4 Cafés Off Singapore’s Beaten Path
In Singapore, coffee comes in many different forms – from a Kopi O Gau in a traditional kopitiam to an espresso at a coffee chain or a latte art-topped cuppa in an independent café. The latter is a recent development, as the Third Wave Movement – treating coffee as an artisanal foodstuff – made its way from America, Australia and Europe to Singapore.
With the growth of local and regional barista competitions that have brought the art of coffee making to the forefront along with the rise of artisanal coffee roasters, a strong café culture has taken root in Singapore. And so over the last decade, cafés with their own identity, character and quirks have begun to spring up across the island, a counterpoint to mass market establishments – some in the most unexpected of places. Here’s a guide to cafés on the island’s paths less travelled, a perfect way to explore a side of Singapore familiar only to locals.
Chye Seng Huat Hardware: Tools of the Trade
Lavender, once an industrial district of small workshops, is a growing garden patch of cafés. Ask for a recommendation here, and Chye Seng Huat Hardware will be frequently mentioned. Housed in a former hardware store – hence the name – the café isn’t just a place to have a cuppa. It also houses a coffee school, private tasting room and roastery.
Behind the retro, Straits Settlement Art Deco front (complete with a traditional Chinese signboard), the café serves up its java in an industrial-chic setting. Beyond coffee, there is a good selection of ‘Tummy Fillers’ (as the café calls them) and sweet treats, amongst which the Madeleines and the Hazelnut Coffee Muffin stand out.
Opening Hours: 09.00 – 19.00, Tuesday – Sunday (Open until 10pm on weekend)
Colbar Eating House: A Taste of Nostalgia
For a setting more relaxing and calming than the average bustling cafe, head over to this leafy little corner of Whitchurch Road. Echoes of a Singapore past still linger here, which is part of the charm of Colbar Eating House, a storied café that used to service the now defunct British military barracks nearby.
Choice here is extensive, focusing on Asian interpretations of Western food that will be familiar to locals and intriguing to visitors. Short for Colonial Bar, Colbar serves up dishes like Sausages and Eggs, Pork Chops with Mushrooms, Marmite Sandwiches, Fried Rice and Fried Noodles in Gravy, usually washed down with coffee done the Singaporean way – wok-fried coffee beans with condensed milk.
Opening Hours: 11.00 – 23.00 (Tuesday – Sunday)
Wimbly Lu Chocolate Café: Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These
As the name suggests, Wimbly Lu operates on the dessert spectrum of cafés. Located in the small commercial strip of a quiet suburban neighbourhood, Wimbly Lu looks quaintly inviting upon entry: all colourful vintage furniture, exposed red brick walls and mismatched plates.
The dessert menu is extensive, from classic staples like Tiramisu, Éclairs, Brownies and Lava Cakes, to treats like Eton Mess and homemade Truffles, to quirkier experiments like the popular Root Beer Cake and seasonal Kit Kat Brownie. Wimbly Lu is also known for its waffles – crisp and fluffy – as well as its selection of ice creams. Savoury options are also available for those that want a full meal.
Opeing Hour: 01.00 – 23.30, Tuesday – Sunday (09.00 – 23.00 Saturday and Sunday)
Whale and Cloud: Tap The Third Brick From The Left To Enter
Getting to the speakeasy-inspired Whale and Cloud is an adventure in itself. Accessed through a nondescript blue door (the only evidence being a Harry Potter-esque 48 3/4 number, a stencil of the word ‘OPEN’ and a bench) in the back alley of Niven Road in Rochor, you enter Whale and Cloud with a knock on the door. No bells, no buzzers, just a knock.
Inside is a tiny, cosy space that feels like stepping into someone’s studio apartment. The coffee is excellent and sourced from the owner’s personal travels. There is a selection of homemade cakes and biscuits available, and when it is time to leave, drop an appropriate pay-what-you-will amount in the trust box before exiting Singapore’s best discreet little hideaway.
Opening Hours: 09.00 – 16.00 (only open on Saturday)