Vending Machine Claypot Rice, Anyone?

Or what about Spaghetti Chicken Bolognaise, Vegetarian Bee Hoon and Hor Fun?

Last Sat night, a big boxy thing with a TV screen caught my eye at our condo, Reflections at Keppel Bay. It looked like some sort of newfangled vending machine. We were so fascinated, we actually stopped the car and got out just to check it out.

It was indeed a vending machine, with the pompous name ‘Chef in Box’.

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It is operated by a company called JR Vending which, according to their website, also owns a catering business and the Oceanspoon restaurant at the nearby Keppel Golf Club.

Call me a suaku (mountain tortoise) but I’ve never seen a vending machine this fancy. A quick check with Google showed that they’ve been around since last year, apparently.

The hubby and I excitedly made lunch plans with the um, vending machine the next day.

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First, we selected English or Mandarin menu and browsed the 12 options available on the touch screen. All dishes are halal and range from western, like Roasted Chicken with mash potato and Carbonara, to Asian like Teriyaki Salmon with rice, and local delights like Vegetarian Beehoon and Claypot Rice (though they call it ‘Casserole Rice’).

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Each dish costs between $3.50 for the Veggie Beehoon to $4.50 for a Stir-fried Beef with rice.

We fed the machine money and made our selection.

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Then we waited for the food to be heated. Meanwhile, a white box with plastic cutlery and a paper napkin popped out.

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Each dish has a different heating time. We ordered four dishes and on the average, we waited about 2min 30 seconds to about 3min per dish.

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As we waited, the TV screen flashed friendly reminders, like these:

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And finally, our meal was ready! Ooh!

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Okay, we know it’s basically reheating frozen food but it’s still pretty exciting stuff!

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We’d um, loudly count down the last few seconds. For every single dish. Our infectious enthusiasm was rubbing off on our neighbours who came to check out the machine and wait in line for their turn. We really should collect a commission from these JR vending machine folks.

We ordered four dishes: (clockwise from left) Vegetarian Beehoon, Spaghetti Chicken Bolognaise, Hor Fun and Casserole Rice (Claypot rice, according to the Chinese name). $4 each, except for the Veggie Beehoon ($3.50).

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We also got drinks from our mini mart (they also sell wine but nah, we’re not that atas). Then, hit by a flash of inspiration, we headed to our air conditioned clubhouse and grabbed a table facing the Keppel Marina. We now had the exact same view of yachts bobbing up and down, had we dined at Keppel Marina club!

The nearest eateries to my condo are the restaurants at Keppel Marina Club and Keppel Golf Club, such as Prive Grill, TCC and PeraMakan. They’re just a 5-minute stroll from home and are our usual weekend haunts when we are too lazy to drive out for dinner. Unfortunately, those aren’t exactly wallet-friendly. But today, our Sunday Lunch was Cuisine le Vending Machine!

Portion size: Pretty decent for the price (we’d probably pay the same price or more at any food court).

Taste: Some hits and misses.

My Claypot Rice looked pretty sad. It was reasonably flavourful with bits of dried shrimp but some grains were over-microwaved and crusty. The meat was a tad tough while the Chinese sausage slices looked limp and sad.

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The hubby’s Veggie Beehoon was surprisingly yummy. There’s the same ‘chup’ (gravy) just lightly coating the Beehoon a la ‘Zai Mifen’ from hawker centres. The mock meat was still soft and tasty. Our favorite dish here.

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The Hor Fun was not bad though it was a bit salty. The rice noodles had some nicely smoky-charred bits but right at the side, one or two noodles did not heat through totally. The veggies looked reasonably green and we liked the tender slivers of chicken and two still-quite-crunchy prawns. But the fish cake slices looked and tasted like they didn’t survive freezer burn.

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The dishes with sauce, like Ayden’s Spaghetti, fared best. The pasta still had some bite and the sauce and chunks of minced chicken froze and defrosted well. Ayden gobbled down everything.

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Total damage plus drinks: About $21. That will probably get us just one appetizer (including service charge and tax) at Prive Grill.

Best of all, we felt ridiculously smug to have beaten the system ‘cos we had a cheap lunch while admiring the same view we’d have gotten at the Keppel Marina Club restaurants. Woohoo!
#cheapthrill

Next round, we’ll be trying the Carbonara and the Beef with rice. Yums. Got a feeling we’ll be using the vending machine very, very often, especially when we need a quick supper. This is NOT good for my waistline.

Stella

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