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Evil Penevil

Hawker Chan on Beach Road at Royal Garden Plaza

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Hawker Chan is a recently opened Chinese roast meat (siu mei) restaurant on Beach Road at the front of the Royal Garden Plaza. It's part of an international chain spun off from Singapore's Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, a small food stall in a Chinatown hawker center (open-air food court) that won a Michelin star in 2016.

 

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Although it bills itself as "The world first hawker to be awarded one Michelin star," Liao Fan HKSSCRN was actually one of two Singapore food stalls to get the prestigious culinary award in July of last year. It propelled the stall's chef and owner, Chan Hong Meng, to overnight fame. He formed a partnership with a Singapore investment company to capitalize on his instant celebrity.

 

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The result is the Hawker Chan chain, which now has three branches in Singapore as well as in Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. Branches will soon open in Australia and the Philippines.  Chan has said he wants to follow KFC's example and establish branches all over the world.  That's certainly an ambitious if unrealistic goal, but it does raise the intriguing possibility we might soon be hearing hilarious stories of humiliated Pattaya punters carrying around buckets of Hawker Chan. (If you get that quip, you're a true  punter-board veteran).  However, Hawker Chan doesn't have the same romantic ring to it as KFC. 

The rapid rise of Hawker Chan is a fascinating street-food-to-riches story, even when you scrape away the hype over the Michelin star. It's also testimony to the power and influence of the Michelin Guide.  I'll include more of the background at the end of this review.  

The interior is spacious, well-lit and spotlessly clean.  There's nothing particularly Chinese about Hawker Chan's decor; it could be any modern quick-service chain restaurant. including KFC.

 

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You make your selection from the menu at the front counter, pay, then wait for your number to be called and pick up your order from the counter. It's the same model McDonalds pioneered and is now used in fast-food restaurants all over the world.

 

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The menu itself is simple. Diners have a choice of chef Chan's signature soya sauce chicken or three types of pork: char siew (BBQ pork belly); spare ribs; or crispy roast.  The meats can be combined with rice, noodles or hor fun (a type of rice noodle and an appropriate name in Pattaya).  The menu sports three non-meat dishes: two vegetable and a tofu dish.  You can also order whole or half chickens and pork by the gram or kilo for takeaway or in-house dining by groups.  

It's the same menu as in Hawker Chan's restaurants elsewhere.  The menu in the pic below is from the Web site of the Terminal 21 branch in Bangkok, although prices for the single plate dishes tend to be about seven to 15 baht higher in Pattaya.

 

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The dishes are inexpensive and you can have two dishes and a beverage for under 300 baht.  Of course, similar food is available from food stalls, street carts and hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over Pattaya at half or one-third the price, but you won't be eating it in air-conditioned comfort at a prime Beach Road location.

And now to the important question:  How's the food at the Pattaya branch of Hawker Chan?  Overall, it's average, with the soya sauce chicken and roast pork above average. For those familiar with the U.S. academic grading scale, I'd give Hawker Chan Pattaya a C+. There's no   post-9139-0-66119500-1508040436.jpg factor to any of it and nothing at all to make me think it deserves a Michelin star.  It tastes the same as roast meats in thousands of Chinese restaurants and I've had better in China, Hong Kong, Bangkok and even New York City's Chinatown.

I've never eaten at the Liao Fan HKSSCRN in Singapore, so I can't make a direct comparison to the Pattaya offering.  According to Singapore newspaper and food blog reports, the dishes at Hawker Chan branches in both Singapore and abroad are inferior in flavor to what you get at the Chinatown hawker center food stall.

 

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I first tried Hawker Chan's most famous dish, soya sauce chicken rice at 95 baht.  The chicken was moist and tender with a silky texture and glossy skin.  Like Col. Saunders with his 11 secret herbs and spices for his Original Recipe KFC,  chef Chan also has a secret recipe for the marinade in which the chicken is soaked overnight.  It's known to contain Chinese angelica root, cloves, coriander seed, and star anise. I didn't notice much taste enhancement from the marinade except perhaps on the skin.

 

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The size of the chicken portion was sufficient but not large.  Keep in mind the Chinese preference regarding chicken is skin on and bone in, then chopped with a cleaver into pieces convenient for eating with chopsticks.  You're left with pieces of bone to spit out, which isn't appealing to some Western diners.

 

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A large portion of rice came with the chicken.  It was topped with a soy mixture that tasted generic to me.  At the counter, you can take small dishes of thick, sweet soy sauce, ordinary soy sauce and chili sauce, which was quite mild and a bit sweet.  It went well with the salty chicken. The rice seemed a bit wet to me, as though it had been thoroughly boiled but then allowed to sit in the cooker or pot and the steam had condensed.  

This review is getting long so I'll divide it into two parts.

Evil

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Edited by Evil Penevil

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I went for the three-pork combination plate on my next visit.  It cost 195 baht without rice, which was 20 baht extra and a can of Coke Zero 35 baht.  As should be the case, the 7% VAT was baked into the menu price and no service charge was added.

 

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Like the chicken, the pork was succulent and tender.  It was definitely Cantonese style.  Forget Memphis or Texas.  The spare ribs had been chopped into small pieces and were dry with little meat. The char siew had a sweet and salty taste from the marinade and glaze.  The roast pork, my favorite among the three, had crispy fat, but not too much of it. 

 

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If you're thinking of BBQ pork and spare ribs in terms of Middle America, you should go to Smokin' Joe's on Soi Lengkee.  At Hawker Chan's, it's Middle Kingdom all the way. 

 

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Sunday night I had the wonton soup and the soy sauce chicken with noodles. 

 

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The wonton soup was good but unremarkable.  It tasted the same as many bowls of wonton I've had in Chinese restaurants that don't ever dream about a star from their local newspaper, much less the Michelin Guide.

 

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At 130 baht, I thought it was overpriced for a bowl of generic broth, five filled wontons and a few greens.

 

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I then had the soy sauce chicken with noodles at 110 baht.  The pieces of chicken seemed to have more white meat and fewer bones than last time round. No complaints there.

 

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The noodles, however, were dry and hard on top, as though they had not only been pre-cooked but pre-plated and left to stand under a heating lamp.  The noodles were also stuck together, another sign they'd been standing under heat.  This is hardly the type of dish that is likely to get a Michelin star.  It tasted OK once I moistened the noodles with the sauce.  I did have some hor fun later that night, but on Walking Street, not Beach Road.

 

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Hawker Chan is open from 11.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m., with last call at 10.30 p.m.   On the first two occasions, I was there late, around 10 p.m., and I was the only customer.  Sunday night I went at 7.30 p.m. and there were 10 other customers.  Everywhere else where Hawker Chan has opened, there has been a big rush of customers.  Not in Pattaya.  

The staff is friendly and polite, although there isn't much service involved.  Everyone from the cleaning lady to the manager greeted and wai'ed me when I entered the restaurant and again when I left.

Bottom line.  The food at Hawker Chan is OK but nothing spectacular.  I'll be back because it is a convenient location for me. I won't be expecting anything outstanding just because the food stall in Singapore won a Michelin star. 

Evil

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The background info on Hawker Chan will come in yet another post.

 

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Edited by Evil Penevil

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All photos below are from the Internet.  The man himself:
 
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Chan Hong Meng, aka Hawker Chan, is a 52-year-old chef, food-stall owner and partner in an international restaurant chain based on his Singapore Chinatown food stall. He began training as a chef at age 18 and has over 30 years experience in making his signature dish, Hong Kong soy sauce chicken and rice.  He learned how to make it while training in Hong Kong during the 1980s.  Over the years, he changed and perfected the original recipe.
 
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In 2009, he opened his own food stall and it quickly became popular. Long before he got the Michelin star. customers were queueing for his chicken and pork. Singapore has about 100 hawker centers (open-air food courts) and 6,000 food stalls, so that is quite an accomplishment in itself. It was a small operation, employing Chan and two assistants. 
 
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It sold 150 chickens and 25 kilograms of pork a day six days a week. The stall's hours were 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m., but it often closed between 4.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. because it ran out of food to sell.  Chan told the Singapore press he had wanted to open additional stalls or an enclosed restaurant to handle the excess demand, but couldn't find a partner. 
 
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That changed overnight when he won the Michelin star.  About 10 big companies approached him about a partnership. He chose Hersing Culinary, the food-and-beverage arm of Singapore's privately held Hersing investment group.  Hersing had handled the expansion of other small Asian restaurants that won Michelin stars or otherwise became famous.  
 
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It's believed that Chan sold his recipes to the company for at least two million Singapore dollars. Chan probably has only a small ownership stake in Hawker Chan but is likely to get a big salary as the chain's symbol and brand ambassador as well as advising on menu and food preparation matters.  This is roughly what Harlan Sanders did when he sold Kentucky Fried Chicken because he felt overwhelmed by its rapid expansion.
 
The main marketing point for Hawker Chan is the Michelin star. The restaurant chain not only calls itself "The world first hawker to be awarded one Michelin star," but also says it offers the world's cheapest Michelin-starred meal. That's a bit of smoke and mirrors as it's the Chinatown food stall, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, that got the Michelin star, not Hawker Chan.
 
However, the first Hawker Chan branch to open in Singapore did get recognition in Michelin's 2017 Guide with a Bib Gourmand award as one of 38 local restaurants or food stalls offering "exceptionally good food at moderate prices."
 
A plate of soy sauce chicken rice costs SGD2 (49 baht) at Liao Fan HKSSCRN and SGD3.80 (93 baht) at the Hawker Chan branch with the Bib Gourmand. That's close to the Pattaya price. No doubt that the Singapore Liao fan stall has the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world, but how much of that can be projected to Hawker Chan restaurants in other countries is very much a matter of discussion.
 
There's also plenty of discussion on food sites and blogs about Michelin's generosity in awarding stars to establishments in Asia. Two lines of thought have emerged.  One is that the Michelin Guides had previously favored French restaurants and formal dining.  By awarding stars to food stalls and hole-in-the-wall places, Michelin has made its Guide more relevant to the local people by acknowledging diversity in food culture.
 
A more cynical explanation would be that the Guide's purpose has always been since its inception in the early 1900's to help market Michelin tires.  Michelin wants to expand its business in Asia and awarding stars to food stalls generates free publicity and brand recognition well beyond what any amount of paid advertising could achieve.
 
Both are good answers and both are probably true to some degree.  The Michelin company has a powerful asset in its guides and it's understandable its management would take full advantage of that asset.  It's a fascinating story: a  food-stall hawker who had worked 17-hour days is suddenly catapulted into the world of multi-million-dollar international franchising deals. 
 
Evil
 
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Edited by Evil Penevil

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This place changes so quick, I have never seen the restaurant ... Will try it out for sure ,big  fan of the duck they do here...

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