Any new opening by the Lo & Behold Group is a culmination of intense research and development – I caught a glimpse of it on a visit to their office early last year when they were looking at restaurant concepts for The Warehouse Hotel. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it’s nice to see a hotel adopting mod Sin (modern Singaporean cuisine for the uninitiated) at their flagship restaurant, thereby educating hapless tourists on the subject. In this case, Po’s menu development was put in the hands of the award-winning Chef Willin Low, mod Sin pioneer and owner of fine-dining restaurant Wild Rocket, casual eatery Relish, and Wild Oats, a bar in Punggol Park.
It’s wise to take a more objective approach here. Before I even headed down to the restaurant, most of the buzz was around the $28 price tag of the signature Popiah (serves four), since popiah lovers rarely fork out more than $2.50 for a roll at hawker centres and coffee shops. Oh, and you have to make it yourself (don’t worry, the placemat has instructions). If you’re prepared to leave the mentality that it’s not worth paying as much for local food as compared to international fare at the door, then welcome to Po.
The aforementioned Popiah is served as a photogenic group of dishes: the steamer baskets layered with fresh wheat wrap, fresh lettuce, and condiments like shredded egg, beansprouts, crushed peanuts, crispy flatfish, coriander, chili sauce, sweet sauce, and freshly ground garlic, alongside a steaming bowl of four-hour braised pork and veggie filling. If you’re feeling a little indulgent, get the Prawn Platter ($38) or the freshly handpicked Flower Crab Platter ($58). The taste of your individual popiah depends on which condiments you add and its proportions. That said, the flavour of the filling was robust enough to withstand my copious smears of chili sauce on the skin.
Fun fact: rather than make the popiah skin in-house, Po gets it from Kway Guan Huat, a third-generation family-owned business in Joo Chiat.
The Barramundi Salad ($19) is a fitting tribute to the humble yusheng (raw fish salad), which sparked a public health scare in 2015. Well, Po is one safe place to have it because locally farmed barramundi is used in place of the usual ikan parang (wolf herring). Sliced and served carpaccio style with a tangy dressing of ginger, fish sauce, chili, and sesame oil. You’ll find luxury meat on a stick in the Charcoal Grilled Iberico Satay ($20) with a 12-hour spice marinade. The star here is really the spiced peanut dip with a dollop of freshly grated pineapple.
My favourite local dish is hokkien mee, so the most-anticipated dish on the menu to arrive was the Carabinero Prawns & Konbu Mee ($32). Hailing from the Mediterranean, these charcoal-grilled prawns are sweeter and more tender than the tiger prawns that we’re used to. Chef Wilin Low’s dry umami take also features sakura ebi, as well as expected ingredients like pork belly and lardon. The accompanying chili is on point with the flavours, not overfried. My only complaint is that it needed more wok hei (that smoky breath of the wok we all love). We queue for it all the time anyway, so don’t be afraid of making us wait.
Perhaps, a safer and less divisive bet is the Paper Spring Chicken ($49). Definitely meant for sharing, the whole baked chicken is good for two to four people. Marinated with Shaoxing wine and sesame oil, the chicken is stuffed with a delicious mix of glutinous rice, dried scallops, Chinese sausage, and mushrooms. Best when they bring it to your table steaming hot from the oven! Do note that there’s a minimum 30-minute preparation time for the chicken so if you’re hungry, be sure to order some starters or drinks while you wait.
Speaking of drinks, beverage options on the menu include a curated list of teas by A.muse Projects, wine, sake, sprits, and cocktails.
Our dessert, Ice Cream Popiah ($15), brought us to a full circle. In this instance, it’s up to you whether to roll the locally made pineapple, taro, and peanut gelato, together with the coriander and shavings of peanut candy. The ice cream was slightly icy but it doesn’t affect the wondrous combination so by all means, have popiah for dessert too. Just a word of caution – share.
I believe Po’s problem, when it comes to courting Singaporean customers, is not so much pricing or value. It’s also the competition from the nostalgic and famliar flavours from our favourite popiah, satay, or hokkien mee stall that keeps us going back for years. Only time will tell if Po will become one of those institutions.
P.S Props to the team for including Popo’s little nuggets of wisdom – “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can eat today.” – in the menu!
Po is located at The Warehouse Hotel, 320 Havelock Road, Singapore 169628, p. +65 6828 0007. Open daily 7am-10.30am, 12pm-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm.