite frankly, the menu is rather uninspired. After a few minutes looking at the menu, it becomes obvious that it is just meant to frame the cakes which the place offers, and that they, rather than the food, are the star of the show. 

The signature ‘Royal’s Beef Burger’ is essentially a Big Mac without the taste of Mac sauce. Instead, the flavor is meant to be provided by the relish, but I found it to be bland. Conversely, the patty was overpowered by the taste of onions in the mince, which were cut too coarsely to have been well cooked when the patty was on the grill. In this Covid economy, it isn’t clear who is going to spend $12.90 on a burger set that doesn’t even come with a drink. Essentially, Royal’s is to Western food what Udon Don Bar is to Japanese food—a more expensive and mediocre version of it. 

However, Royal’s does have some redeeming qualities. The food is freshly prepared, and a lot of the sets come with a side salad which really is dressed well. Though not salty enough for my liking, the fries have a nice crunch to them and are fluffy on the inside. The garlic bread is also known to be good. 

WaaCow

4/5

$$$

Credit: National University of Singapore

Feeling bougie and don’t want to travel out of UTown? Then WaaCow is the way to go. Their rice bowls are carefully crafted. Each bite can sometimes actually melt in your mouth.

But another thing that’ll be melting is a hole in your wallet as each meal averages at least $15 to $20. That being said, they do post weekly deals on their Telegram channel, offering salmon poke or beef bowls from $9.90. 

Some notable specials include mentaiko butadon, truffle sukiyaki, and braised butadon—all receiving rave reviews from the general UTown population. In short, WaaCow is a delectable treat every now and then, but let’s be real: We’re college students; we can’t afford this every day.

2359

3/5

$

Located opposite FairPrice Xpress on the lower level of the Stephen Riady Centre, 2359 is a Hong Kongese cafe which sells a variety of dishes from the city. (The name of the restaurant is misleading, however, as they stop serving quite a while before midnight.) 

The majority of the menu is based on fried noodles or fried rice. They even have a prep station in the front which allows you to see them making the food. The portion sizes are quite big for the price, which is between $5 to $8 for most dishes. 

Everyone I have spoken to about this restaurant seemed quite indifferent to its flavor. The food served is average. It’s the type of place that you yourself wouldn’t recommend going to, but if someone insisted, you would just go. For this reason, the food is uncontroversial but also forgettable. 

I would recommend visiting the restaurant if there’s something specific you want to try that is not served elsewhere in UTown, like the truffle fries with grated cheese. These were a favorite of mine in my first year and while the portion size is too large to properly enjoy, they were quite good. Overall, the restaurant makes Hong Kong’s food look mediocre. When borders open again, it’s nowhere near the top of my list to visit. 

SuperSnacks

3.5/5

$

Credit: National University of Singapore

SuperSnacks, located underneath Foodclique, is NUS’s favorite problematic fast food diner. The diner is infamous for only paying its student workers a measly $8 per hour and it also has a relatively fast staff turnover rate. 

Nevertheless, SuperSnacks is popular for its long opening hours. In theory they only close at 2, but in practice they accept final orders around 12:45 am. SuperSnacks is a run-of-the-mill fast food place specializing in chicken burgers and quesadillas (embarrassingly spelt casadias) to fulfil those late-night post-training cravings. 

The most popular dishes are probably the soy ice cream and the waffles. (I would recommend staying away from waffles at peak times because, with only two waffle machines, there have been times that I have waited for over 40 minutes for a single waffle.) 

For something light, try the chicken and cheese quesadillas. Or if you’re looking for something a bit heavier, the spicy Korean fried chicken burger is a good option. 

Starbucks

3/5 

$$

Credit: National University of Singapore

Located under the ERC, UTown Starbucks is pretty unremarkable. The interior design is clean and bright. It is air conditioned rather strongly. This makes it one of the university’s favorite study spots. Fun fact: The seating area of Starbucks is actually owned by NUS, so there’s no obligation to buy anything to go and sit there. 

Regarding food and drinks, Starbucks is the same everywhere, so there’s nothing much to say, except that turning up to seminars with a Starbucks cup feels like class violence, considering that the $6 you pay for a cup of mediocre coffee will buy you a whole meal elsewhere in UTown. 

Fine Food

Fine Food, which, rather fittingly, is the bougier of the two food courts, is located up the stairs on the South side of UTown green. The food court boasts a modern and clean white interior, a varied range of seating options, and, most importantly, full air conditioning.

Credit: National University of Singapore

Japanese/Korean

2/5

$

Like all Japanese/Korean places in hawker centers and coffee shops, this restaurant was always going to be cursed. The food is very forgettable, with the chicken which comes on a hot plate lacking any flavor, but overcompensating in oil. On the positive side, the bibimbap is decent, though nowhere near as good as that of Hwang’s. 

Though this stall is not bad, it’s certainly not good. 

Duck/Chicken Rice

4/5

$

Inhabiting UTown with the more famous TianTian Hainanese chicken rice as a competitor, it was always going to be an uphill battle for this stall. Nevertheless, I reckon that the duck/chicken rice managed to hold its own, not for its chicken rice, which is quite average, but for its duck rice. 

The duck, which is quite affordable at about $4, is roasted to perfection, and served with a bowl of rice. It really hits the spot and satisfies cravings whenever they arise, though it may not be something that you eat on a daily basis. 

Mixed Greens

4.5/5

$

Mixed Greens, a SaladStop! rip-off which recently replaced the Thai food stall, is surprisingly good. Though I initially had trouble finding a coherent mix of bases, greens (known as regular toppings), and proteins (premium toppings), once I perfected it I was able to enjoy a tasty and nutritious bowl of salad. 

The secret is not to get a rice base, as the texture goes weird when you add a dressing. The Japanese sesame is a highlight, while the balsamic and olive oil are of lower quality than I would have expected. I would recommend a lettuce and fusilli base, any 3-4 vegetable toppings, and either the duck or the teriyaki chicken. 

The only downside is the price. Because a salad is essentially grass, I always find myself having to get a couple of proteins and four to five greens, or I find myself hungry a couple of hours later. All this considered, the salad bowl is slightly on the expensive side, typically ranging between $7 to $8.50 for a bowl. For context, each regular topping is 60 cents and each premium topping is $1.20, on top of a base price. 

Otherwise, the stall is a great, healthy addition to the UTown food offering.

Happy Noodle Bar

3.75/5

$

Happy Noodle Bar offers a range of Singaporean noodles like Laksa, Bak Chor Mee, and Banmian, as well as its own ‘Signature Happy Noodle’ which contains a fried egg, beancurd skin, and a crab stick. I tried the latter and I was pleasantly surprised. 

The soup was nice and homely, whereas the noodles were cooked slightly al dente (as they should be). The choice of a fried egg was questionable as it was slightly oily and did not go completely with the dish’s flavors. A soft-boiled egg might have been better suited to the dish, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the world. The rest of the toppings which went into the dish comprised a broad range of intense savor. The meatball and the crabstick, for example, contrasted, though I wouldn’t go as far as saying that they clashed. 

Overall, the stall is a good representation of Singapore’s noodles. I would definitely go again, though it’s not anything to write home about. 

Five Grains Bee Hoon

4/5

$

Five Grains Bee Hoon sells noodle-based soup dishes with a particular focus on those which are fish-based. 

The food is quite straightforward, and the portion sizes are enormous, easily the biggest in UTown. Though I found the spicy noodle soup to be on the oilier side, they hit the spot. Also worth mentioning is the Signature Fish Bee Hoon, which surprisingly doesn’t taste fishy in the slightest, combining homely flavors with well-cooked noodles. 

This is probably the most underrated stall in UTown. It’s safe to say that I’ll definitely be returning. 

Mixed Vegetable Rice

3.5/5

$

If Fine Food’s mixed vegetable rice was the only one in UTown, it would probably be just as popular as the Foodclique one is. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

A prisoner of Fine Food’s smaller stall sizes, the stall’s options are nowhere near as expansive as the Foodclique stall’s. Everyone I seemed to speak to about it concluded that the food was unnecessarily greasy. Nevertheless, the customer service is amazing, and the staff are always friendly. 

Comparison truly is the thief of joy. This stall’s offerings are nowhere near bad, but they’re not particularly good, either, especially when compared with the other CaiFan stall in UTown. If you end up in FineFoods, however, and have a strong craving for mixed vegetable rice, you may as well try this place. You probably won’t be disappointed. 

Nano Partea

3.5/5

$

Replacing Gong Cha which opened in 2018, Nano Partea has big shoes to fill. Though the famous boba brand opened to much fanfare, it shut down before summer.

Within such a context, it is difficult to understand what motivated the owner of Nano Partea to open. If Gong Cha couldn’t be successful, what makes them think that they would be? Is their tea that good?

This is the question I sought to answer when trying Nano for the first time. After discussing the confusing menu with the cashier, I ordered some variation of pearl milk tea, which really wasn’t cheap at about $4. “In a world where LIHO exists and has a $2 student deal, what business does this random boba shop have charging students $4 for milk tea?” I asked myself. 

When I tried the tea, however, I understood the appeal. The tea is strong without being overpowering, and the boba is noticeably fresher than that of other boba stores. Another time I went, Nano had run out of boba, and I naively chose the sakura pearls. Safe to say, I’ll never be doing that again.

We’ll have to see if this is enough to keep the stall open and profitable.

Xiao Long Bao

4.5/5

$

Specializing in Xiao Long Bao, this stall’s dishes are commonly compared to those offered by Din Tai Fung. The XLB stall makes noodles (and dumplings I assume) from scratch in the back, meaning that it’s not uncommon to see them tossing around dough. 

This freshness is reflected in the dishes, which are noticeably tastier than those of other stalls. The XLB are served piping hot and filled with soup, perfect for sharing with friends. The chilli oil dumpling noodles are also a popular option, though the freshly made dough the noodles are made with sometimes clumps together, which can be very frustrating. Despite this minor inconvenience, the noodles really do hit the spot, and, rather surprisingly, aren’t too oily. Pair this with great prices ($5 for XLB or $5.50 for noodles), and it’s easy to see why XLB is as popular as it is.

Mala

2.5/5

$

As much as I would love for it to be good, the mala stall at Fine Food can only be described as lackluster. Though the range of options for ingredients is expansive, encompassing a broad variety of vegetables, meats, and tofu. The mala base, on the other hand, is at best mediocre, and at worst, tasteless. I have, countless times, ordered mala from there and been left scratching my head. “Maybe it’s because I ordered Xiaola [less spicy],” I would ask myself. But why should I have to question my mala order? Isn’t it the stall’s job to make whatever I order good?

Wok Fried 

4.5/5

$

Wok Fried is one of the simple pleasures in life. The stall serves a variety of dishes, almost all of which are based on the concept of plain rice served and a bowl of soup, served with a fried chicken or pork dish. 

The dishes don’t reinvent the wheel—they’re all loosely based on Chinese stir-fried dishes, with dishes like plum fried chicken, and sweet chilli pork. However, what they all have in common is that they’re on the sweeter side, and very satisfying. The soup isn’t anything special, tasting like water, salt, and MSG, though it’s certainly a nice addition to counterbalance the sweetness of the sauces used in the cooking. The stall is also affordable, with most dishes around the $5 mark for NUS students. 

Wok Fried encapsulates the idea of simple food done well. 

Taiwan Cuisine

4.5/5

$$

Just walking by the stall, a whiff of the aromatic fried chicken is enough to tempt you into buying it. Taiwan Cuisine lives up to its name, reminding you of the crispy, juicy roadside stalls that you just can’t resist.

They serve fried chicken, mala fried chicken, battered mushrooms, and more. Their standard crispy chicken meal is filling, with a lot more chicken than you would expect, and served with some rice and half a boiled egg. It’ll only cost you $6 too, which is plenty affordable and definitely cheaper than ordering McDonald’s. 

Western

3.5/5

$$

This Western stall is unlike the typical ones you see in food courts and hawker centers. Instead of the typical chicken chops, you get to pick and choose the items you want in your meal, similar to Yong Tau Foo.

You can choose from bases such as tomato or carbonara pasta, and then select toppings such as spinach, eggs, or a fish patty. While it may seem simple, their pastas do have a nice and rich taste. Regardless of what you pick, it all comes together in a wonderful medley anyhow.

Plus, the stall owner is lovely, and that’s always an extra reason to visit.

Hong Kong Gourmet

3.5/5

$

Hong Kong delights is a stall that is easy to miss. Tucked away behind the Kopitiam, the stall serves a variety of Cantonese snacks, including carrot cake, spring rolls, and egg tarts. 

The latter were rather disappointing, with the filling tasting more like an omelette than egg tart filling. What’s more, these tarts were made with shortcrust, rather than puff pastry. This meant that the crust was unsatisfying in both texture and sweetness. 

The spring rolls, on the other hand, were genuinely delightful, with a thin pastry which delivered a solid crunch yielding to a nice vegetable filling. The stall is also affordable, even for what it is, with spring rolls coming in at roughly a dollar and a half for a roll which is about 13cm long, and egg tarts at $1.20.

Flavours @ UTown (Foodclique)

Flavours @ Utown, known colloquially by the name of its Kopitiam, Foodclique, is located on the western perimeter of UTown green. It has both air-conditioned and open-air sections, with the latter allowing for small birds to fly happily around the stalls. 

Credit: National University of Singapore

Japanese

3/5

$

The Japanese stall here has the typical menu items you’d expect—katsu chicken, katsu fish, and curry rice. The portions are big and hearty, the curry has a nice flavor to it, like your standard Japanese stall. Sometimes, the curry can be a bit on the sweeter side, but then again, it does the job. 

There’s nothing too special about the stall, but if you’re suddenly craving some katsu chicken with curry rice, then this is the place to go.

Yong Tau Foo

3.5/5

$

The Yong Tau Foo place in Foodclique is surprisingly good. The first time I went for Laksa… I was really amazed by how creamy and spicy the dish was, and how I had never tried the stall, which is seemingly a favorite among students. 

Since then, I have been there multiple times, and have been disappointed almost every time to find that they had run out of laksa soup base. It’s very awkward to learn this at a Yong Tau Foo place, especially during a pandemic, because I couldn’t turn around and put the pieces I had picked back. Every time, I would stutter and take some other soup option which, in all honesty, just ended up being mediocre. 

Despite this, the Yong Tau Foo items were actually quite good. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, but they tasted fresh (yes, I know they’re heavily processed), and were much more flavorful than the ingredients of other stalls I have attended outside NUS. 

Western place

4/5

$$(and a half)

The Western stall, like so many other Western stalls around in Singapore, belongs to Astons. That being said, what you get is a reliable place for a solid chicken chop. With a wide menu selection ranging from seven different flavors of chicken chop, steaks, pork chops, and pasta, there’s plenty to choose from.

Each meal comes with two side dishes that you can choose, with the choices including mashed potatoes, fries, coleslaw, garden salads, and more. Although it is slightly more expensive than other meals in UTown, you do get a slightly bigger portion and more protein for that bulking up.

Taiwanese Place

4.5/5

$

A student favourite, the Taiwanese stall offers a range of dishes which center around Taiwanese style noodles and rice. 

The stall, like Fine Food’s Xiaolongbao stall, has big Din Tai Fung energy, cooking a few dishes which can be found on the famous restaurant’s menu. Whether you want shrimp rice, pork rice, dumplings, vinegar noodles, or spicy food, the stall has something for you, all cooked well and with love. The beef noodle soup is perfect for a rainy day, whereas I’d always find myself running to Foodclique between classes to grab some of the chilli oil dumplings. 

Everything in the Taiwanese stall hits just right, and it has certainly become a staple of NUS cuisine.

Mala

4/5 

$$

Offering a range of Sichuan dishes, the mala stall at Foodclique is undoubtedly much better than that of Fine Food. 

The spice levels are appropriate, with the mala base balancing nicely between spice and saltiness. For mala, the price is pretty standard — for context, I pay roughly $12 for a bowl of mala with two ramen bricks, an assortment of greens, and some meat. The range of options is also decent, though not as expansive as that of the other mala stall. I also think there could be more peanuts sprinkled on top of the mala, but at this point I’m nitpicking.

Noodles

3/5

$

When asked to describe the noodle shop at Foodclique, nothing much comes to mind.

The mincemeat noodles were cooked well, though they were slightly less flavorful than I would have liked. Unfortunately, the star of the dish, the mincemeat, was hardly present — I counted only 3 pieces of mincemeat in the whole bowl. I know the dish was cheap at just $3.80, but the economy isn’t that bad… Luckily, the mushrooms stepped in and carried the whole dish, providing flavor and texture where the mincemeat could not. 

The chili noodles, on the other hand, were slightly better. Again, the noodles were cooked well and the chilli sauce was a lot more flavorful. What’s more, the egg that came with the dish was runny (unlike that which came with the mincemeat noodles), meaning that the dish was a much better experience. 

Overall, the stall is very hit or miss. I would advise customers to stick to the more flavorful dishes or risk being disappointed, and, more importantly, dissatisfied. 

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

4/5

$

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is just another outlet of the popular local brand. The stall, which attracts a queue at peak times, offers a few variations of the staple Singaporean dish. The chicken is good, as is the rice, and it’s an affordable meal option. There’s not much else to say, other than that it is a solid example of chicken rice. 

Mixed Veg Rice

4/5

$

Every lunch hour there can be up to dozens of people queuing up for the Caifan stall, and I don’t blame them! There’s a wide selection of good dishes to choose from, a reliable quality, and an affordable price tag. The availability of greens, which are quite scarce in UTown, also makes the stall stand out as a somewhat healthy option. 

I had a lot of fun writing these reviews. Consciously going to each and every stall in UTown showed me that UTown is a dynamic and social space filled with good food options. The views in the article were my own, and as the old adage goes, opinions are like armpits—everybody has one, and half the time they stink. For this reason, I encourage everyone to go and try for themselves. If you  have any strong opinions about the contents of this article, feel free to drop a comment below to let everyone know!

1 COMMENT

  1. It looks always good to read about the tasty food and the rich culture of Singapore. I always wish to explore completely my place, but only able to cover few points. Hope this will going to be happen soon. Thanks for the great food help, Subscribed your blog.

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