Monday, 12 August 2013

Madam Kwan's

You may have heard of the newly-opened Madam Kwan's at Vivocity, Harbourfront, which has been highly-anticipated since its success from four branches in Malaysia. (Unless you don't live in Singapore, or don't know where it is. In any case, stay if you want to hear about this very particular Singaporean dining experience...)

I arrived at the restaurant before the rest of my family, and repeated to the dazed-looking table-usher a few times that, no, I do not want to make a reservation, I already have a reservation for five people.

Feeling quite thirsty after coming straight from work, I decided to order an interesting-sounding yam milkshake while the others come. (Sounds interesting, doesn't it?)Ordering in English seemed to be a mistake – the waitress replied me in Chinese stating that she didn't understand. Okay, I thought, strange for a restaurant in Vivocity, the ultimate tourist shopping mall. I repeated my order in Chinese, pointing to the item on the menu. She gave final confirmation by asking if she had circled the correct item on the mini-menu that she was holding. Goodness, yes, it was indeed a 'yam shake' which you have circled. Thank you.

The rest of my family finally arrived, and we ordered some dishes from the menu to share, and a plate of rice each. My milkshake arrived while we were ordering. I expected it to be purple, (most yam-flavoured desserts in Asia are purple) but I thought that it was white because of a lack of artificial colouring. I took a sip, frowned, and took a few more – lo and behold, it was a regular vanilla milkshake. (Man, I still wonder how a yam milkshake tastes like.)

I waited for us to finish ordering the food, before I spoke up. The waiter suggested the assam fish head while we were making decisions. My sister and I quietly flipped to the item on the menu, and it was priced at SG$49. (£24.50) Sly move, sir – that was what our eyes said when they met – but thankfully nobody on the table was up for fish that night, and the suggestion didn't lead anywhere.

Then I requested a change of drink, but the waiter refused. Why, I asked, the waitress who took my order made a mistake, I wanted yam, not vanilla. It's a restaurant regulation, he politely stated – once a customer tries their food, the kitchen can't take it back. My family and I exchanged amused faces.  Then, he said, you shouldn't have drunk it, if you wanted to change it. Internal laughter of disbelief rippled through the table.

"How would she have known it was wrong, if she didn't drink it?" Many variations of this was thrown towards the resilient waiter, who didn't bat an eyelid, and refused, again and again, without much apology.

After lots more slightly heated demands for explanation, as well as some mutterings of 'bad service' under our breaths, the waiter couldn't be persuaded. We gave up, and I drank that vanilla milkshake. (I've never seen a yam milkshake on a menu before... I'm really curious.)

The food came fast in a flurry, the plates all barely fitting onto the table. The best of it was the fried chicken – lovely tenderness, and a nice, crispy skin. There was also some great but spicy sotong, (squid) kangkong, (water spinach) and chicken curry – the latter had a distinct flavour of coconut milk, which was nice but activated a siren against my diet plan! The beef rendang tasted so-so, but was bad on the presentation front: plonked on a plain diner's plate, about three stingy scoops, with two pathetic cucumber slices sticking out of the side of the plate. Costing somewhere between SG$10 to SG$13, (£5 to £7.50) it certainly wasn't worth it. The beef satay was big and chunky but lacked charred, complex flavours I could get from my own barbecue party, although the accompanying peanut sauce was great.

The drinks were rather overpriced – SG$5 for my brother's 'Honey Lemon Tea', which was basically water, lemon slices, ice cubes, and honey.

The bill came up to SG$144 (£72) for the five of us. For local food that we can easily find elsewhere – despite the higher quality of just a few dishes – it was not worth it, and I don't think I'll be going back to Madam Kwan's unless this branch at Vivocity does some serious staff-training and policy-reviewing. (How in the world does a yam milkshake taste like!? I NEED TO KNOW!)

The information presented in this account is true to the best of my knowledge. I wish Madam Kwan's all the best, and hopefully I'll see more customers and better staff on a Sunday night in Vivocity the next time I visit.

Also, I was not happy about having to pay compulsory service charge. Singapore needs a lesson or two from the UK.
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