As much as we love trying new restaurants and visiting unexplored areas in unassuming suburbs, Alissa and I also keep a selection of local restaurants on rotation as regulars for the nights we can't be bothered to cook or drive any great distance away from home. Kai has always been our most visited go-to, however our restaurant of choice for the Singapore/Malaysian Hawker niche has been in a state of flux over the two years. Initially, we used to go to Bull Creek Hawker until we discovered Kitchen Inn, however we felt that the standard of food and service dropped significantly after Kitchen Inn moved to a bigger premises. Thankfully, a tip off lead us to Ah Mei Cafe, which became a fortnightly favourite for their handmade Bakmie Special noodles. Unfortunately, we found that Ah Mei was recently sold and the new owners no longer offer the handmade noodles we used to know and love. Having recently picked up the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, I read about a recently opened Hawker restaurant in Willetton that specialised in Kolo Mee and Chicken Rice. Both amongst our personal favourite dishes, Alissa and I decided we had to given this new restaurant a try. What started as a single visit has ended up being more than a few occasions, even bringing my parents along to get their opinion last weekend.
Sarawak Hawker Cuisine is located in the Southland Shopping Centre complex in Willetton near Silver Sushi and our local McDonald's. Given that the Willetton Macca's is our usual early morning stopover when we're heading out for a bushwalk in the Perth Hills, we'd driven past the restaurant on a few occasions while it has been closed. During opening hours the place is positively bustling, with all the tables inside and the benches outside occupied, and a crowd of hungry diners waiting for their names to be called for tables or takeaway orders. Like Kai, this place is seriously popular with the locals; dining here at peak hour definitely requires some patience in dealing with what can be significant wait times.
Any inordinately long wait becomes worth it if the food lives up to the hype, and the Chicken Rice alone would make Sarawak Hawker Cuisine a place worth visiting and, yes, queuing for. Chicken Rice's fairly monochromatic combination of slowly poached chicken on rice may make it a seemingly simple and homely dish, however every component must be packed with flavour and made with thought and precision to create a satisfying whole. Sarawak Hawker get it absolutely right - the very flavoursome rice may not be served piping hot, but in doing so they dish out rice that is right on point in terms of texture; this is definitely preferable. The Chicken - your choice of drumstick or breast - is poached perfectly, with even the breast meat still nice and juicy. The Chicken Rice Chilli available at the self service condiments station would be right up there with the very best I've had, having a great garlic and ginger kick and an excellent freshness of flavour. If this was Chicken Rice being served at in a hawker centre in Singapore, you'd be very happy to queue for it. Having grown up in Singapore, my parents agreed, saying it reminded them of how Chicken Rice used to be when they were kids and that few places in Singapore taste this impressively authentic anymore.
One of the minor weaknesses of Sarawak Hawker is that they sometimes forget to serve a side bowl of broth with their dishes during peak times, and we're sometimes not sure which dish should receive it as a side. This is a shame, as their broth is impressive due to the obvious lack of powdered MSG being used in its making and its great depth of chicken flavour that goes very nicely with the Chicken Rice.
With the Kolo Mee and Kampua Special at Kitchen Inn disappointing us the last time we were there and the Bakmie Special of Ah Mei no longer available, Alissa and I have been in need of a new handmade noodle specialist in our area, so trying Sarawak Hawker Cuisine's Kolo Mee Special was a top priority. Sarawak Hawker's Kolo Mee Special does indeed live up to the 'Special' superlative, with the restaurant's handmade noodles served with pork, pork and more pork (slices of Char Siu, Siu Yuk and mince pork) alongside Fish Balls and some Asian Greens. All the Pork components are of a very high standard, however I have to single out the Siu Yuk as being particularly excellent - these juicy pieces of Pork Belly were well seasoned and the crackling nice and crunchy.
But of course a bowl of Kolo Mee is made or broken by the quality of the noodles, and the noodles served here are very, very good. They have the slightly springy texture and toothsome bite that is a prerequisite of the style, and the sauces used to flavour the noodles are well balanced. The result is seriously delicious, and if you're as particularly greedy a noodle fan as I am, you can order extra noodles for no additional cost! The noodles at Noodle Forum are still probably a little bit better than these, however when combined with the deluxe combo of toppings served at Sarawak Hawker, the two great noodle dishes would be neck and neck.
If you're ordering extra noodles, you really don't need to be ordering any sides with your meal, and we've even been full just eating the Chicken Rice. That said, if you do have some space for a side dish, do order the Fried Chicken Wings. The outer coating is nice and crispy, well seasoned and well fried, with the meat within deliciously juicy. Served with some Sweet Chilli Sauce, this is a noteworthy example of Asian-style Fried Chicken that is finger-licking good.
The Verdict: Excellent +
Since first dining at Sarawak Hawker Cuisine about a month ago, the restaurant has become a firm favourite due to the fact their Chicken Rice and Kolo Mee dishes are so excellent that they have warranted repeat visits. Given the restaurant is already incredibly busy and I enjoy waiting in queues at the best of times its the kind of place I'm almost hesitant to share, but when the food is this good it has to be acknowledged. The Chicken Rice and Kolo Mee here are near benchmark dishes - I would compare them favourably against well known options such as Tak Chee and Noodle Forum respectively, and my parents praised both dishes as being of a quality level that reminded them of how these dishes used to taste during their childhoods in Singapore. Having since tried their Nasi Lemak and Sarawak Laksa, we can definitely say their attention to authenticity and details applies to many other dishes on their menu. The fact that both the Kolo Mee Special and the Chicken Rice are the $10 mark makes this great value too. Very highly recommended.