Tuesday, 19 January 2021

9 unique cafés in Singapore that will make you feel like you’re overseas

As the trite but true saying goes, Singaporeans live to eat. Perhaps the same can be said of their reason to travel. Indeed, while taking in the intoxicating sights and sounds of a new city may rank high on their itineraries, no trip is complete without sampling the dizzying array of local cuisine – be it fine-dining concepts, casual street food or classic restaurant fare – that the destination has to offer.

Although travel has been put on hold for the time being, living in a hyper-globalised city does have its perks: chief among which is easy access to a wide variety of cuisines from all over the world. So the next time you’re feeling glum about not having hopped on a plane in over a year, head to one of these cafés for some delicious grub thats evokes the experience of dining in the likes of Italy, the Caribbean, Australia and more.

Punch’s scrumptious Earl Grey Pancakes

1. Australia: Punch

Since proliferating in the 2010s, Aussie-inspired cafés are now a dime a dozen in the city-state. And while you can find a quality smashed avocado on toast and competently pulled flat white at plenty of establishments, we have a soft spot for Punch. Located along North Canal Road, the café is helmed by the same team behind the hugely successful (though defunct) concepts Ronin and The Plain. The outdoor courtyard area – complete with a green wall of lush plants, mellow sunlight filtering in from above and wooden bench and table seating – is reminiscent of the many cafés that line Melbourne’s famous laneways. You can opt for the classic Poached Eggs with Avocado, which is served on seeded toast with a lemon wedge; or go for the triple-stack Earl Grey Pancakes accompanied by poached pear and a crunchy white chocolate macadamia crumble. Coffee comes in the form of espresso-based beverages, single-origin filter brews and their two house specials: the Generra (a warming orange mocha) and the crowd-favourite Wicked (a pleasantly minty mocha).

2. Japan: Japan Rail Café

This railway-themed café at Tanjong Pagar’s Guoco Tower is purportedly the world’s first travel-themed establishment of its kind, and is presently the closest that Japanophiles can get to a trip on the Shinkansen. The interior is decked out in various train signage and decals – such as a map of Japan, journey trackers on the windows and divider lanes on the floor – while the menu features simple, well-executed Japanese meals. There’s the signature Japan Rail Café plate, which comes with three different onigiri rolls, saba fish, tamago and assorted vegetables; as well as the Kaisen Avocado Don (salmon sashimi, Aomori scallops, salmon roe and avocado slices). To take the transportation theme to a whole new level, the café is currently partnering with Japan Airlines (JAL) to serve a selection of the latter’s in-flight meals on weekends (until 31 January). The food will be served on the same JAL trays that are used during flights, and diners can pick from two options: Salmon Miso Yaki or Chicken Takiawase Tamago.

The Octopus dish at Caffe Fernet, served on a bed of smoked potatoes, chickpeas and parsley

3. Italy: Caffe Fernet

While Marina Bay may not quite match up to the Italian Riviera – although the Singapore Tourism Board would likely beg to differ – Caffe Fernet is a solid option for some quality Italian bites and aperitivos. Located along the Singapore River, the casual restaurant offers both indoor and alfresco seating, with sweeping views of Marina Bay Sands and the still waters of the bay. Grab a seat indoors (decorated with plush leather lounges and wood accents that call to mind a fashionable café in Italy) and order some tasty nibbles and mains from their extensive menu. We recommend pairing the Arancini (Sicilian deep-fried stuffed rice balls with saffron and spicy tomato sauce), Burrata (which comes with green tomatoes, lime and fermented chilli), Mafaldine Cacio E Pepe (pasta seasoned with parmesan, pecorino and four peppercorns) and Octopus (served with smoked potatoes, chickpeas and parsley) dishes with some refreshing spritzes and moody negronis.

The African-themed interior of Kafe Utu

4. Africa: Kafe Utu

Food from the African continent has yet to gain mainstream popularity in Singapore, let alone restaurants that specialise in dishes from a specific country or region. But while we’re waiting for that to happen, you can get a taster at Kafe Utu, a spot along Jiak Chuan Road that serves up African and African-inspired dishes. Try the Matoke, a Ugandan plantain stew served with fragrant jasmine rice; Swahili Fish Curry composed of red snapper, tamarind and a house curry paste; or Malindi Halwa, a Swahili mochi made with dragon fruit juice, various nuts, spices and coconut yogurt. As for drinks, you can opt for coffee made with Ugandan beans or the Bosi G&T (Kenyan Procera gin with pink peppercorn, sage leaf and tonic). Try to get a seat in the upstairs nook area, which will allow you to check out African-American artist Janet Taylor Pickett’s vibrant paintings that adorn the walls. The rest of the cosy café is decked out in plenty of memorabilia and motifs from the continent that goes some way towards transporting you there – if only for the duration of your meal.

5. France: Café & Bar Gavroche

Few things can replicate the experience of a languorous afternoon meal at a Parisienne brasserie: people-watching from your outdoor perch as you tear off chunks from a fresh baguette and dunk them into a heap of mussels mariniere. For now, Café & Bar Gavroche along Tras Street is as close as you’ll get until international borders open up again. The charming restaurant sports plenty of dark-wood and vintage furnishings, French signage, marble tables and an antique bar area. The menu runs the gamut of French classics: think charcuterie platters featuring the likes of duck rillette, French cheeses and country-style pork terrine; comfort dishes such as beef bourguignon with root vegetables and French potatoes; and various sandwiches, quiches and tartines that are perfect for a lighter lunch. Cap off your meal with a sweet ending by ordering a decadent apple tart paired with vanilla ice cream; or a warm and dense gianduja chocolate cake. Of course, what’s a French meal without some wine? Take your pick from their well-curated selection of French wines.

The Roasted Cauliflower Mandi at Artichoke

6. Middle East: Artichoke

Chef Eyal Shani’s recently opened Mizon may currently be the most talked about Middle Eastern restaurant on the local foodie scene, but Artichoke remains a firm favourite for its creative dishes inspired by the region’s cuisine. Opened over a decade ago by firebrand chef and owner Bjorn Shen, it’s gone through several menu refreshes, but remains committed to serving up hearty, flavour-packed and colourful plates of good grub. Make your way here for weekend brunch or dinner, and nab a seat in their lush alfresco seating area. Hot items on the menu include the Green Harissa Prawns with black onions and split cream; as well as the cheekily named Lambgasm: a 2.4kg slow-roasted lamb served with spiced bulgar, herbs and pickles (the dish must be pre-ordered 48 hours in advance). Artichoke has plenty of options for vegetarians, too: the Roasted Cauliflower Mandi, which comes with fragrant rice, daqqus and spiced yoghurt, is a particular delight.

7. New York: Clinton Street Baking Co.

Since opening its doors in 2015, the first international branch of this famed New York institution has become a popular brunch favourite for its legendary blueberry pancakes, fried chicken and waffles and other classic American fare. Similar to the Lower East Side café, the Purvis Street iteration is done up in a modern and minimalist aesthetic, with high ceilings and a mix of booth, bar counter and table seating. Menu offerings feature many of the same items that have garnered the restaurant hours-long queues in the Big Apple, including the Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich (soft-scrambled eggs, double-smoked bacon, melted cheddar, house-made tomato jam and hash browns); Chicken & Waffles (served with honey-Tabasco sauce and warm maple butter); and Huevos Rancheros (sunny side-up eggs, beans, guacamole, sour cream, sour picante and Monterey Jack cheese on a corn tortilla).

8. Sweden: Fika Swedish Café & Bistro

The next time you’re in the mood for some tasty Nordic nosh, resist the urge to head to IKEA for yet another plate of meatballs with potatoes and lingonberry sauce. Instead, drop by Fika Swedish Café & Bistro along Beach Road for some authentic and seasonal Swedish cuisine. Decked out in plenty of light wood and white furniture typical of Scandinavian interiors, the outlet is comprised of two floors with comfy seating, including sofas on the second floor that are perfect for a lazy afternoon of lounging. You’ll find a smorgasbord of fresh and colourful eats, such as the Pickled Herring Plate (rye crispbread, boiled eggs, potatoes, red onion, caviar spread and cheddar cheese); Gravlax Salad (cured salmon with mixed greens, feta cheese, capers and a honey-lemon vinaigrette) and, of course, the requisite Swedish meatballs served with baby potatoes, cream sauce, lingonberry jam and pickled cucumbers. Complete your meal with the Kladdkaka, a gooey Swedish brownie served with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, fresh berries and a dusting of icing sugar.

9. Caribbean: Lime House Caribbean

Since opening in 2013, this Keong Saik Road establishment – which bills itself as the Lion City’s first Caribbean restaurant – has been pushing out quality plates of food from the island region. Set in a four-storey heritage shophouse, the bright and breezy space evokes a tropical ambience with leafy plants, rattan furniture and paintings of sun-kissed beachy landscapes strung up on the walls. Dig into mains such as the Signature Jerk Chicken, which consists of perfectly seasoned and charred chicken thighs served with rice and peas; and the Old Jamaica Glazed Cod that comes with a refreshing pineapple salsa on a bed of sweet potato croquettes. Sides include fried plantains, Caribbean couscous salad and Caribbean seafood cake (salted fish, shrimp, crab meat and potato mash). If you’re contemplating dessert, we suggest the Signature Banana Cake, complete with a drizzle of caramel sauce and dollop of honey and fig cream.

Some of these images were taken before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.

SEE ALSO: You can travel… by eating your way around these new global dining concepts in Singapore

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