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Restaurants

Hawker Bar

Posted by Ryan Spencer / Reviewed on April 18, 2012 / review policy

Hawker Bar TorontoHawker Bar is the latest manifestation of the street food that's hit Toronto — Singaporean street food to be exact. Located on Lower Ossington, Hawker joins the Saint as a new entry into an area that continues to attract restaurants post-moratorium. That doesn't mean everyone's happy, though. Having just opened last week, Hawker Bar experienced something of a setback when locals protested its petition for a liquor license. Don't worry, the license will be coming shortly (couple of weeks).

Hawker BarThe interior evokes pan-Asian influences with origami wallpaper, various fish sauces adorning the bar's shelf and crimson red highlights throughout the smallish room. The handwritten cardboard menus are a nice nod to their street vendor roots.

Hawker BarThe special of the evening was a Fried Sea Bream for two ($20) that was simply fantastic. I tend to avoid whole fish, not because of the eyes staring back, but for the labour of deboning at the table, which is both a messy undertaking and rarely successful. But a quick swoop with our spoon and the entire fish was deboned in one motion. The side of banana flowers with the playful addition of cubed 'dragonfruit dice' definitely elevates the dish above its putative street fare roots. Moist and meaty, it was one of the best dishes of the evening. (Remember to grab that last bit of meat from the cheeks).

Hawker BarTo be honest, I've never had a Laksa (sm. $9 / lg. $12) before but I really enjoyed Hawker's offering, which was surprisingly hearty with ample rice noodles and coconut milk broth. The curry had just the right amount of heat to complement the complexity of the broth. Even split between the two of us, we weren't able to finish all of the noodles.

Pork Tenderloin Satay ($6) with peanut sauce was solid but not amazing. The thin sauce lacked any emulsion from the chopped peanuts so was too watery. And the pork was a tad overcooked, proving slightly difficult to remove from the skewer.

Hawker BarBoth economical and a wonderfully tender cut of meat, beef cheeks are very much in vogue right now (see Chantecler and Grand Electric by way of example). Hawker's Rendang Curry ($12) of ox braised cheeks with a coconut rice definitely sets the dish apart from other versions around town. Braised to perfection, the beef is fork tender yet retains it's shape without falling apart. The curry, similar in flavour to the laksa, is quite rich — especially with the coconut rice, which works well with the consistency of the beef.

Hawker BarWe couldn't stuff ourselves with another bite except for the Ice Kachang ($6) (a.k.a. Singapore Snow Cone). I know it's just a pile of shaved ice, but I have to say that the green syrup (Pandan?) had an peculiar flavour reminiscent to vanilla that I still can't figure out. It's something different so I applaud the risk-factor with this dish.

Like many new Toronto restaurants, Hawker currently doesn't accept reservations and with a smallish dining room you can expect line-ups. Takeout is, however, a viable option. Hawker Bar pushes past mere trendiness in favour of well-executed and unique dishes that are worth the wait.

Hawker Bar

Discussion

39 Comments

dumb / April 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm
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Overpiced Asian Food made by white people... great I cant wait
Matthew replying to a comment from dumb / April 17, 2012 at 08:00 am
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interesting takes, but yes.. I agree with you. It's great to see people trying to bring in different food cultures though!
shaved sally / April 18, 2012 at 09:29 am
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Yeah, shaved ice is risky.
danielle replying to a comment from dumb / April 18, 2012 at 09:34 am
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What's dumb is thinking race should have any bearing on the cooking of another culture's food. Does that mean the countless Sri Lankans cooking in Toronto's restaurants aren't qualified to make French, Latino, Asian, etc. food? So silly.
michell replying to a comment from danielle / April 18, 2012 at 10:07 am
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what you're missing danielle is that for people like 'dumb', if it's an ethnic minority cooking the food of another culture, then that's something to celebrate as part of our wonderful diverse culture... however if it's a white person cooking the food of another culture, then that's just lame.

it's best to not expect consistency from people like 'dumb', because they tend to pre-judge things in their mind before actually trying.
hop / April 18, 2012 at 11:18 am
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You should have tried the chicken rice, it's Singapore's National dish and I've wanted to try it really badly. Would love to here how it matches up to the ones from the hawker stalls.

The chef/owner's ethnic origin is irrelevant, even more so considering this is a Singaporean restaurant and the country's cuisine has been shaped by so many different people and cultures.
*M* / April 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm
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This looks awesome! Well priced and something different. Can't wait to try it! I'm loving this restaurant boom that Toronto seems to be experiencing :)
Rachel / April 18, 2012 at 01:36 pm
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As someone who has spent time in Malaysia and Singapore, I was very, very, very excited to have spotted this place a few nights ago. I cannot wait to try it, although I was never a fan of Singaporean shaved ice. Lotsa laksa for me!
EricM replying to a comment from dumb / April 18, 2012 at 03:12 pm
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Yup...Dumb. Name matches the comment. In the New York industry things are dominated by cooks of Mexican and South American descent. Ecuadorian seems to be almost as large as Mexican and a lot of the Mexicans are in fact even from the same region in Mexico. Here, as has been aluded to it is very much South Asian. In a way, it is pretty awesome seeing all the cross polination.
EricM doesn't know sh*t / April 18, 2012 at 05:26 pm
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Sorry, EricM doesn't know squat. You are misrepresenting the facts.

It may be true that there are a lot of Mexicans and S. Americans in New York's kitchens. However, they are not in positions of authority.

If you go to a French restaurant in New York, for instance, the Head Chef is likely from France (or trained in France). The Head Chef is not likely from Mexico or S. America. Just sayin'.
Bev / April 18, 2012 at 05:26 pm
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As someone born in Malaysia, having experienced the traditional Hawker store that this restaurant is trying to mimic, I commend the efforts to bring this to Toronto.

Can't wait to try it regardless of what "race" the chef is.

Anyone who's ever had Malaysian food would know that it's made of a diverse fusion of different food cultures from all over the Asian continent - ironic, after what Dumb just said.


And FYI, not overpriced at all. Average bowl of laksa in Scarborough is just about that.
white ppl rule! / April 18, 2012 at 05:37 pm
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White people can do anything! We can make any ethnic food better than their native counterparts, whether it be Korean, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or Thai. We rule, and Hawker Bar just proves my point!
David / April 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm
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Waiting in line in front of a hawker centre is as authentic as it gets (if the the food is as good as they say). Perhaps this place will get listed in the newest MAKAN Sutra! I would ask that they hire an older person to sell tissues at the table to complete the experience.
CORPSE DICK / April 19, 2012 at 01:56 am
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I HOPE THEY HAVE DURIAN!!!!
Brenda Bendover / April 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm
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In two word: Soooo good!

They make everything in house and you can tell. The food is simply delicious and everything is melt-in-your mouth goodness. The staff are very friendly and so professional. I can honestly say that this is the best restaurant in Toronto! Please try them out. You will be so glad you did!
Cough Cough / April 19, 2012 at 03:38 pm
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I hope the name is a reference to a certain vile habit...
Gabe / April 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm
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The Best Pizza Slice in Toronto

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mike / April 20, 2012 at 01:21 am
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Yes a little pricey, but hey this is Canada so if you can get GOOD Singapore food done right here, I am in.
so so / April 24, 2012 at 09:03 am
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I tried it on opening day and have to say was a bit disappointed. i've lived in Singapore for most of my life so you could say I have an extremely bias opinion to begin with. I had the Ice Kachang, major disappointment for something that was $4 of shaved ice and not so good red beans. They served it on a flat plate instead of a bowl, but I wasn't too concerned since they were going to bring in more bowls in future.

I had the chicken rice and was a major disappointment. My friends in Singapore laughed when I told them that the price was $12...they asked if I got a whole chicken. Of course we have to take into consideration that we live in a different country and things cost differently, but why is it in chinatown I can get something that is less expensive and tastes even better? A regular plate of chicken rice in Singapore is $3-4 CAD, yet Singapore is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. The taste...well lack thereof was another disappointment, I also was hoping they would of made fresh chilli sauce/paste themselves but thus no dice.

Overall I want this place to succeed but it is still young and obviously there will be some hits and misses. I will try again in the future to see if things have been adjusted/played around with. I'm not one to just be repulsed after one experience especially for a new restaurant.

Those who are familiar with Singapore/Malaysian food, don't get excited. Those who are new to the types of taste, try it out and then travel to Singapore :-P
whitey replying to a comment from dumb / April 28, 2012 at 07:07 pm
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every single sushi place you've ever eaten at in Toronto is run by Chinese.
Ahmed / April 29, 2012 at 10:04 am
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Looks yum - hope they make chillie crabs
argrow / April 29, 2012 at 01:21 pm
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The rendang curry is similar in taste to laksa? Wow...definitely NOT a place to go.
Mullerberg / April 30, 2012 at 11:58 am
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What's really frustrating are online users turning an innocent blog about food into some tense racial dialogue rather than insightful reviews. Wack jobs.
lol replying to a comment from Mullerberg / May 10, 2012 at 05:49 pm
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IM REALLY DISAPPOINTED BLOGTO CAN ONLY DO FLUFF REVIEWS AND NOT KEEP IT REAL FOR ONCE
Patricia / June 14, 2012 at 09:18 am
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I ate here last night and I quite enjoyed it. I thought the food was very good and not overpriced. I also enjoyed being able to get a cocktail for under $10. It was my first time having Laksa so I'm definitely not an expert, but it was a hit in my books. Our server was also very helpful/friendly.
Anna / June 23, 2012 at 11:32 am
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Tried this a few weeks ago and loved it! The staff/owners were very welcoming and the food is great Singapore/Malaysian style with slight changes to suit local tastes. Just don't go too hungry as it's so popular you need to wait to get a table! Can't wait till they get their alcohol license.
james / December 4, 2012 at 01:30 pm
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The one owner with the girly long hair is a douche bag. Someone throw a rock through their window.
MJ replying to a comment from white ppl rule! / January 18, 2013 at 07:15 pm
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People like you don't deserve to live in our city.
lucy / January 28, 2013 at 11:09 pm
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I lived in Singapore. this is good food - NOT good Singaporean food.
Sass / February 27, 2013 at 02:31 pm
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I too lived in Singapore for some time and cannot WAIT to try this place. Fare in true Singaporean Hawker's markets is definitely less expensive but pretty much EVERYTHING else is more expensive there so consider ourselves lucky.
Never had Kachang although I will not be trying. I was forced by my host to eat, far too often, what I now believe is Kachang's ugly sister: cendol/chendol. Possibly the most unappetizing dessert (both visually and gustatorily) on the planet.
zktxo / February 28, 2013 at 03:44 am
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Ummmmm that shit is too pricey... just go to Gourmet Malaysia in Scarborough... for sure would taste better, plus they are MALAY and INDONESIAN...... unlike in this place...


ummmmmm yeah, white folk trying to cook asian food and putting a ridiculous price tag on it....
zktxo replying to a comment from white ppl rule! / February 28, 2013 at 03:47 am
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does that "ethnic" cooking of yours involve a recipe book, jarred sauces, premade mixes and cartons of processed shit that you can mix up into what you call "ethnic" food?????

unhappy_meal / March 2, 2013 at 06:12 pm
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Half the fun of these 'best of' lists is reading the hipster-saturated comment sections :D
Alice replying to a comment from dumb / March 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm
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Agree - Especially having eaten real, authentic hawker food in Singapore, the portions don't seem to match the price. I understand that not everyone can fly out to the other side of the world for cheap street food, but especially when it's done by non-Singaporeans, it makes you question the quality.

And the ice kachang looks horrible! Where's the huge mound of ice and the cubes of crazy jelly!?
Chris / March 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm
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Tried this place out, it wasn't anything special. Small portions, bland and overpriced. Will not return.
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Garneau / August 25, 2013 at 12:12 am
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Sorry, but no. Singapore food will have its moment, and this restaurant might assist in that happening, but Hawker Bar does not do Singaporean food well. Overcooked chicken means that you fundamentally don't understand why people like Hainanese chicken rice - the entire dish rests on cooking the chicken properly! Good try, it's nice to see Singaporean food beginning to get its due, but no. This place is a 6/10.
Tony / April 28, 2014 at 08:32 am
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The GTA has several restaurants cashing in on Singapore's culinary fame by claiming to serve Singapore-style street food and/or to be 'Singapore restaurants'. The Hawker Bar's food is a poor facsimile of Singapore hawker food.

Since the mid-1990s, the GTA has always had authentic Singaporean street food -- at Lion City restaurant in Mississauga. It probably makes the best Singaporean cuisine in North America (I've eaten such cuisine in all major Canadian and American cities over the past 25 years). Lion City is right to claim that it "is the only restaurant in the Greater Toronto Area that is Singaporean owned and operated that offers authentic Singaporean cuisine".

Owner and head chef Lilian Ow is genuine Singaporean (of Peranakan-Teochew Chinese heritage). Her preparations of Hainanese chicken rice, laksa lemak, satay, char kway teow, ice kachang, pisang goreng (fried banana), wat tan hor fun, fried carrot cake, beef rendang, chwee kway, oh luak, tahu goreng, rojak, popiah, spicy eggplant, hokkien mee, etc. are closest to the Singapore cuisine described in CNN's "40 Singapore foods we can't live without", Forbes "The World's Top 10 Cities for Street Food", Dr. Leslie Tay's "Top Ten Things to Eat in Singapore: The Hawker Edition (see his ieatishootipost blog), KF Seetoh's makansutra, etc.

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