Trolley-wheeled food and Hokkaido beef dishes
Taking the lessons its owners AP Company International Singapore picked up dishing out unctuous collagen-rich broths at the local outposts of Tsukada Nojo, The Wagon is a French-Japanese casual that revolves around one gimmick: its namesake food trolley. Still, its credentials look legit. Head chef Makoto Deguchi trades the one-Michelin-starred SOLA in Paris for this airy concrete and metal-themed restaurant, and the bubbly barman Leo 'Chewy' Chue comes from 28HKS*.
Quite like dim sum institutions, most of The Wagon's sharing options are rolled out periodically on a trolley tricked out in tones of blackened metal. Except, the service is thankfully more smiley and the waiters are happy to decipher the array of slabs, jellies and orbs teetered on tartines, packed in jars and tucked into bowls.
One tip The Wagon should have picked up from the Hong Kongers, though: find a way to keep the food at the right temperature. Our first sweaty and rapidly cooling jar of chawanmushi ($18) tastes nothing of the ba kut teh it takes reference from, and a tumble of mayo- and citrus-marinated salmon cubes on a slab of dense and rubbery bread ($8) would have been better a few degrees off fridge-cold. A sweet carrot mousse with fuzzy turmeric orange tongues of uni ($8/10g) spooned on to order – served in a hollowed-out sea urchin shell – is the star of our appetisers, but because we really only like the spiny creature's nether glands.
The Hokkaido beef items on the menu are better bets. Not the carpaccio ($25), though, which is topped with parmesan ice cream that melts to overpower the rocket and mottled shavings of beef shank. The intense three-day-coddled consommé ($18) is tough to share, so save the yuzu pepper-spiked beef dumplings and dill-perfumed clear broth for yourself. Deguchi counts the Japanese-style minced hamburger steak ($35) one of his specialties, and mouthful after mouthful of juicy meat dipped in a sweetish red wine sauce later, we agree.
Ultimately, it's the drinks that are worth falling off the wagon for – and it's good the restaurant has saved space for a bar counter at the front so you can pop in for a sip. Chue works off on recipes put together by Tokyo cocktail pro Shuko Nagumo, who’s lauded for his progressive approach at Code Name Mixology. The cucumber-dominant Garden Ricky ($16), and gin and rose-sugared Raspberry Rose Fizz ($16) are exhilaratingly fresh, while the Houji Your Truffle ($20) masters a clever balance between green tea, vodka, lemon juice and a whiff of truffle infused into honey. Deeper into the drinks menu, a limited wine list of mainly French labels ($15-16/glass, $60-$120/bottle) and craft spirits (with a surprising lack of Japanese whiskies) by the pour ($8-$38) offer more watering options.
In the spirit of Tras Street, the vibe at The Wagon is relaxed and doesn't try too hard to impress. Perhaps the kitchen should. It's hard to completely do away with the gimmick you’ve named your restaurant after, but until The Wagon can find a way to up its dish-wheeling game, it'll be hard to justify rolling in for more than the cocktails.
Update (May 16, 2016): Leo Chue has left The Wagon, and now works at Skinny's Lounge.
|Venue name:||The Wagon||Contact:|
55 Tras St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri noon-2pm & 6pm-midnight; Sat 6pm-midnight|