Last year when it was announced that the world’s cheapest Michelin starred eatery was coming to Melbourne social media and news outlets went wild. On its opening, Hawker Chan attracted crowds and wait times of up to three hours. By the time we got around to visiting the wait time had shortened to a much more modest 25 minutes to get to the register, and then another 10 before getting our food.
Hawker Chan is meant to be set up like a Hawker Hall, where there is no table service. However, the shiny screens, air-conditioning and number system reminded me more of an upscale food court than anything else.
Plum tea was just not our cup of tea (excuse the pun) it was vegetal and too sour to really quench our thirst. The osmanthus tea fared a lot better and was sweet with the light passionfruit taste that is characteristic of osmanthus flowers. I felt that the drinks could have down with a bit of ice so that they were actually cold instead of just a bit below room temperature.
Soya sauce chicken with rice is the signature dish, so of course, we had to order it. It was obvious just from the get-go that this portion of chicken was tiny. I had a look around and felt that the servings were generally on the small side, but for some reason, this plate looked especially sad. Unfortunately, the disappointment continued. The chicken was tender, but really lacked that soy sauce flavour that we were expecting. The rice didn’t have much flavour even with sauce drizzled on top, so we resorted to mixing the hor fun sauce and chilli into the rice dish.
Soya sauce chicken with Hor Fun was a few dollars more expensive, but definitely worth it. This chicken was a lot better than the chicken with the rice. It was super tender and coated with sweet and salty soy sauce. Likewise, the sauce on top of the slippery Hor Fun was full of flavour, even when I pushed the spicy paste to one side.
Thai style tofu was fried extremely well so that the outside was crisp and the inside of the tofu still silken and soft. It was sadly let down by the sauce which was too sweet, cloying and one dimensional. This would have been amazing if in true Thai style there had been a bit of sour, saltiness and spice in the seasoning and garnishes.
In the past when big Asian institutions have come to Melbourne, they have never been able to compete with the real deal in their home country. It’s probably something about the ingredients, pricing and expectations in Melbourne which make it impossible to replicate that amazing meal overseas. Even with those admissions, Hawker Chan was still a bit of a letdown. Sure, the dishes are cheap, at less than $10 for almost everything but the small portions, inconsistency and wait times mean that I would rather fork out an extra $5 to $10 and get a more satisfying feed elsewhere.