If you visit Ayala Triangle Gardens at its peak hours (read: the hours when people are most hungry), you will definitely not miss the sight of Wee Nam Kee. Snaking lines, customers wanting dibs, and a long wait to enter -- it seems that the hungry Makati folk is giving their Singaporean chicken rice a full-blown rockstar treatment. You'd think there was some concert by the gardens, with the restaurant serving as the entrance line to the grounds.
Wee Nam Kee on a weeknight
It has valid reasons to be jam-packed, of course. First, this branch is the very first in the Philippines. Secondly, you may want to consider that this is the very first franchise of the Singaporean brand -- so if you're not in Singapore, our country's currently the only place to find their famous chicken rice.
Wee Nam Kee is just about a month old and it's going through some birthing pains, adjusting to the increasing demand of hungry customers wanting a taste of their authentic chicken and fragrant rice. I've heard some stories that the wait can even be an hour long -- so if you want to brave the lunch and dinner crowd, be prepared to wait it out. Stroll around the area first, chat up your friends, or bring some boredom busting gadgets to temporarily get your mind off hunger. If you cannot wait, then I advise you to visit during their leaner hours (2-4pm) for a late lunch, heavy merienda, or early dinner.
Everyone wanting a piece of Wee Nam Kee as early as 11am!
Good things come to those who wait, as the saying goes, and this we experience firsthand during our lunch at Wee Nam Kee. We arrive 11am (the time the restaurant opens its doors), and already there was a long line for getting a table. Instead of getting all grumpy, I just amuse myself by thinking of the experience like a much awaited rock concert. My mindset immediately changed directions -- as a concert goer, you come prepared to wait, not minding standing for quite a while (wear a good pair of shoes). We grabbed some Golden Spoon frozen yogurt first, as we waited for our turn to get a table, just to tame our appetite for a while before our feast.
"Sometimes customers arrive here cranky from the wait, but then after they eat, they have satisfied smiles on their faces," Linfred Yap shares to us when we finally scored ourselves a table and wait for our food. And smiles were what I saw on the other tables, as every table nearby ours had a platter of chicken and cups upon cups of chicken rice. This made me all the more excited, so we all prepared our sauces. I like my Hainanese chicken to have a lot of ginger and chili, so I mixed these two with some of the soy sauce.
Before I get to dip the soft pieces of chicken coated with tender, slippery fat, Wee Nam Kee first served us our plate of Cereal Prawns (P375 for 4 pieces). Linfred himself brings it to our table (you can usually find him busy taking orders and serving other people during the resto's peak hours), and goodness, the aroma of this dish will make your heart flutter. I know, I know, chicken is the rockstar over here, but let's first shine the spotlight on another superstar dish at Wee Nam Kee.
The cereal prawns smell like warm milk and oats, and hints of barley. It was sweet and fragrant to admire from afar. In my every visit to Singapore I make it a point to order cereal prawns at least once, so I had an idea what to expect. But Wee Nam Kee's take on this Singaporean dish is truly stellar. Perfect crispness and texture, prawns fried just right to make you devour them from head to tip (yes, without taking it off its shell!). This item's been selling like hotcakes at the resto just like their chicken, Linfred shares, as their month's worth of cereal inventory was wiped out in just a couple of weeks! I'm not surprised, really. Even the cereals eaten alone just by getting a spoonful and popping it in my mouth was a treat. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
You know what made the cereals even more awesome? Experiencing it mixed with the chicken rice. Heck, give me Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice (by the cup - P40) alone will satisfy me with its flavor. It may look like a plain old cup of white rice when served, but it is impeccably moist, flavored, and aromatic, that you can easily imagine the cook pouring a rich stock of chicken bone broth, then sprinkling different spices and garlic and ginger to make the perfect blend for the rice. A perfect example of that phrase "kanin pa lang, ulam na."
Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice
The first chicken for lunch that day was the Roasted (P168-personal set, P248-small, P488-medium, P888-large), served with chicken soup. Checking out the prices, it's easy to say that they've priced their items pretty well. While the first Wee Nam Kee in Singapore is your average look and feel of a hawker stand, we Manila folk get to taste their food in an air-conditioned restaurant.
Roasted Chicken Rice
At first bite, You can tell right off the bat that the chicken was prepared masterfully. Its skin is brown, gleaming with fatty oils. The slices reveal white meat boiled perfectly, keeping the meat moist and soft, with just enough give when you sink your teeth into it. Personally though, I prefer my Hainanese chicken just plain ol' steamed and less soy-salty, but the roasted version was pretty good stuff.
Before moving on to the pièce de résistance, we were encouraged to try out the BBQ Pork Asado (P220), a small plate of thinly sliced meat coated in a light sweet-salty sauce. It was a nice and light nibble serving as intermission for two chicken rice dishes.
BBQ Pork Asado
Our Steamed (P168-personal set, P248-small, P488-medium, P888-large) chicken rice finally arrives. The white serving plate came with a serving fork and spoon on opposite sides, and I was tempted to humor my lunchmates and pretend to grab the entire plate and eat my chicken from there. But I am nice (and oh so willing to share the calories), so after taking obligatory food shots, we all dig in.
Steamed Chicken Rice
Now that's the good stuff. A thick, blubbery layer of fat just right under the chicken skin was in every slice of meat I gobbled up. The gelatinous texture and the soft white meat colliding in your mouth, with the ginger-chili sauce I prepared earlier? Glorious. It's the good amount of chicken fat and the interplay of spices that really got me hooked. Following it up with the rice kept my palate excited double-time. I know I cannot have this every single day, so I savor every bite, dipping the juicy meat into the sauce, letting the chicken oil, fat and flavors slide down my throat. Gobble, gobble. It was incredibly delicious and indulgent.
I was just about to call it a day when I was asked if we wanted some vegetables to try out. I know, right? After indulging on fatty chicken and glorious prawns, it was something that seemed to level down our rich feast for the day. The Sambal Kang Kong (P190) was our leafy choice to take away the fatty aftertaste of our chicken rice, and it also fooled my mind into thinking I ate 'healthy' that day.
Sambal Kang Kong
But hey, I got myself the Wee Nam Kee experience, and front row access to their chicken rice, so I think I deserved the incredible lunch. It's fun to have fun with food -- and after our long wait for a table? It was delayed gratification at its finest.