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Chef Alec Martin flaunts his fabulous crispy sea bream at Hawker Bar (left). Son-In-Law Eggs, a cucumber mojito (right).
HAWKER BAR (164 Ossington, at Foxley, 647-343-4698, hawkerbar.ca) Complete dinners for $30 per person, including tax, tip and a mocktail. Average main $12. Open Tuesday to Thursday 11:45 am to 3 pm and 5 to 11 pm, Friday 11:45 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to midnight, Saturday 11:45 am to midnight, Sunday 11:45 am to 11 pm. Closed Monday, some holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
Other than Susur Lee's signature slaw and the occasional dish at Matahari on Baldwin and Jean's on the Danforth, Singaporean food doesn't show up on many Toronto menus.
The unlikely crew behind Poutini are out to change that with the introduction of Hawker Bar, a casual west-side snackateria dedicated to the late-night street food of that cosmopolitan city state. To most, the Bar's short cardboard carte will be uncharted waters. Perhaps that's why a starter known as son-in-law eggs comes with instructions.
"Chef suggests you plop them straight into your mouth so you get all the flavours at once," says a helpful server.
In my enthusiasm, I bite into the soft-boiled egg's runny yellow centre, and the yolk's on me, literally, albeit one kicked with sticky-sweet chili jam, snippets of Thai basil and fishy prik nam pla.
In contrast, pillowy cubes of deep-fried tofu come gently kissed with chili salt; the peanut sauce that accompanies skewers of lean pork satay (all $6) would prove more effective if it stuck to the pig instead of the plate.
We opt for the vegan version of chef Alec Martin's take on curry laksa soup ($9 small/$12 large) because we're from NOW and have an agenda to follow, and find little fault with its intoxicating mix of spicy coconut broth, slippery rice noodles and crunchy Asian veg.
Martin - who spent four years at Melbourne's Wallpaper-approved Gingerboy before ending up an Aussie on Oz - is clearly no stranger to Pacific Rim fusion. See it in his update on classic Hainanese chicken ($12), here skin-on slices of poached boneless breast over jasmine rice and barely pickled cucumber splashed with house-made soy, ginger and Sriracha-like hot sauces.
His deep-fried sea bream - an entire crispy fins 'n' all fish in a pool of potent sweet 'n' sour sauce studded with toasted garlic ($24) - is a culinary tour de force, especially when sided with cabbage slaw in a lime vinaigrette every bit as signature as Mr. Lee's, topped with dice cleverly fashioned from dragonfruit.
And the only way to follow banana fritters in green pandan batter paired with pickled rhubarb and a scoop of red-bean ice cream ($4) is with a minty mock Mojito spritzer ($3), alas booze-free until the liquor licence kicks in later this month.
Not everyone's a fan. Some say Hawker Bar is a faux hawker bar.
"I'm not in Singapore, so I can't really be authentic," says Martin. "But it's authentic to me."