Wild Coco’s nasi lemak has been making its rounds on social media. In particular, it was one dish that stole the spotlight— their ayam berempah, which sports a beautifully crusted, golden deep-fried exterior that literally made my stomach growl in protest.
Despite having only opened in February 2022, this home-grown nasi lemak eatery has already been compared with more well-known establishments, such as Michelin-recognised The Coconut Club and even Kuala Lumpur’s Village Park Nasi Lemak.
I headed down to Wild Coco, which is located beneath a HDB block at McNair Road, and genuinely hoped that its food would be as delicious as it looked.
Even before I turned into the corridor that led to Wild Coco, I could already smell the strong scent of deep-fried chicken, and I knew I was in the right place.
For a brand that has established itself quickly with its somewhat atas nasi lemak, I was surprised to find that Wild Coco was housed within a modern kopitiam-like setting that oozed casual vibes.
Plenty of tables were strewn across the eatery, with some high tables placed along the walkway, and I noticed a handful of neon signages that added specks of vibrant colour to the space.
Wild Coco is run by 42-year-old Wayne Tan and his business partner and head chef, 33-year-old Kah King, the latter of which is from Malaysia.
“Frankly, all I wanted to do was create a good plate of nasi lemak,” shared Wayne. “Both Kah King and I really love nasi lemak, and I always found that most places don’t manage to get all the elements right, for example the rice might not be fragrant or the egg is super hard.”
Curious about its comparison to KL’s famous Village Park Nasi Lemak, I asked Wayne whether he had sought inspiration from there. He replied: “All I knew was that I wanted to create a type of nasi lemak that didn’t use flour or deep-fried batter, so I looked at berempah instead. And the KL style just happens to be like that too!”
What I tried at Wild Coco
Whether or not you’re craving for a plate of no-fuss nasi lemak or a more zhng-ed plate with ayam berempah, Wild Coco’s got you covered.
It has seven nasi lemak dishes on its menu. You can choose between the Basic (S$5.80) which comes with coconut rice, egg, ikan bilis, peanuts, sambal and cucumber, or pay a little more for your choice of protein or seafood. These other options include the popular Ayam Berempah (Breast/Leg) (S$9.80), Sambal Fried Fish (S$10.80) and Chicken Curry (Drumstick) (S$11.80).
If you’re dining in a large group, these options are available à la carte as well, and you can pair your meat or fish with zi char-style vegetables like Stir-Fry Lady Finger (S$7.80) and Nyonya Assam Eggplant (S$7.80).
It might be worth noting that Wild Coco doesn’t use pork or lard in its dishes. It also doesn’t use MSG at all!
I went and got the one dish that brought me here: Ayam Berempah (Leg).
Due to the rising costs of Singapore’s fresh chicken supply, Wild Coco has resorted to using frozen chicken for his dishes. Despite that, Wayne shared that everything else, including its house-made berempah and sambal, is still lovingly made in-house, and that each piece of chicken is marinated for 24 hours.
The minute the Ayam Berempah was served, I couldn’t tell what to focus on first. My nose had caught a whiff of the fragrant, pandan-like smell coming from the rice, and at the same time, my eyes were drawn to the gorgeous spice-rubbed chicken leg with its crispy brown skin.
The first thing I did was peel off a piece of fried skin and pop it into my mouth, and instantly felt like I was 12-years-old again, sinfully indulging in fried chicken skin while ignoring all the meat.
This was chicken skin that had been beautifully spiced and deep-fried. Savoury and fragrant, each morsel was gritty and crispy, and I could taste aromatic notes from lemongrass and ginger.
The chicken meat clung to the bones quite a fair bit, which I suppose was the result of using frozen chicken. Apart from that, the meat was tender and soft, but I was left wishing that it had been more salted or seasoned, as I found myself picking on the pieces of meat that had the fried skin attached and ignoring the meatier parts of the chicken.
Wild Coco’s rice was a real wonder. Texture wise, this was perfectly cooked rice that was fluffy and moist. It didn’t clump together like wet rice, nor was it overly greasy or dry in the slightest.
I loved how aromatic it was, and I could taste notes of fragrant coconut and pandan. Wild Coco apparently uses freshly squeezed coconut milk for its rice— impressive!
Wild Coco makes its sambal in-house, and this potent chilli comprises more than 10 ingredients that go through a laborious five hour-long process.
Its taste was complex, full-bodied and rich, and it took my taste buds on a real journey. First came a pleasant sweetness, and it was quickly overtaken by a savoury roastedness. The last thing that hit me was a mild spice that didn’t seem overly spicy at first, but the heat lingered on my tongue painfully, even after I had moved on to the next component of the dish.
I wanted to order Wild Coco’s Ayam Rendang (S$11.80), but unfortunately, it wasn’t available. Wayne shared that its rendang takes four whole days to prepare, so they only sell it as and when it’s ready.
Instead, I went for the Sambal Fried Fish (S$10.80). Most of the dish’s components were the same as the Ayam Berempah, just that the chicken had been swapped for an entire ikan kembung. Each piece of fish is handpicked daily at the market.
Wild Coco’s Sambal Fried Fish won me over in an instant with its meaty and soft flesh, which tore apart easily with just the use of a fork. This was an incredibly delicious fish that I took my time to devour, and this is me speaking as someone who avoids fish like the plague— not because I’m allergic, but because I’m afraid of the many bones present that might become a choking hazard.
This is a dish that I’d gladly come back for. And yes, I’ll order this over the Ayam Berempah!
While the gobsmacking amount of sambal worried me in the beginning, I was delighted to find out that it wasn’t as spicy as I thought. Tangy and sour, Wild Coco’s homemade sambal was balanced out with a nice sweetness that made it super enjoyable when paired with the fish meat and fluffy rice.
Just when I was done eating, Wayne decided to bring out their Chicken Curry (Drumstick) (S$11.80) for me to try. This dish uses homemade curry paste and includes baby potatoes and lady fingers.
Though the curry was a little oilier than I’d like, each spoonful was incredibly fragrant. It was thick and luscious, with a slightly gritty texture from the added berempah, and the savouriness was paired with a strong taste of coconut milk.
I’ve got to say, the inclusion of some form of gravy was a real game changer to the chicken leg, as it added a well-needed saucy kick that rounded off the entire dish. Though the Ayam Berempah was a clear winner thanks to its spice-rubbed skin, I found myself enjoying this much more than the Ayam Berempah.
Though it was Wild Coco’s Ayam Berempah that drew me here, it was with much surprise that I found myself enjoying the Sambal Fried Fish and Chicken Curry much more.
Indeed, these plates of nasi lemak are much pricier than those found at your usual hawker or kopitiam, but I found myself won over by its large portions and well-executed chicken and fish items, which easily justified its S$10 or more price tag. Plus, I can see myself enjoying this as an occasional indulgence.
You can bet I’ll be back for that delicious plate of Sambal Fried Fish one day.
Expected damage: S$9.80 – S$12 per pax
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