August 15, 2016
Branding itself as a convenient meal stop for residents, Chef in Box is Singapore’s first vending machine café, and the latest food craze to hit Sengkang. The 24-hour, cashier-less café is located at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive, with lengthy queues formed from morning to night. So what’s all the fuss about?
Well, like food dispensing machines in Japan, there’s no chef or kitchen involved, and food is pre-cooked. Customers get to pick from a selection of 19 bento-style dishes, which come in either hot or cold boxes, and heating your food with the built-in microwave takes three minutes. Customers also have the option of bringing home a chilled box of food.
As for the menu, meals are divided into varieties of local and Western cuisine, with dishes like Nasi Briyani with Mutton Rendang ($5), Chicken Curry with Rice ($4), Seafood Hor Fun ($4), Chicken Bolognese Spaghetti ($4), and Grilled Salmon with Spaghetti in Tomato Concasse ($5). All the food is halal-certified.
To see if the hype was worth it, we took a trip down to the place ourselves. When we arrived at 3.15pm, it was apparent that the sweltering heat didn’t bother the crowd one bit. The mid-afternoon crowd comprised mostly of school students and curious residents. Still, we were surprised at the amount of people present. After all, it wasn’t even peak period for lunch or dinner.
After one and a half hours of queuing, we got ourselves a box of chicken curry with rice and seafood hor fun (purchases were limited to two boxes per person due to the overwhelming crowd). Taste-wise, the chicken curry was hardly satisfying. The strong spices usually associated with curry were almost non-existent, and the rice was slightly mushy.
Thankfully, the seafood hor fun fared way better – it retained a decent wok hei flavour. But we weren’t convinced that it was actually worth waiting so long for. Other food we tried included the Tuna & Corn Wrap ($3.90) and Thai Chicken Sandwich ($3.80) from the snack section, which dispenses food items like sandwiches and canned drinks.
The wrap was underwhelming, and we could barely taste the tuna, which came off as extremely bland. However, the Thai chicken sandwich was flavourful, and packed a nice, sweet punch. That being said, the star attractions were the bento box dispensing machines, and queues were short at the snack station when we were there.
Overall, Chef in Box is a fantastic idea, one that could potentially help a lot of people, especially folks who are pressed for time. But is worth joining the long lines at the moment? No, not in our books. Until the novelty of buying food from vending machines at a void deck wears off, and the crowds dwindle, we can’t say that Chef in Box is the convenient meal stop it claims to be. It might just be in the future though.
Chef in Box is located at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive and is open 24/7. Visit their Facebook Page here.