MELBOURNE | Hawker Hall Windsor is one of those places that was destined to have lines before it even opened due to it being owned by Chris Lucas (Chin Chin, Baby, Kong). Located inside a former furniture warehouse at the trendy Windsor end of Chapel Street, Hawker Hall has all the trademarks of a Chris Lucas restaurant – a slick, modern fit-out, bright lights, funky tunes and enthusiastic staff. The first thing you notice when you walk inside Hawker Hall is the sheer scale of the place – the venue is big. There are loads of tables, and further seating at the long bar and open kitchen. It’s loud, it’s vibrant full of atmosphere. Superficially Hawker Hall ticks all of the right boxes, but what about the food?
Hawker Hall styles itself as a modern Singaporean/Malaysian hawker inspired venue and executive chef Benjamin Cooper has helped put together an extensive menu of over 70 hawker inspired items. Hainanese chicken rice, economy noodles, roti, bao, beef rendang… you get the idea. It’s a who’s who of hawker favourites. Authenticity isn’t the aim at Hawker Hall, rather it’s taking inspiration from hawker food and other street food from around Asia to create tasty dishes. It’s important when eating at Hawker Hall to keep this in mind. If you visit expecting authentic recreations of hawker food you will be disappointed.
There are a range of wines and Singaporean/Malaysian inspired cocktails on offer as well as 18 craft beer taps, including a lager, pale ale and white ale by “Shiki” – the Hawker Hall home brand label. We tried to find out who brews this beer for Hawker Hall but nobody was willing to let go of the secret.
Char Sui Steamed Buns ($10.00 each)
Beautifully tender cuts of pork and tasty sauce in a perfectly steamed bun. These char sui steamed buns really hit the mark.
Nyona Style Fried Popcorn Chicken ($11.00)
If there’s anything on the menu that proves that authenticity isn’t the name of the game at Hawker Hall this is it. There’s nothing particularly complex going on here but the fried chicken bites with a Nyona style coating and Kewpie for dipping went very quickly after being put down on the table. Very tasty and a perfect starter.
Pork & Chive Wontons With Chilli & Black Bean Sauce ($13.50)
The wontons were really tasty, with the skins having a nice level of chewiness to them and just the right level of thickness. Beef and black bean might not be authentic hawker sauce, but again this is kind of irrelevant when the end result is a tasty dish.
Portuguese Devil Chicken Curry ($15.50)
The devil curry does what it says on the box – it’s very spicy. The 2 spice fiends on our table loved this curry but there were a few of use who struggled with it. If you love spicy food, order it but if you’ve only got a slight tolerance for spice this one’s best avoided.
Roti Canai & Sauce ($8.50 for 2)
The roti is perfectly cooked with a great dense yet fluffy texture and buttery crunch with each bite. The sambal however is very confusing. It’s a tasty sauce that’s served with the roti but compared to the red hot, fiery concoction that sambal is, we struggled to see how the sauce served with the roti could be called sambal. Tasty yes, but sambal, no.
Cauliflower Roasted With Turmeric, Coconut & Raisins ($11.50)
This vegetarian option really hit the mark. The perfectly roasted cauliflower combined with the rest of the ingredients to create a very fragrant, tasty dish. Highly recommended, especially as a counterpoint to any spicy dishes you might order.
Beef Rendang ($16.50)
Although not as spicy as we’d like (in fact not very spicy at all) the beef rendang was still a very tasty dish. What it lacked in heat it certainly made up for in flavour, with each bite of tender beef being full of fragrant spices. One of the highlights of the meal.
Economy Noodle ($11.00)
The economy noodle was really tasty. A mixture of all of the noodles on the menu along with some sambal on the side. As with the roti, the sambal that’s used at Hawker Hall doesn’t really resemble proper sambal but it’s a tasty sauce nonetheless. This dish is a simple one, and guaranteed to please everyone at the table.
Hainanese Chicken Rice ($17.50)
The chicken rice was one of the dishes that fell flat. You get over the fact that you’re paying $17.50 for some chicken rice, knowing that your favourite spot in Singapore sells chicken rice for $3.00 because it’s Chapel Street, rents, wages etc – prices aren’t what’s at issue here. What was disappointing was that the flavours just weren’t working well here. The rice was greasy and lacked the fragrant flavours that good chicken rice should have. The chicken wasn’t particularly tender and the full array of accompanying sauces that should come with chicken rice weren’t present. Comparisons to real chicken rice aside, it just wasn’t a fantastic dish. Easily the biggest disappointment of the evening.
Milo Dinosaur ($11.00)
The Milo Dinosaur was a disappointment after all of the hype that it had received from various corners. It’s 3 small scoops of very sweet ice-cream topped with a sprinkling of Milo and chocolate biscuit. The sweetness of this dessert cannot be understated, the sugar levels really need to be toned down on this one.
Treasure Jelly ($10.00)
The treasure jelly on the other hand was a very well balanced dessert in both flavour and texture. Layers of hibiscus, pineapple and lychee jelly topped with roasted coconut that worked really well together. Nice flavours, not too sweet, with the coconut adding just the right level of textural variation to each bite.
Banana Roti ($14.00)
This Chin Chin favourite is changed by the addition of kaya jam. On the plus side, it’s just as good as we remembered from Chin Chin. Great flavours, beautifully crisp, buttery roti. On the downside, we couldn’t really taste the kaya jam. Still a great dessert, but needs more kaya jam.
When assessing a restaurant like Hawker Hall people tend to fall into 2 camps, and many make up their minds before visiting. There’s the “this isn’t authentic, you can get better for cheaper, it’s style over substance” crowd and the “OMG they guy from Chin Chin has opened a new restaurant how cool amazeballs” crowd. The reality, as is often the case with these things, fall somewhere in the middle. Chris Lucas is a smart operator and he know what people want. Hawker Hall is a fun place to eat at with bang on aesthetics and we challenge you to come here with a group of friends and not enjoy yourself. No the food isn’t authentic and yes, there are dishes that fall flat but overall the food is pretty damn tasty. As a group we discussed what we liked and what we didn’t like as we neared the end of our meal and when it came to the question “would we visit again?” the answer was yes.
If you want to check out Hawker Hall, we’d recommend arriving during non-peak hours. We’ve heard stories of people waiting for up to 2 hours for a table but when our group of 6 visited at 6pm on a Sunday evening we were able to score a table without any wait.
98 Chapel Street
Mon – Sun: 11:00am to late