pita pan, marina bay sands

this is one of my favorite places to grab a meal – and even if prices appear to be rising and the portions gradually reducing, and the flavors a little less robust than when I first tried them a couple years ago, it still hits the spot rather perfectly.

I love mediterranean/ middle eastern food – and this tiny place on the outside of the marina bay sands shopping mall has a simple menu of a few choice dishes (and various flavored permutations).

I tend to order the same thing: hummus, shakshuka, falafel and tabbouleh – all which give you a good spread across both flavor and texture spectrums. the homely falafels are particularly savory and delicious, and any heaviness is offset by the fresh, herbacious tabbouleh (with juicy pomegranate seeds dotted throughout).

the red shakshuka tastes better to me than the green – and everything goes quite nicely with the triangles of heated pita that arrive alongside.

it’s a simple meal, and a nice way to catch up with friends (or spend some alone time) – it doesn’t get much better than that.

Pita Pan
L1-87, Bay Level (on the outside, near the ArtScience Museum)
2 Bay Avenue,
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, The Shoppes
Singapore 018972
tel +65 6688 7450
$: 15ish

the populus coffee & food co., bukit pasoh

very hipster, very young clientele, similarly young baristas – decent food on a rather impressively-large menu for a coffee-focused place, but rather too-cool-for-you service that could be a little off-putting if you’re an old, plodding person soul as I am.

but these places sure know how to use design to create ambiance – I loved the wood, cork and black metal used all over here, and look at these lovely vintagey amber glasses.

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the new black, (now at) republic plaza

ok, it’s been long enough that this place has moved since I went there – but I thought it worth letting you know that there’s a slick, modern coffee place that is more yuppie than hipster (it’s a nice change), done up in chrome and bright colours.

I’m not big on coffee – starbucks and sugar being the order of the day – but tea is my thing, and this place has some interesting brews. with bombastic names like FREAK OF NATURE OOLONG (their editing, not mine), and long vino-style descriptions, it’s quite a lot of hype for what is really water flavored with leaves.

I did like that oolong though – so I give it to them, and the blood orange pu-erh is nicely drinkable, as well.

and also, and this is a big ALSO, they serve drinks in beautiful semi-disposable cups (semi, because it really depends on whether you get the plastic or stiff cardboard cups) that really prove how important packaging is.

so pricey, but hey – if you’re coming to these places, surely you didn’t expect anything else? and it’s almost quite worth it, given the drinks are intriguing and the cups takeawayable (that is to say, that they are recyclable and also pretty enough for you to want to use it – which is not often the case).

The New Black
Republic Plaza
9 Raffles Place
Singapore 048619
(also Centennial Tower)
$$: 10ish per person

babette, jalan besar

ah, the by-now-famous flowing green matcha lava cake at this small restaurant in jalan besar. it’s a bit of a seedy area interspersed with these hipster, modern places – not the most comfortable area for ladies to be walking about late at night, but at least it’s relatively close to the main road.

I thought the food was just about alright – good for a first visit, and the cake was pretty good, but the food came very slowly, so we rather lost our patience.

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the plain, craig road

good, homely little cafe along craig road, nearish the chinatown area.

this place has been around for ages, and might be called an institution: it’s small and cramped, it’s barely furnished, and the menu is small – all characteristics that fulfill the requirements of what it is to be a cafe in our modern age. but while some places go off the mark and irritate you with their too-cool-for-school ‘tude, this one maintains a pretty relaxed, chilled vibe that doesn’t annoy.

there doesn’t really seem to be much to say about this place – it’s a cafe, and it fulfills its functions well. the coffee is decent (or at least the brew that went into my affogato was strong but not tannic), and if you can find seats, it makes for a decent place for a chat with friends (except that if you’re sitting at the back, the lack of air-conditioning makes for sweltering conversation).

there is a tiny menu that includes eggs and soldiers (if you’re the sort that knows this as set A, this place is going to be overpriced for you) as well as cute little bowls of bircher muesli (such a rarity in this country – done here a little on the small and sweet side, but otherwise inoffensive).

communal sitting is the name of the game – unless you’re in a big enough crowd that you can edge strangers out – which I feel is optimistic in asia, where we whip out our phones to avoid eye contact and speak softly and impersonally when amongst strangers.

but, cute cafe and really rather cosy, and there’s bircher muesli. I’ll probably be back.

The Plain
#01-01, 50 Craig Road
Singapore 089688
tel +65 6423 9918
$$: 50-15 per person (depends on whether you’re eating)

monster curry, ion orchard

a seriously HUGE plate of rice with delicious japanese curry and fried peripherals at this small not-a-stall-not-yet-a-cafe at the basement of the ion shopping mall.

my sister is a big fan, so of course we had to try it sometime – I do enjoy japanese curries and their tendency toward the spicey-without-the-spicy, chock-full of soft carrots and taters, and it also reminds me of cold london winters and easy post-school meals.

this has one of those gimmicky customizable heat levels, enabled by varying squirts of chilli sauce squeezed into the same base curry – which is flavorful, pleasingly thick (not in a cornflour sort of way) and immensely eatable.

and also, make sure you share. the portions are huge.

we went for the combo, which had EVERYTHING: golden-brown pork and fish cutlets, shrimp tempura and boiled pork slices topped with cheese, all sitting in a moat of curry with a bank of good japanese short-grain rice.

and it was good. we enjoyed it immensely until perhaps the third-last bite, after which it was a little nauseating from the richness and sheer size. my favorite was the large, tender white fish fillet – I’d steer clear of the shrimp, which had a loose tempura coating that wasn’t cooked well enough.

next time (probably months later, given how stuffed I felt at the end), I’ll just get the large fish fillet, with the omelette option.

Monster Curry (ION Orchard Outlet)
#B4-52 ION Orchard
2 Orchard Turn
Singapore 238801
tel +65 6509 4555
$$: ten-ish a person

cedele, orchard paragon

I recently had a delicious salad at cedele – which I think is an overlooked stalwart of our cafe scene. the food is pretty consistently good, and so are the drinks – and truly, the prices are more than reasonable for the portions that you get.

and the best part of its mellowed-after-the-hype maturity is the relaxing, family atmosphere you get at most of its cafes – none of that frantic, frenetic too-coolness of new places.

back to the salad – it’s really a modern rift on our traditional tauhu salads, with generous triangles of firm tofu deep-fried, topped with golden garlic chips and a pleasing bit of coriander to provide some interest with the sweet-sour dressing.

it’s a good metaphor for singapore too – a modern take on our heritage, with elements of other countries thrown in, tossed with a sauce that ties everything together.

here’s to being philosophical (and well-fed) on a sunday morning!

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pantler, tanjong pagar

good little cakes and entremets in this newish, tiny cafe in tanjong pagar manned by young folk who seem to know (and enjoy) what they’re doing. a long counter laid out with slightly-over-ten cakes and croissants on the side, this place escapes that now-boring industrial layout of wood and exposed brickwork for a clean, modern, and perfectly enjoyable venue in which to sit down and have some cake.

close in offerings to the now-everywhere antoinette, this place has a little more of what you hipsters would call soul character, provided in most part by the neat rows of sweets and earnest (but not pushy) folks behind the counter.

we ordered nine cakes (possibly more, and not counting double orders), and despite delaying everyone’s caketification (like gratification, but with cake) taking photographs, I’ve only ended up with two that I’m pleased enough to show you.

but let me paint the scene for you – because you come here for my writing, don’t you?

all the cakes were gorgeous: well made and executed, with glossy glazes on the fancy ones, and a pleasing craggliness in the rustic, simpler cakes. my favorite was the yatsura, a dark chocolate (what else?) slice of moussey goodness, but the crumbly cheesecake was very much a favorite (I think we had three orders of those).

we didn’t take his recommended bests, like a tiger-ed sponge roll and creme caramel – so you might want to give those a go yourself, if so inclined.

I wouldn’t say this was the best cake shop, or epiphanic, but it has a quiet charm coupled with perfectly-good-for-teatime cakes – and I enjoyed how much the people behind the counter seemed to enjoy their work. definitely worth a visit, and bring a crowd (despite my reputation for sweets, I did not eat these on my own) so you get to share.

198 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068637
tel +65 6221 6223
$$: <10 a cake

potatohead folk, keong saik road

eh, okay, burgers at this trendy singaporean outpost of a balinese cool hangout. located at hipster keong saik road, in a building that once belonged to a much-loved cze char place, this place is fashionable and knows it.

the food isn’t bad, but it’s rather pricey for what is essentially an upscale burger boutique, with a menu comprised of a dozen burger options and some sides and desserts to go with. and while it isn’t as overwhelming impressive as the hype made it out to be, it does make for a decent enough meal (just a rather expensive one, and with pretty bad service).

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fleeaway cafe, little india

uhm, meh. this is going to be short; I’ve held this one back, in the hope that time would smooth away the disappointment, but it hasn’t worked, and one must move on.

the cafe decor was more impressive than its food. full of kitschy, nostalgia-inducing knick-knacks of your (just me?) childhood, this place is a collection of hipster-style collectibles that serve both as merchandise and decor. set against a rather aesthetically-pleasing turquoise backdrop, the place makes for fantastic photography.

I tasted two items here as part of an event: a sweet potato salad, and their oh-so-famous laksa-in-dough-fritter (or more colloquially, youtiao).

the salad was pretty enjoyable – the sweet potatoes were of the japanese purple-skinned, white-fleshed variety, and were rather a balm to the sweet tooth. tossed atop a mixed salad of young leaves and halved cherry tomatoes, it was refreshing and substantial, though with quite a bit more mayo than was required.

but I took issue with the laksa-in-fritter. just to break it down – laksa is a rich, coconutty noodle dish redolent with chilli oil and not at all something I would stuff between deep-fried dough halves.

but I give it its due for novelty, and perhaps my lack of appreciation of it could be due to a personal bias for lighter, more balanced food.

not quite my sort of thing.

Flee Away Cafe
70 Dunlop Street
Singapore 209398
tel +65 6291 6778
$$: 20 per person