Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Wonton Story - what you can spend the $7.90 on elsewhere

A week ago, I was in Bugis for lunch on a weekday. I decided on Wonton Story at the basement of Bugis Junction since I have never tried them. Wonton Story, together with a few other eateries like Bishamon, EAT Bak Chor Mee, Kedai Kue Kue, Uncle's Kitchen etc...... have counters that allows you to place orders and a designated small area with a few tables and chairs for dining. To me, they are somewhat equivalent to a food court. 

From its namesake, we know they specialise in wontons, having choices like Asparagus T-Bone, Shanghai Greens, Mushroom, Tako, Crunchy Prawn, Miso Fish.  Also, their Xiao Long Bao seems to be the recommended must-try item.  

I ordered a set of Minced Meat Sauce Noodles and Mushroom Wontons which was $7.90.  I had wanted to order Xiao Long Bao (one of my favourite chinese snack) but to my disappointment, they were not available that day. I was asked to have a seat while they would serve me.  I waited for about 20 minutes, even though there were maybe only 6 tables and almost all of the diners were already having their food. I also notice there were probably 4-5 service staff in the little counter/kitchen. When my order finally arrived, I was really truly shocked. 

Firstly, they were served in small paper bowls. Even the stalls in air-conditioned food courts serve piping hot noodles in big melamine bowls. Secondly, the portion for the minced pork noodles was so little that it was definitely lesser than a packet of instant noodles! The minced pork on top was also little (about the size of a tablespoon!). The real thing did not go in line with the description in their website "generous helping of minced pork and garnishes". The noodles were a little soggy. I finished the noodles in 3-4 mouthfuls. Thirdly, it's all about packaging. Even if paper bowls are acceptable, the portion of noodles was so miserably little inside the small paper bowl, it was about 1/4 of the bowl. If it was served in a paper /plastic PLATE, it would not have looked as pathetic. The mushroom wonton soup on the other hand, was about half full. The size of the wonton was small (teaspoon size) and there were about 4 wontons in the serving. The soup tasted bland.

The entire dining experience left much to be desired, I felt quite disappointed and short changed for the $7.90 I forked out. And I was still hungry afterwards.

In the end, I had to buy a bowl of $3.00 Taiwan Mee Sua (which came filled to the brim) from a nearby take-away counter, Taiwan Shihlin Snacks. The experience in Wonton Story was the first time I felt paying $7.90 was not justified, for the food, the presentation, the food portion, the waiting time etc..  And making it worse, when I compare what I had in Wonton Story to what I can get elsewhere for $7.90 or less, it is even more frustrating. Let's see what alternatives I found and they are each delicious in their own right.....

At Old Town Cafe, for $6.90, you have a set of Minced Chicken Rice + a Classic Float. The minced chicken was garnished generously and accompanied with an egg and cucumber.

At Soup Spoon, for between $5.60 - $6.90, you get Regular size big bowl of say, Clam Chowder which comes with a bun.  The soup portion is sizable, and generous with loads of chunky ingredients. At least it is filling even though it is just soup.

At Aston Express in a kopitiam, for instance, their serving of Chargrill Chicken with a baked potato and salad cost around $6+. Even at their restaurant, Aston Specialties, a dish costs between $7+ to $15. The last time my family was there, our total bill came up to about $55 for 7 persons (average cost per person $7.80).

At MOS Burger, a meal comprising Natsumi Teriyaki Chicken $3.35, Hokkaido Croquette $1.80, and Clam Chowder Soup $2.40. Total bill costs $7.55.

Over at Popeyes, a set meal includes a 2-piece fried chicken, big and fluffy  buttermilk biscuit which looks like a muffin, mashed potato with lovely Cajun flavour gravy, and a drink of your choice. Cost $7.40.

At a humble and friendly Penang Food restaurant, for $8, I can have BOTH a bowl of authentic rich Penang Laksa ($3.50) and delicious spicy Mongolia Ribs with rice ($4.50).

Over at the famous Ali Nachia Briyani stall at the Railway Station, a huge plate of Chicken Briyani costs $6. The Chicken Briyani of basmati rice is accompanied with achar, a salad and a vegetarian curry cooked with roasted eggplant. Each set costs $6 and probably an additional $1 for a cuppa hot teh tarik.

Even at Blue Mountain Cafe Restaurant in Iluma Shopping Mall, their ala carte dishes for say, their Rosemary Chicken is about $7+. In a set meal, it is priced less than $10. Each main entree comes with a bowl of soup and a drink.

I bought the ready-made salad from Mediya Supermarket in Liang Court. The Salmon Salad costs $4.50 while an additional Potato Salad costs $2.90. Total  cost was $7.80 and it fed about 1.5 persons.

I am not even talking about comparing it with hawker or cheaper food.  There are obviously many other choices which cost $7.90 or less to fill the stomach.

Operating a food business is not easy, especially in Singapore where the competition is stiff and the wide variety of cuisines available. Singaporeans are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Hence for a food operator to survive(succeed), it is not rocket science that the followings are critical:

1. Food must at least be averagely delicious, or has one or two specialties (and make sure that it is not out of stock). Otherwise, why would diners keep coming back?

2. Price must be reasonable. If retailers want to charge high, make sure the dish is unique and very delectably delicious, or at least be more generous with the portion. Singaporeans generally do not mind paying for food if what they are getting in return is, by perception, "worth it".

3. Presentation counts. Would you pay premium price for say, an abalone served on a paper plate? Take a leaf out of the Japanese' book. Even for a simple bowl of 450yen (S$7.00) ramen at the most humble and lowest-priced shop in Japan, the dish is served hot, in a nice bowl, with a generous amount of soup, condiments, free green tea and clean napkins.

4. Service must be friendly at the very basic. Generally speaking, nowadays, while diners get served by many foreign service staff whom they do not understand or can communicate properly with, they are also faced with many local staff who do not know what is "service with a smile".  Diners tend to be more forgiving when not greeted with a grumpy black face or a blur look. 

5. Last but not least, retailers should not be confused about how to position themselves, with the right and balanced mix of the above points.

1 comment:

  1. I tired Wonton story before, the food was like you say, disappointment.


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