Most restaurants pay attention to how they taste, and many to how they look. But in Singapore at least, the question of how they sound – the presence of music, its type, its volume – tends to be neglected. But precisely because I have low expectations here, I cannot decide if Hungry Bazterdz is intentionally having the Backstreet Boys serenade my first sandwich-eating experience with them. Is it neglect, or inspiration?
They do switch to a slower, chiller soundtrack that’s more to my taste when I visit again, not that it matters. Idiot that I am, I come in at the start of the CBD lunch rush. I only hear the music vaguely, amid the frantic lunchtime chatter, the ringing of bells and the calling of numbers as the staff try to match sandwiches to hungry people. I’m practically sitting on two other people and being shoved into the wooden ledge on the wall that serves as a table, trying to find angles for photos without accidentally molesting anyone.
It’s the sort of dining experience that I normally hate. So would I do it again at Hungry Bazterdz? Hell yes.
Sandwiches are something where you have to try if you want to fail. That’s the reason Subway exists, because they don’t try and therefore end up passable; it’s the reason there are so many cafes putting out sandwiches (or their cousins, the burger) in Singapore. But you also have to try – really try – if you want to be good at them.
Hungry Bazterdz’ look makes it pretty clear that the sandwiches are at the top of their priorities. There’s a menu board to one side (a little hard to read), graffiti and quirky pictures framed on the walls, but otherwise it’s utilitarian, trying to maximise the number of people they can pack in. The kitchen takes up probably a third of the shop, and its aromas and vapours pervade the rest, a potent addition to the grungy atmosphere.
Cheesesteak is billed as ‘mighty’; it sounds like a boast on the menu, but feels like an understatement when I see the real thing. A roll is stretched to breaking point, filled with an utter mess of cheesesteak, sloppy, greasy and gorgeous. The steak is roughly chopped, with little squiggles of gristle in it.
The cheese mix (whose composition is a secret) is vast, savoury, tangy, contains multitudes – from the gooey, smooth texture to a lingering echo of milk and salt. Aged cheddar? Provolone? Well, it doesn’t really matter. I eat half the sandwich without really thinking about it, just going along for the ride.
But then perhaps quality is to be expected in a cheesesteak. For it is a standard, an Autumn Leaves or In a Sentimental Mood – you can embellish and play with the chords, but the form is already there. In contrast, the Pablo Chikon is more like Flamenco Sketches – a new improvisation, a new sort of progression. And it does look a little much on the menu – there’s chicken, tomato relish, even chips of salmon skin.
And yet it comes together nicely, within the bounds of the properly toasted bread. Chicken juices dribble over the relish, the spicy mayo stings a little on the side, and it all gets soaked up by the salmon skin, softening it just a little. Often a mixture of ingredients leads to confusion, but in the Pablo Chikon it feels more like a bounty. It’s the sort of thing that would be good for CNY, come think of it.
Because Singapore’s economy is not chugging along at its smoothest now, I’m a little worried for Hungry Bazterdz and its impact. Its location in the heart of our financial district, and the sheer heft and volume of what it serves, makes it a dangerous threat to the productivity of our most important PMETs. How do you carry on working with one of these sloshing inside you? I’d just curl up and lose a whole day, slowly picking apart the elements of what I just ate and how it melds. And the best thing is, it’d still be worth it.
11 Collyer Quay
The Arcade, #01-06
Mon – Fri, 7am – 6pm
Sat, 10am – 5pm
Closed on Sunday