Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomefoodFood Picks: Honbo, Banh Mi 29 and Hao You Ji Charcoal Roasted

Food Picks: Honbo, Banh Mi 29 and Hao You Ji Charcoal Roasted


A thick, beefy patty, juicy and cooked medium rare, then stuffed between buns, must surely spell burger bliss, right?

But no. Crust is everything. That has boosted the popularity of the smash burger – made popular by Smashburger, a chain that started in 2007 in Denver in the United States, offering burgers made with patties cooked at high heat on a flat-top grill.

The technique is said to have originated in Kentucky in 1960, when a cook in a burger restaurant smashed a burger patty on the grill using a can of beans.

More contact between patty and cooktop means more serious browning, which results in better flavour. You know, the ang moh version of wok hei.

Honbo, a burger restaurant chain from Hong Kong, opened its first overseas outlet here last week, and smash burgers are on its menu. It has burgers featuring thicker patties, but I would go for the smash any day.

Try the Honbo 1.5 ($23), featuring three of those smashed patties.

Six seared surfaces, alternating with cheese, with pickled Japanese cucumber, onion, housemade sauce and stuffed between potato milk buns. That is very close to burger nirvana for me.

Shake some housemade Flagrant Smash Sauce on the burger – it is a more tart, fiery version of sriracha.

Entrepreneur Michael Chan started the business in Wan Chai in 2017, inspired by the smash burgers he had in Los Angeles. He now has five restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau.

Honbo gets many things right. Those pillowy buns are made with mashed potatoes and were developed together with artisan baker Eric Kayser.

The company also makes the buns for the Singapore restaurant here, delivering them every morning. The crumb is delightfully springy and will not stick to the roof of your mouth.

How much to smash and how long to smash will determine if the patties, made with beef imported from Wisconsin, are dried out or stay juicy. Thankfully, they are smashed just enough.

For a limited time in Singapore, Honbo has a terrific Scallop Burger ($26), featuring two extra-large seared Hokkaido scallops stuffed in the potato buns, with mizuna and a pesto made with parsley and coriander, among other things. It is decadent and delicious.

Good side dishes to order include Buffalo Wings ($15 for five), which startles me with its fiery heat. Good thing there is a creamy blue cheese dip to cool things down.

I prefer thick-cut chips to skinny ones, so the Chilli Fries ($15) do not float my boat. I would gladly eat the Homemade Beef Chilli ($15) on its own any day.

Where: 01-09 Chijmes, 30 Victoria StreetMRT: BugisOpen: Noon to 10pm dailyInfo: www.honbo.com

Banh Mi 29

Banh mi shops proliferate in Singapore, and you would think this is a boon for me, an ardent lover of the Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches.

But no. So many shops fall short of banh mi greatness. Many of them nail the bread, to be sure. Vietnamese-style baguettes have a thin, brittle crust and a light, cottony crumb.

My gripes have to do with everything else in the sandwich. Too often, the daikon and carrots are barely or not pickled. Do chua, which is what the pickles are called, need to be tart to offset the rich meat fillings.

Some places smear a goopy, translucent sauce that looks like phlegm on the sandwich, ruining it for me. There should just be Maggi Seasoning, a sauce that boosts the umami in the sandwich.

Banh Mi 29 in Joo Chiat Road ticks the right boxes for me. The pickles are tart enough.

The Truyen Thong ($6) or traditional sandwich, the one I almost always go for in a banh mi shop, is stuffed with cha lua or Vietnamese pork sausage usually wrapped in banana leaves, and thin slices of pork belly.

A bushel of coriander leaves and scallions are stuffed into the sandwich, together with slices of cucumber and the pickles. The final flourish is a sprinkling of pork floss.

I miss the Maggi Seasoning, but we can’t have everything we want, right?

In the interest of trying new things, I also order the Thit Nuong ($6). The sandwich is stuffed with well-seasoned, properly seared but still juicy little pork patties.

I am working up the courage to try the Pha Lau ($10) or “stew intestines”. The provenance of said intestines is unclear, but perhaps I should just bite the bullet – I mean, baguette.

Where: 01-02, 216 Joo Chiat RoadMRT: EunosTel: 9019-9939Open: Mondays, 2 to 10pm; Tuesdays to Sundays, 9am to 10pm

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Hao You Ji Charcoal Roasted

What do foodie friends do when they get together? Mine organise blind taste tests of this or that. So far, we have done briyani and roast meats.

I have always found these exercises to be useful. When you taste different versions of the same dish side by side, you quickly figure out which ones truly stand out and which are flawed.

So it was that at our recent blind taste test of char siew and roast pork, the char siew from an Ang Mo Kio coffee-shop stall was in top place.

Full disclosure here – it was my contribution to the test. Clearly, I am not the only one who thinks it is the bomb.

The pork at Hao You Ji Charcoal Roasted is not too lean, so it stays juicy. There is just enough sweetness to remind you that you are eating char siew.

Most importantly, the pork is charred just enough. So many of the ones we had that day were bitter from burnt sugar and quite inedible.

I used to ask for fatty char siew, but the danger is that you end up with slices that are all fat. Now, I ask for “not too lean”.

Prices start at $3.80 for a one-person portion with rice. I usually buy 500g ($25) or 1kg ($48) of the char siew and devour it with friends.

So, the stall has terrific char siew. It follows that the roast pork and roast duck are also terrific? But no.

Fans of the stall might protest, but they are nothing to write home about, so save your money.

Where: 01-733 GHK 407 Food House, Block 407 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10MRT: BishanOpen: 9am to 8pm daily

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