MANILA, Philippines - Tucked inside the new Ayala Triangle Gardens (ATG) in Makati City is a restaurant that serves one of the (if not the) best Hainanese chicken rice dishes in Singapore.
Called Wee Nam Kee, the place is familiar to those who have traveled to the city-state's Novena town. It took me quite some time, however, to remember my last visit there in 2008, back when I didn't take my food too seriously.
The restaurant has won the hearts of both Singapore locals and foreign tourists, particularly Filipinos.
Among its Filipino patrons are no less than former presidents Joseph "Erap" Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as well as actors and real-life couple John Lloyd Cruz and Shaina Magdayao, according to Linfred Yap, one of the 2 young entrepreneurs behind the first Wee Nam Kee franchise in the country.
Unlike its main branch in Novena which looks more like a hole-in-the-wall joint, Makati's Wee Nam Kee, just like the city, had an urban, upscale feel to it.
But the good news is, the food is exactly the same -- all dishes served in the restaurant are prepared by chefs who flew all the way from Singapore.
Wee Nam Kee joins a row of dining spots in ATG such as all-day breakfast place BFast by Chef Laudico, Korean-style fried chicken place Bon Chon, Omakase Japanese restaurant, and Golden Spoon yogurt bar, among others.
The restaurant's best seller both here and in Singapore is the Hainanese chicken rice set (P168 for the smallest size) which includes a helping of rice, tender slivers of poultry, and soup.
The chicken can be cooked 2 ways -- steamed and roasted -- and both kinds are flavored with Wee Nam Kee's signature bone broth, garlic, ginger and other secret spices. There's also the soy chicken, which is infused with the taste of soy sauce.
The roasted chicken had more flavor than the steamed one, for obvious reasons. For those who wish to add a little kick to the otherwise mild tasting dish, I personally recommend that you use a bit of each of the 3 sauces on the table (dark soy, ginger and mild chili).
Although the dish can survive without these condiments, it's always interesting to have a play of different textures and flavors in your mouth.
I may not be a huge fan of the chicken, but I sure am deeply in love with the rice. Bathed in the same rich stock, the chicken rice (P40) is a bit oily but very rich in taste and can be eaten on its own -- literally.
Indeed, it has the flavor expected of a restaurant that has been serving this dish for 40 years.
"It's the most authentic chicken rice you'll ever try. From the preparation to the ingredients and spices, everything's original and traditional," Yap claimed.
There's also the famous cereal prawns (P375 for 4 pieces), a crunchy entree that is a bit on the sweet side.
The shell of the crustaceans in the dish were delicate enough to be eaten, and may be quite an experience for those who are used to throwing away shrimp heads.
One of the best ways to end the meal is through a glass of cold barley juice (P55), a sweet and refreshing drink that is popular in Singapore.
Other must-try items in Wee Nam Kee's menu include the usual barbecue pork, dim sum, fried rice, vegetables, noodles (both dry and in soup), as well as hot and cold desserts.
If you haven't had a taste of Hainanese chicken rice (or Singapore's food in general), Makati is a good place to start.
Wee Nam Kee is located at Unit 8, Ayala Triangle Gardens, Makati Avenue, Makati City. For inquiries, call (632) 846-8924.
E-mail the author at karen_flores[@]abs-cbn.com. Visit her food blog at http://asliceofkeix.blogspot.com.