The world's first Michelin-starred street-food stall arrives in Bangkok.
Singapore's Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Chicken Rice & Noodles was one of just two street-food stalls to be awarded a star in the first edition of the country's Michelin Guide in 2016. After that owner-chef Chan Hon Meng rapidly expanded his empire with two further "quick-service" outposts in Singapore, plus one in Taipei (where it opened to three-hour-long waits), under the name Hawker Chan.
This review took place in September 2017 and is based on a visit to the restaurant without the restaurant's knowledge. For more on BK's review policy, click here.
Singapore’s Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Chicken Rice & Noodles was one of just two street-food stalls to be awarded a star in the first edition of the country’s Michelin Guide in 2016. Since then, owner-chef Chan Hon Meng has taken the show on the road with “quick-service” outposts not only around Singapore, but everywhere from Taipei and Jakarta to Melbourne and Bangkok, under the name Hawker Chan.
Its opening here was shrouded in Pantip drama as diners complained of hour-plus waits. Four months later, a mid-week visit still finds a bustling trade—though not quite as high stakes as Terminal 21’s food court, on the same floor. The vibe’s about the same as there, though. Slap-bang in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, hemmed in by KFC and Jeffer Steak, it could be just another fast food restaurant: place your order, find a table and then listen out for a sad, muffled voice to announce your number.
But “the world’s cheapest Michelin meal” is worth a try, with rice, rice noodle and egg noodle dishes starting at B88 (be warned: you may want to double order). The Hong Kong-style chicken comes plump, tender yet firm, with a satisfyingly slippery skin, but the super-sweet, super-syrupy soya sauce it’s drizzled with could make or break your meal. For us, it’s not as herby or starchy as we’d have wished, though having it with egg noodles (B100), a smear of nutty sambal and a dip of chili sauce add extra dimension.
Alongside wonton soup (B180) and a few veggie sides, the menu also spotlights three types of pork (get the platter at B180), which are similarly divisive. OK, so the char siew was sold out by 7:30pm on our last visit, but the bone-dry pork ribs, slathered in cold, sticky sweetness, leave us underwhelmed. The roast pork, all belly fat and salty-crisp skin, is a relative success, but not leagues above above what you’ll find on Bangkok corners.
Therein lies the rub. While the original Liao Fan might represent an awesome affordable meal in one of the world’s most expensive cities, here it feels stripped of charm and run-of-the-mill. (Sound familiar, Tim Ho Wan?) Cynics say Hawker Chan isn’t a patch on the original. We can believe that—the oily noodles, slightly damp rice and overwhelming sweetness hardly scream “Michelin quality.” But Liao Fan’s just retained its star in the 2017 guide, so the hype machine will rage on. Soon enough we’ll likely be having similar arguments over our own street-food institutions.
|Hawker Chan, 5/F, Terminal 21, Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok, Thailand
|B - BB
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