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Ujong marks the next step in popular local chef Shen Tan’s culinary journey – which saw her quit her corporate job to become a nasi lemak hawker in Maxwell Food Centre and eventually open her own Duxton Hill bistro (the much-missed Wok & Barrel, which closed last March). Now, scoring a prime spot in the iconic Raffles Hotel – taking over the spacious 90-seat corner unit at the junction of North Bridge and Bras Basah Roads previously occupied by Empire Café (the decor’s pretty much the same) – she further establishes herself as a major force on the Singaporean dining scene.
Comparisons to Wok & Barrel are inevitable, especially due to the fact that many of the dishes have been carried over – with a heftier price tag to boot (this is the Raffles Hotel, after all). Sadly, Ujong loses out on some of the fun aspects that made Tan’s Duxton joint so popular, such as the beer-loving chef’s quirky selection of craft brews (for now, there’s a standard list of wines and cocktails) and some of her more casual fusion items (most notably her legendary beef rendang pizza).
Still, things are as meat-friendly as ever (most dishes get a sprinkling of crispy pork lard; here again, there isn’t much on offer for vegetarians, other than a few sides), and Ujong’s menu is a more extensive one, allowing Tan to show off a few more national dishes in her repertoire, such as her Singapore’s chicken rice ($19.90). The thought put into giving the dish her own slant is admirable – the tender chicken is served up alongside three overly-gingery onigiri-shaped rice balls – but we still much prefer Tan’s signature rice dish: nasi lemak, which she pretty much perfected during her hawker days.
Available as a set ($16.90-$19.90, served with achar, ikan billis, an omelet and two homemade sambal chilli pastes, plus your choice of meat) or as an à la carte single serving ($2.90), the fluffy, fragrant and coconut-rich rice is a must-have. (Note: if you’re dining in a group, get the à la carte serving and top it with one of the the misleadingly-named ‘side dishes’, which are actually massive main portions of the meat dishes, from the addictive beef rendang, $17.90, to excellent chicken curry, $15.90).
Rounding out the rice options is the claypot rice ($23.90), which is perhaps the most traditional of Tan’s dishes besides the nasi lemak. Served in an old-school clay pot, which lends a nice, crispy char on the bottom, there’s a flavourful mix of stewed mushrooms and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) with a choice of duck char siew or the five spice pork.
Other dishes veer into the mod-Sin category, such as the ba chor mee pasta ($25.90), served with Tan’s five-spice pork confit and tagliatelle pasta and the hae bee hiam (spicy dried shrimp sambal) mentaiko capellini ($25.90) – both sure to be popular fusion items, though the kitchen tends to make them a bit too dry.
For desserts, there’s of course the Shendol ($15.90), Tan’s take on chendol reimagined as a dual-layer creamy coconut panna cotta and gula melaka jelly with red bean ice cream, along with other old favourites like the stodgy pulot hitam pudding ($15.90), served with coconut ice cream (ask for a proper scoop on the side so it won’t melt away) and yes, more gula melaka butterscotch.
It’s all glorious local comfort food that’s welcome any day of the week – and though Ujong doesn’t quite supplant Wok & Barrel, we’re still happy Tan’s back on the scene and offering up hearty servings of her classics.
#01-10 Raffles Hotel Arcade
328 North Bridge Road
|Opening hours:||Daily 8am-10pm|
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