Hidden Gems

We love Singapore, we do. And for such a teeny-tiny island, it sure packs one hell of a punch (at least food-wise). Something we can’t help but notice, though, is how hard it is to find smaller establishments that have a real, honest vibe, with none of that dreaded mass market feel we try our darnedest to avoid. We’re not anti-establishment (despite what you may have heard), but it’s one of those things we crave; particularly on a weekend when we’re hankering after some peace and quiet. Here we divulge some of our favorite, lesser-known haunts, so you can enjoy them as much as we do.

Arbite

66A Serangoon Garden Way, 6287-0430.
The setup: Tucked away in the Serangoon Garden vicinity, is this charming café-restaurant in one of the city’s more remote locations (unless you just so happen to live in the area). Look out for Guardian Pharmacy along the row of shophouses, a nondescript glass door with the word Arbite on it, and shuffle yourself all the way up the stairs to the second floor.
The goods: Despite being a small, independent establishment, chef-owner Marc Wee has put together a full-fledged menu to feed some very hungry souls—most impressive, especially considering that he does all the heavy lifting, including making tagliatelle and pappardelle by hand every single day. Expect a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas and mains that we’ve yet to work our entire way through. Our picks include the Asian-spiced lamb shank ($21.90), Japanese curry pulled pork wrap ($12.90) and seafood pie ($17.90). But the absolute winner for us is chef Wee’s homemade pappardelle with mushrooms and parma ham ($19.90). Ribbons of perfectly al dente pasta, dressed in an ivory cream of onions, garlic, shallots and button mushrooms, topped with parma ham and the lightest drizzle of truffle oil make for a sumptuous, earthy dish (it’s the real reason we come here). Dessert’s also too fab to pass on. Try My Wife’s Chocolate Cake, best served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream ($8). Or if you’re too stuffed, the fruit terrine ($6), lemon tart ($7) and sea salt caramel cake ($8.50) are a little lighter, but every bit as satisfying. Bottles of vino go from $45, so you can afford to have several.
Best for: Hearty, comfort cooking that will leave you fully sated.

Room with a View

5/F, 17 Carpenter St., 6438-4230.
The setup: Housed in an unassuming building, the only clue to its existence is a small signboard out front—blink and you just might miss it. Take the rickety elevator up to the fifth floor and step into this quaint café cum gallery, run by a two-woman family operation, Joanna Wan and Keryl Low, who believe in good coffee, tea, nibbles and photography. The duo want to support local talent and encourage aspiring photographers to send in their work based on a theme that rotates every month. If your photo’s selected, they’ll print, frame and display your piece in their space. The current one, “Have you seen the sign?”, runs till the end of the month.
The goods: With savory items such as quiche, thin crust pizza, salads and wraps available, shoot for their grilled ham and cheese sarnie with mozzarella and a roasted vegetable chutney in a sundried tomato panini ($9.50). All-day breakfast is a tempting option with classics including English scones with jam and butter ($3.50)—add $2.50 for real Cornish clotted cream—and Belgium waffles with maple syrup ($8). If you’re after something sweet, indulge in their range of homebaked goodies including flourless chocolate cake ($5.50) or Venchi chocolate brownie ($5.50), with a piping hot cup of coffee (from $3). Or how about a lemon slice ($4) and a signature carrot cake ($5), both ideal while sipping on Taylors of Harrogate peach and green tea ($5.50).
Best for: Photography buffs who enjoy a nice spot to chill, and people who enjoy looking at nice pictures over their coffee.

40 Hands

#01-12, 78 Yong Siak St., 6225-8545.
The setup: On quiet Yong Siak Street, this cozy two month old coffee joint in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood is our latest obsession. For those unfamiliar with the area, it’s just off Kim Tian Road (if that helps). If it doesn’t, that’s what Google Maps is for. Its laidback tan and beige interior seats about 22 caffeine-deprived folks, with comfy chairs and an omnipresent aroma of gourmet brews to keep you sated.
The goods: No prizes for guessing correctly. Head barista and owner, Harry Grover, hails from Australia (with arguably one of the strongest coffee cultures on this side of the hemisphere), and he really knows his stuff. Grover’s very dedicated to the Third Wave Coffee movement, so you know he’s all about sustainability and direct trade. Their coffee list makes up half the menu, with over 10 cuppas to provide you with your daily dose. Kick things off with a double espresso shot ($4), or wake yourself up gently with a creamy cappuccino ($5), topped with so much foam you’ll want to ski on it. The ristrettos ($4) are a robust, full-flavored option, while we have a weakness for their flat whites ($5), a true blue Aussie classic. (Although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend having them all at one go, unless you’re feeling somewhat loopy.) While the focus is undoubtedly on specialty coffee, they do serve some delish wholegrain sandwiches such as Mediterranean lamb and Jamaican jerk pork (both $9.50)—tender strips of smoked pork tenderloin, dark plum chutney, sweet mango slivers and mozzarella, spiked with a basil tomato sauce. They’ve recently started serving brunch on the weekends, so dig into Eggs Benedict and Eggs Cocotte (both $12)—sautéed spinach and truffled mushrooms with slow-baked eggs and fresh herbs. Or prove you’re all grown up with a Big Boy Breakfast ($15).
Best for: Hardcore, diehard coffee geeks (such as ourselves), or anyone looking for a refuge from the big, bad world.

Kichn

#01-05 Albert Court, 180 Albert St., 6333-0015.
The setup: Opened by Sean Khoo in Albert Court Village, what started out as a practical need for a kitchen (his design studio Pupilpeople is right next door), has evolved into his first foray into the F&B industry. Grab yourself a seat (there are just over 20), fill in your order, bring it up to the counter and pay. A warning to those who don’t take kindly to the heat: It’s completely alfresco with white umbrellas providing some shelter (only the kitchen and cashier are indoors) so you’re entirely at the mercy of the elements. Take a fan along with you, or wait till the weather’s nice and cool.
The goods: It’s all about customization, both with the dishes and ice-blended drinks. For your meal, pick a main component such as beef patty ($9.90), grilled dory ($8.90) or portobello mushroom ($8.90), base carbs including Japanese rice, fusilli or noodles, topped with sauces such as chili crab, cream, tomato or a featured special that rotates quarterly (they’ve had laksa and Japanese curry, the current one is satay). To cool down, concoct your own drink from 15 flavors including honey, milo, Red Bull and coffee. Khoo’s own creation is an oreo-lychee-chocolate ($6.90), while we’re partial to a green tea and lychee combo ($5.90).
Best for: Folks on a budget, such as students, struggling artists/musicians/writers, backpackers.

Shhh…

If you’re in the mood for a super top secret guerilla dining experience, look no further than lolla’s secret suppers. We don’t want to give away too much too soon (our moms taught us that piece of wisdom), but we will tell you that it’ll be an evening centered around great food, wine and conversation. So rock up (quietly, please), and come fully prepared to be surprised. Email s8@lollapalooza.asia to get in on the action, but remember, tell no one.