In the first of our exciting new series of quarterly neighborhood guides, we explore Bukit Timah, one of Singapore’s most sought after residential areas and a bustling lifestyle precinct with something for everyone. Multi-million dollar bungalows form a mosaic in the neighborhoods branching off from the main road, alongside some of the best F&B choices in the city. Offering a concise, comprehensive guide to such a long stretch is no easy task, though we’re never ones to shirk hard work (especially when it means taste-testing dozens of establishments).
The heart of the area, between Adam Road and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve can be broken up into six distinct clusters: Adam, Greenwood, Sixth Avenue, Race Course, Clementi and Upper Bukit Timah. Each cluster is known for something different, although it’s safe to say they all have good food. We show you around each of them in the itself (see links below); with recommendations for shops, bars, services and, of course, restaurants. First though, a little introduction.
What’s in a Name?
The peak of Bukit Timah rises above several wannabe “Mounts” to claim the title of Singapore’s highest point. But though it means “Tin Hill” in Malay, Bukit Timah doesn’t actually have any tin reserves. The misleading name comes from a colonial-era stuff-up which butchered the name of a local tree; either the Temak or the Teremal (wild nutmeg).
The hill, in turn, lends its name to the suburb of Bukit Timah, and its main artery, Bukit Timah Road, which is Singapore’s longest non-expressway road. Winding north-south for 25km through Little India, Newton and, predictably Bukit Timah, it becomes Upper Bukit Timah Road which ultimately ends in Choa Chu Kang. Today, the road and the swathe it cuts across the country bring memories of a simple time of one-lane carriageways and single digit postal codes. Back then, the only thing Singaporeans had to worry about was a violent mauling at the paws of a Malayan tiger.
In the 1840s, nutmeg, pepper and gambier plantations flourished here, as those resident tigers were slaughtered by Indian convicts. The area’s cool climate and fresh air made it popular even among people who weren’t interested in planting things.
As Singapore entered the Railway Age in 1903, Bukit Timah flourished as an industrial center. Cold Storage Dairy Farm, Eveready Batteries and Ford Motor Company were among the giants to move in. At the same time, the kampong houses synonymous with Bukit Timah gave way to bungalows and prestigious schools. Bukit Timah was a pivotal battleground during World War II, as the Allied Forces made their last stand before surrendering at the Ford Factory.
Explore Adam Precinct
Explore Race Course Precinct
Explore Upper Bukit Timah Precinct
Bukit Timah Today
As a popular resident district, the neighborhood can at times be a driver’s nightmare, but despite the traffic, the serene suburb holds countless charms with a myriad of F&B, shopping and lifestyle options.
Several malls of yesteryear line Bukit Timah Road, and within you can find everything from boutiques and spas to jewelers, salons and enrichment centers along with numerous shops offering quirkier wares. Trina, who runs western food stall Tom Kitchen at Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre, loves the variety. “There’s Bukit Timah Plaza, Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, Beauty World Centre and more; even if I don’t have time, I know where to go,” she says. It’s a view echoed by Cassandra of French wine specialists Le Bénaton. “There is so much activity here. You can find everything you need in one little stretch,” she says.
“It’s well located,” says Donato Mazzola, the man behind Pizza da Donato on Sixth Avenue and a Bukit Timah resident for the better part of a decade. “It’s not too far from town, but it’s not in town. It’s a nice neighborhood with a good mix of locals and expats.”
It is perhaps food that dominates discussions of Bukit Timah today, and not without reason. There’s seemingly no end to the selection of restaurants, eating houses and bars (though it helps to know which ones are worth your time—that’s where we come in). “There’s just so much food here—from hawker fare to Italian food, and great ice-cream too,” says Zephyr, a polytechnic student who works at ice-cream specialist Island Creamery. “It’s an area that’s also safe and quiet, but I’ll never get bored here.” And with this new neighborhood guide, neither will you.
Explore Sixth Avenue