Every city has restaurants that have been around so long or have such distinct individual styles that they become part of the city’s personality. Some are sit-down restaurants, others are hole-in-the-walls or cafes, but all of them have a bit of an X-factor about them that draws a regular following. Singapore has her fair share of those too and, in an ever-changing dining scene, these have stood the tests of taste and time.
We celebrate those restaurants which, with their inimitable style and heart-warming food, keep us coming back for more and more and more. We’re glad some things never change.
Since 1986 – Annalakshmi
Indian vegetarian. #02-10 Excelsior Hotel, 5 Coleman St., 6339-9993. Specialty: Soul food.
“Eat what you like, give as you feel” is the motto of Annalakshmi. Run by charitable organization Temple of Fine Arts, this Indian vegetarian restaurant has no price or menu. Do be generous, because all proceeds go to supporting the organization’s arts activities, as well as to hospitals and clinics in India. And pick up a sculpture or artwork while you’re here, they’re all made by women in India whom this organization helps. The restaurant gives new meaning to the phrase “soul food.”
Western. #01-08, Changi Village Hawker Centre, 2 Changi Village Rd., 6542-0867. Specialties: Fish and chips, chili dogs, spicy hot wings.
Proprietor of Charlie’s Corner, Charlie Han, keeps it in the family. The Hans have been in this business since 1930, when Charlie’s parents owned Changi Milk Bar (milk bars were popular up to about the ’60s and were mini-diners serving Western food). They lost that when the government acquired the land it sat on, and Charlie went on to open Charlie’s Corner. Charlie’s granddad trained Charlie’s dad at the Milk Bar, and now Charlie and his son both cook in the kitchen. The fish and chips recipe was handed down from the Milk Bar days, and is still one of the best things to have here.
Indian vegetarian. #01-305, 12-14 Upper Dickson Rd., 6297-1594. Specialties: Dosai thalis (platters)
Serving Indian vegetarian food, mainly Punjabi style, the Madras New Woodlands mini restaurant chain originated in India and now has restaurants in Malaysia and Perth. Their dosais, dhals and chutneys are to die for.
French. 12 Chun Tin Rd., 6468-7433. Specialties: Escargots, foie gras, chocolate soufflé.
Veteran F&B man Jeremy (of the former Jeremy’s restaurant fame), his wife Christine and friend Vivian opened Vis-à-vis in 1992, and it is still going strong. The name Vis-à-vis came from an unlikely source of inspiration—British Airways’ former inflight magazine—but the fine French food and wine here are nothing like airplane chow.
Indian. 25 Dempsey Rd., Civil Service Club, 6472-2080. Specialties: Mutton curry, masala chicken.
Not many restaurants in Singapore have been around since the ’70s like Samy’s. This is how the story goes. Before Samy’s came to be, a Mr. Veerasamy used to cook out of his home, which was close to the police station. Policemen started showing up for meals, and in 1970 Samy decided to open a restaurant in the Civil Service Club, which was then in People’s Park. In 1980, the Club moved to leafy Dempsey Road, where it and Mr. Veerasamy have been ever since. Try to grab a balcony seat.
Seafood. Car Park A, Marina South, 6323-2222. Specialties: White pepper crab, black pepper crab, chili crab.
You haven’t had black pepper crab till you’ve had it at Long Beach. This 50-year-old establishment claims to be the creator of black pepper crab, along with a host of other iconic dishes—including white pepper crab, yu tiao stuffed with cuttlefish, and drunken prawns with brandy and herbal soup. Started in an old colonial house in Bedok in 1946, Long Beach now has three restaurants in the East Coast, one in Marina South and one in Jurong. Trust us, the messy eating is worth it.
Russian. #06-19 Far East Shopping Centre, 545 Orchard Rd., 6732-6401. Specialties: Shashlik and borsch.
Nine seniors pooled their resources and set up Shashlik restaurant in 1986, when they got laid off at Russian eatery Troika. In many ways, Shashlik is still a throwback to the ’80s, with kitschy décor and no nonsense strong drinks that would put a bar to shame. The recipes are old classics, as are the shuffling staff.
Chinese. #02-01, 133 North Bridge Rd., 6534-4233. Specialties: Chicken with scallions, “beggar’s” tofu.
One of the most authentic Hong Kong yum cha joints in town, Mouth gets straight to the point. Its name in Chinese literally means “people squatting down to eat” (delightful). While this image might not be appetizing, the food here certainly is.
Peranakan. 1/F Meritus Negara, 10 Claymore Rd., 6733-4411. Specialties: Anything assam, anything in a claypot.
Peranakan matriarchs are fiercely protective of their family recipes. But Bob Seah, proprietor of House of Peranakan Cuisine, managed to persuade his mum to share her recipes at his first House of Peranakan in the East Coast in 1985. The public loved her spicy and tangy dishes served bubbling in claypots, and Bob went on to open a small chain of Peranakan restaurants, including this one at Meritus Negara in 1999—which is now their flagship restaurant. Ever proud of his culture, Bob continues to cook in the kitchen and regularly appears in the dining room to entertain guests on the piano.
Since 1974 – Westlake Eating House
Local. #02-139/141, 4 Queen’s Rd., 6474-7283. Specialties: braised pork with steamed buns, chili crab, hot and sour soup.
Founder of Westlake Eating House Lim Tong Law began his career as a school teacher, but moved into the food business in 1972 when he started setting up hawker stalls. In 1974 he opened Westlake—and the rest is history. Come casual and with a hearty appetite for no-nonsense eating.
Since 1981 – Steeple’s Deli
Western. #02-25 Tanglin Shopping Centre, 19 Tanglin Rd., 6737-0701. Specialties: Hot roast beef sandwich, Reuben, triple decker, steak sandwich, cheese burger, milkshakes such as blueberry, vanilla and chocolate peanut butter.
Although the Englishman who originally opened Steeple’s Deli is long gone, his local partners Martin Mun and his family are still well entrenched in the business. With many restaurants in Singapore finding it hard to retain staff, Steeple’s is ahead of the game with staff who have been here close to 20 years. Steeple’s also scores by being the first deli in Singapore, and the first deli to have counter seats and an open kitchen.
Since 1979 – Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice
Local. 401 Balestier Rd., 6254-3937. Specialty: Need you ask? Chicken rice.
Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice is a Singapore dream come true. In 1979 a Mr. Thian Boon Hua set up a stall in Chinatown selling Cantonese chicken rice. Following the success of that, the Balestier coffee shop was opened in 1983, which spawned a string of Boon Tong Kee chicken rice eateries across the island. Today the company has gone corporate, complete with branding, centralized operations and plans for global expansion. Today Balestier, tomorrow the world.
South Indian. 54/56/58 Race Course Rd., 6293-8682. Specialty: Fish head curry of course!
When Banana Leaf Apolo started it was a real hole in the wall, with grimy walls and poor ventilation but great, great curry. Owner Mr. Chellapan did so well, the restaurant is now a modern air-conditioned space where you can dine in comfort. Banana leaves are still used, the classic fish head curry is still dished out everyday, and Mr. Chellapan is still cooking and supervising in the kitchen.
#02-02/03 Hotel Rendezvous Gourmet Gallery, 9 Bras Basah Rd., 6339-7508. Specialties: Beef rendang, sambal prawns, chicken curry.
When we say Rendezvous Restaurant has been around since the 1930s, we’re not kidding. It was a coffeeshop then, but run by the same family that runs it now. Nasi padang was introduced in the 1950s when the late founder Mr. Seah Sokhoon banded together with a bunch of Indonesian friends who could cook.
Since 1996 – Gorkha Grill
Nepalese. 21 Smith St., 6227-0806. Specialties: Prawns in papaya boat, momo (dumplings) with a special sauce.
One requisite for being a chef at Gorkha Grill, Singapore’s only Nepalese restaurant, is that you have to be Nepalese. For the decade this restaurant has been open, every one of its chefs has been recruited from Nepal and brought to Singapore. It doesn’t get more authentic than this. Maybe that’s why the food is so darn good.
Since 1990- Seletar Hills Restaurant
Chinese/Szechuan. 16 Jalan Selaseh, 6483-0348. Specialties: Szechuan smoked duck, claypot mapo tofu, kong bak.
Run by friendly couple Jamie Pang and Ng Kok Hua, the family style Seletar Hills Restaurant has been going strong for well over a decade. Where did Jamie and Kok Hua pick up the tricks of their trade? Not in Singapore, or China, but in New York. Having learnt the hard way working the sweaty kitchens of Brooklyn’s and Manhattan’s Chinese restaurants, the pair opted for low key Seletar Hills when they returned here to open this restaurant. The trek to this jungle hideout is worth the effort.
Oasis Building, 50 Stadium Blvd. 6346-4418. Specialties: Everything is good.
Purportedly serving the best Taiwanese porridge in town, Oasis Taiwan Porridge is usually packed despite its less than convenient location, while other restaurants in the neighborhood struggle to fill tables. The ‘floating UFO’ it is housed in on Kallang River is sorely in need of renovation, but that is part of the charm.
Chinese. 25 Smith St., 6222-9923. Specialties: Samsui ginger chicken.
Come to Soup Restaurant for the kind of food that mum says is good for you. This includes classic dish Samsui ginger chicken, the recipe for which was purportedly passed on to the restaurant by the samsui women who used to live in the crowded shophouses of Chinatown.
German/Western. #01-01/02, 6 Upper East Coast Rd., 6442-3897. Specialties: Farmers’ sausage with garlic and chili, crispy pork knuckle, and oxtail stew.
When owner of Werner’s Oven Werner Hochbaum moved to Singapore in the ’80s he bemoaned the lack of German bread and food (was he surprised?). To satisfy his yearning, he and his Asian wife Nancy started a little bakery in Parkway Parade making just the kind of stuff he liked. At some point they closed that and opened a café in Simpang Bedok, before moving in 1997 to where they are now.
Since 1991 – Porta Porta
Italian. 971 Upper Changi Road North, Changi Gardens, 6545-3108. Specialties: Let the chef surprise you.
Only pure Italian stuff is served at trattoria style restaurant Porta Porta. There’s not even Coke, which owner Mr Nino says can be drunk—outside his restaurant. What you will find inside are his personal artifacts all over the walls, and some of the best home cooked Italian food this side of the Indian Ocean.