It seems just like the day before yesterday when Singapore’s nightlife was about the clubs. Zouk. Zirca. Butter Factory. And it seems just like yesterday when bar culture exploded onto Singapore’s nightlife scene in a flurry of dehydrated citrus and tonic water. Singapore’s taste was evolving. And with it came a new vocabulary to engage with food.
No longer could we describe steak as ‘moist’, nor could we drink from 7-11 Big Gulps on bridges. Singapore is a grown-up now. She knows her IPAs from her Pilsners and lagers from Karl Lagerfeld. She drinks $35 gula-melaka cocktails from speakeasy spots serving Prohibition-era drinks in paper-thin glasses and bourbons with hand-carved ice cubes by suited-up bartenders who would judge your drink choices.
And it was actually glorious. For a moment.
Today, the casual bar is king. And WAN Bar+Kitchen is one of them. Pun unintended. Fun fact, WAN recently turned one this year. Pun intended. Another fun fact, WAN is a riff on the Chinese word 玩, which means ‘play’.
Helmed by Executive chef Anthony, its newly minted menu is unexpectedly fun and irreverent. “Old familiar favourites are reinvented with new flavours that feel both playful and imaginative. Our casual bar and kitchen concept is the antidote to the tired, irrelevant casual dining concepts that diners bemoan about.”, says Ms Charlie Leong, Management Associate with WAN.
Ok, let’s break it down.
Neon lights? Check. Strong breeze? Check. Music that isn’t too loud? Check. Music that isn’t too soft? Check.
Tables that aren’t too near each other that I spend half my evening eavesdropping on Linda’s pending divorce? Check. Not too quiet that the entire restaurant spends their evening hearing about my visit to the sexual health clinic? Check.
There’s a deceptively simple balance happening here – places like these are hard to find, and ambience like this is harder to find. Alcoholics are creatures of habit so we all know regulars make or break a watering hole. Especially in Singapore’s saturated F&B market.
WAN is also part nightclub, and its decor is retro in all the best ways. Think neon fish tanks, floral peacock motifs and you guessed it, more neon signs a la downtown Hong Kong. It’s Wong Kar Wai meets Blade Runner meets the 80s obsession we don’t think is going away anytime soon.
Firstly, the bites on the new menu are all below $20. Phew. Secondly, the portions are huge enough to be shared amongst 2 people (pre-beer tower) and 3 or more people (post-beer towers). Double phew. And thirdly, they’re all really well done.
This is low-frills, high-technique bistro food at its casual best.
Mentaiko Scallop Capellini topped with fish roe: Let’s be real, how many times have we overpaid for a mentaiko dish only to find the dish’s exact composition to be 95% mentaiko and 5% everything else? Too many okay. So I deeply appreciated the substitution of a heavier pasta with the more manageable capellini, paired with a much needed level of restraint on the mentaiko. Don’t sleep on the parmesan wafer garnish either. It punches above its weight, cutting through the strong cream and scallop flavours to round off every bite. A luxe option if you’re feeling peckish.
Rock and Roll Ngo Hiang: Drizzled with a touch of chipotle sauce (yeah, I scoffed at first), with a side of Chinese vinegar dip.
Listen. If you only order one thing from the menu, let it be this. And in multiple quantities. Because its exactly the kind of thing you dream of shoving down your throat at 3am after a wild night out. It is the kind of ngo hiang you rave about to your mom and your mom’s mom. Oof. It’s fried in the same batter as their regular fish and chips, which lends a more satisfying crunch. The chutney-like consistency of the dipping sauce prevents the batter from getting soggy and the chipotle dressing is quietly decadent.
Alcoholic Bubble Tea: Every Asian’s favourite drink just got a little more favourite-r. Embrace the plastic cups because it matters not the wallet, but what’s inside it – Confucius said so. And I’ll have you know they don’t skimp on the alcohol content too.
Unoffensive gin + citrus variations abound in the new menu. Named after love-themed phrases like “LDR” (thai milk tea, spiced rum) to “Crazy Bitch” (oddly, a matcha-milk concoction), these come in a super adorable pool float (which you can take home!!!). The pearls are also infused with alcohol, so you know they mean business.
Is it going to impress the purist? Don’t even think about it. Is it going to impress a girl? Yes. Is this going to get you where you need to go? Absolutely.
In any case, I appreciate a fun drink. Why? Because drinking should be fun. Period. We were also impressed by Wok-fried Omu Rice, huge, with generous luncheon meat cubes; Wanton Donuts with kaya, bandung and peanut butter dips; Mala Mafia prawns served with freshly toasted Melba bread and Cheesy Lobster Carrot Cake.
WAN Bar+Kitchen is delightfully unpretentious, putting on none of the try-hard airs that have slowly plagued the local bar scene. And the best part is that they know it, and have embraced it. The best bars bring people together over good food and communal love for alcohol (and everything it does to our brains), in a place where we can hear each other but not be overheard. A neighbourhood bar. Only this time, this one’s right in the heart of town.
Written by: Kenneth Chia
When? Now till otherwise specified
WAN Bar+Kitchen, 3 Temasek Blvd, Suntec City, #01-434 North Wing, Singapore 038983