You might think you’ve walked in the delivery entry when you find yourself thrust into the kitchen of Old Raffles Place but relax, you’re right at home. It ain’t the Raffles, but it’s Singaporean hawker food done really, really right.
Occupying a two-storey terrace since sometime in the 90s, the family who runs Raffles Place is fronted by Alan, a chef who’s worked in top restaurants in Singapore. The corner building’s windows are emblazoned with the names of iconic dishes associated with the island, painted in high-contrast combinations of yellow and green, orange and pink, by not the steadiest hand. FRIED HOKKIEN MEE, KWAY TEOW CHAR and CHICKEN RICE beam down on you, daring you to walk past without stopping in.
Dishes from the island’s most famous hawker stalls are a great starting place (Racecourse Road Char Kway Teow, East Coast Laksa) but it’s worth branching out to the lesser-celebrated Singaporean dishes, like fish fillets coated in a crispy tamarind-rich assam paste or a five-dish selection of nyonya, that hearty Malay-Chinese cuisine that sums up Singapore’s racial harmony in creations featuring coconut milk, galangal and kaffir lime. Murtabak, roti prata and so-sweet-it-hurts teh tarik are also staples.
As you sit there slurping, dipping and munching your way through the meal, with the bass from tonight’s metal act at The Tote your only form of ambience, you might wonder about the ‘good life’. Is it found at the original Raffles, or is it here at this strange backwater junction in Melbourne’s north, where your hands stink of the murtabak curry dipping sauce and the chairs are made of vinyl? I’m not going to make that call for you, but any Singaporean will say appearances only go so far when it comes to the best hawker-style food.
Old Raffles Place
cnr Johnston and Wellington St