I must not have done my research because I was surprised by Betelnut.
I hadn’t realized it was so hip! Red lanterns at the front, groups of raucous young people, a glowing red bar by the open kitchen… The whole vibe screamed sex appeal.
However, it does start to become a problem when it infects the diners.
I have to admit to being disappointed. It has been on Michael Bauer’s Top 100 list for nine consecutive years. NINE. I’m also Singaporean (the chef is Malaysian), so I went with high expectations.
Glazed pork short ribs were properly-cooked, but flavors were muddled. It tasted kind of like “generic salty meat sauce.” It was fine, but nothing special.
The green papaya salad was good though – refreshing and fun.
This Singaporean was skeptical of the “Malaysian Curry ‘Laksa’ Soup.” First of all, laksa is not curry. Secondly, laksa is in quotation marks. Thirdly, while curry is a kind of soup, laksa is also a sort of soup, no one from Southeast Asia in their right mind puts all three in a name.
And my suspicion of it being a faux-whatever it is was justified. It is more accurately a “laksa-inspired” curry. There wasn’t much noodles, there wasn’t much chili, and a curry that milky-looking contained way too much milk that any spice was dulled.
If you’ve ever had dental surgery done and had your tongue numbed, and then tried to drink or shovel food down afterward, it was kind of like that. I wanted so much for it to be spicier, a little more brothy, a little more authentic.
At least the curry was generous with ingredients: plenty of shrimp, tofu, and chicken to be had.
The winner of the night was the Clay-Baked Beggar’s Chicken.
This dish was worth the wait. Encased in clay (“Just regular clay from the art supply store,” we were informed), chicken breasts and thighs were cooked to perfect tenderness with pork belly, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts. Click HERE to watch me go at it with chopsticks.
My companion and I didn’t stick around for dessert, owing to the fact that we were SO. FULL. I’ll definitely come back for sweets and cocktails which, by the way, run on the dry side.
Betelnut attracts the younger crowd and diners who would like to have conversations in their indoor voice should head elsewhere. The food falls just short of authentic, but it’s a good one-stop shop for a taste of all parts of Asia.