Singapore has been stressing me out a lot recently, and it was a recommendation and casual remark from my good friend that enlightened me as to why. She was trying to explain why she liked Noodle Cafe so much, though I can already see why from the menu and the general, slightly slapdash, effortlessly grungy interior.
‘I often come here alone, you know,’ she says. ‘I sometimes get a bowl of noodles and sit here for like an hour.’ That’s what it is! I haven’t found a home away from home, an alone spot.
Mind you, I’m fussy about my alone spots. As I am allergic to hipsters, my quiet spots have to be low-bullshit affairs – no ‘vintage’, no gimmicks. The food must be cheap and good. And it should be reasonably easy to access. In London, Mamuśka fit that bill almost perfectly. And these are the criteria I’ll be using for Noodle Cafe too.
The cafe starts off strong for having stools instead of chairs and gently rocking tables, each equipped with the Thai seasonings in cute little jars – white sugar, white vinegar, chilli flakes with the colour of soot and the heat of fire. Menus are frayed and dog-eared, devoted mainly to noodles – what size (the $1.90 small noodles are practically a mouthful and a half), what meat, what soup, what sort of noodles. You can also have sides – kangkong, to pretend you’re healthy; lard and cracklings to affirm you aren’t. Also rice and braised meat if you’re a damned rebel.
So that’s a tick for ‘low-bullshit’, leaving the flashiness to the food itself. And what food it is, properly Thai – bright flavours layered one atop another. Glass noodles that clump, slide and slurp with plenty of stretch in them; tender, just-done sliced pork and bouncy little meatballs. And plenty of seasoning, too, a base note of fish sauce and dark soy, and so much sugar it’s still grainy. But the cloudy broth that comes with it somewhat steals the show, packed with every part of a pig save the oink – even the mineral reek of liver which I normally dislike, but is rounded out here with five spice.
Beef noodles, or kuaytiew in this case, come with an even darker soup, even more cassia and anise to balance the stronger beef. But while everything is lovely in texture, especially the bright and slightly sticky kuaytiew, the added sweetness of the broth threw things off a little. Nothing some vinegar and chilli flakes couldn’t fix, though.
I may have denigrated the sides earlier, but they do serve their purpose. Kangkong is diced to maximise crunch, and so lightly blanched it still tastes green, which is appealing next to the other intense flavours. Fried fat, on the other hand, is just a little crisp outside, while the fat is soft and almost floury within.
We eat all this, and have two each of their lovely if slightly sweet Thai milk tea, and the bill comes up to a little less than 20 bucks. So that’s definitely a tick for food that leaves a mark, but not on the wallet. The only problem, then, is the location. I mean, seriously. What’s a person gotta do to get some decent places up north? Any way you can expand northwards quicker, Noodle Cafe?
5001 Beach Road
Golden Mile Complex, B1-08 (map)
Contact no.: 3113 2003
Daily, 11am – 5am