Singapore’s Pay-What-You-Want Restaurant
Elegant wood-paneling, cool airconditioned and no menu. No bill either, if you’re a bit skint or just feeling stingy.
Singapore’s Annalakshmi is a haven in many ways. All-you-can-eat and pay-what-you-want. And it doesn’t look like a soup kitchen, far from it. Annalakshmi is a feast for the senses.
In Singapore, Annalakshmi has two outlets, one in Amoy Street (near Chinatown) and one near Clarke Quay. The Amoy Street restaurant is within walking distance of my office and my dear friend and colleague Ms A and I had been plotting for months to do an Annalakshmi lunch. But our schedules have not aligned.
We decided to do a Saturday lunch, but after organising buses, babies and darling men, we arrived to find the restaurant closed for the presidential election. We had a slap-up Middle Eastern lunch that day, but my Annalakshmi yearning continued.
Then I handed in my notice, and my Singapore days became numbered. All players were suddenly motivated. And so we made it to the famous Annalaksmi vegetarian lunch buffet on a sunny Saturday.
Miss M, Darling Man, Ms A, her dashingly handsome other half, Mr A, and I all converged on the restaurant. Being Indian, the As know what each dish is called, and they showed us how to load up our plates.
Luckily, Darling Man is a quick study.
And then there was Miss M. Sigh. She ate a bit of rice. She marched around with a poppadom under her arm. She stole another girl’s doll stroller, and she marched around some more, pushing a tiny pink pram. We couldn’t even tempt her with this stunning dessert, which should have been child heaven — sugary, colourful and eaten-with-fingers. But it got a sweet high-pitched “nyo”, Miss M’s standard response to food, and just about everything, really.
These Indian pancakes are loaded up with …
… red sugar and sweetened coconut milk. Decadent, heavenly, sinful (and free, if you’re so inclined)… but still we get a “nyo”. (I’m going to miss the nyos when she finally works out how to say no properly.)
There’s a discreet sign asking you to take small portions and return to the buffet if needed. The As knew exactly what everything was, so loaded up with their favourites. Our mob, being ignorant, took small portions and then returned to the buffet for seconds. And thirds. It was adults-only, though. Our baby just won’t eat.
And when thirds were done, and dessert, and our drinks, it was time to go. We decided to pay $10 each, so the As paid $20 and we paid $25. We could have paid nothing. At a hawker centre, we would have paid about $5 for a similar-sized serve. But we factored in the air-conditioning (hawker centres aren’t air-conditioned), the lovely ambiance and the fact that the volunteer staff let Miss M steal another child’s toy, crash it into every table and investigate all areas of the restaurant.
And the other diners were lovely, although some did look a bit down on their luck.
Another Indian colleague told me the following week that Singapore’s Annalakshmi is known as a place where you eat for free. But yet another Indian colleague told me that in India, it’s a high-end restaurant chain. The world is truly a funny place.
104 Amoy Street
Phone: 6223 0809
#01-04 Central Square
20 Havelock Road
Phone: 6339 9993
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12 years ago