As if Jalan Besar isn’t already swamped with cafés, VXX Cooperative – a combination of the Roman numerals for five and 20 – is the latest to join the ’hood. And it’s probably one of the few ‘Muslim-friendly’ joints in the area. While not certified Halal, co-owner Aslam Yusoff claims the café only uses Halal ingredients.
On to the food, VXX incorporates its own spin on all your café standard fare. So instead of pairing eggs Benedict with salmon or ham, smoked duck makes an appearance alongside homemade shallot hotcake and hollandaise sauce ($17). For a meatier meal, go for the pulled beef bowl ($17): it stars tender braised beef brisket, lemon brown butter sauce, baby potatoes and wild rocket. Feeling spontaneous? Try the Staff Meal, which is kinda like VXX’s take on omakase – it’s completely up to the chef. The menu changes every three to four months, so you can look forward to a new experience each time.
And don’t forget to stop for a cuppa. VXX Cooperative carefully curates beans from a clutch of internationally renowned roasters. Sip on some Joe from Malaysia’s Cloud Catcher, Norway’s Tim Wendelboe, Sweden’s Koppi and, for something closer to home, Singapore’s very own Nylon Coffee Roasters.
Set aside your utensils and put on a plastic bib, because it only gets messy from here on. The Halal Louisiana-style seafood restaurant’s second outlet at Plaza Singapura is here to satisfy all your crustacean cravings, offering an expanded menu alongside its classic seafood buckets (from $88). Go for its platter for two if you’re dining with a friend and order The Naughty Platter ($31.90), which serves sea bass, fried squid, tiger prawns with either pilaf rice or aglio olio pasta.
But it’s not just about seafood here. Sink your teeth into one of its premium beef burgers such as the Crusty Burger ($39.90), which features a juicy patty sandwiched between tomatoes, lettuce and grilled lobster. There are also additional à la carte and ocean box options, including lobster bisque ($6.90) and deep fried soft shell crab ($16.50). Don't forget to pair them with the restaurant's signature creamy sauces like Thai red curry and salted egg yolk to make the experience extra tasty.
Tingkat delivery service Dapur Ummi Abdullah brings its nasi ambeng: rice with sides like sambal goreng, beef rendang and sambal belachan, served on a massive platter and meant to be shared. Located at Upper Changi Road’s East Village, the restaurant serves up four different types of platters, including the Ambeng Classic Trio ($48/serves three) which comes with 14 side dishes such as sambal goreng Jawa, spicy-sweet sambal sotong and dried fish. For those with a smaller appetite, order a plate of dried lontong with chicken and sambal goreng ($8) or beef soup with rice ($9.90) from the restaurant’s à la carte menu.
Fans of Breaking Bad will appreciate this café, but it’s got nothing to do with meth – beakers, test tubes and copper pipes create a lab-like atmosphere that’s way homelier than Walter White’s laundromat. Try the Heisenberger ($17), a cheeky salute to the drug baron, that sandwiches a thick beef patty and crispy turkey bacon strips between soft buns. Caramelised onions, tomato sauce and blue crystal cheese finish the monster. The Lab also doles out staples such as pastas, salads, sandwiches and desserts like pandan buttermilk waffles with coconut ice cream ($15). Other than being Muslim-friendly – it uses only Halal ingredients, but the café itself isn’t certified – The Lab also has options for vegans in its Porto Peanut and Porta Huerta mushroom burgers ($13). To wash it all down, go straight for the soda sparkler concoctions like the Heisenberg ($7), a mix of orange syrup, lime, mint and blue curacao.
The queue at this nasi padang restaurant stretches out the door even before lunchtime hits. We can’t blame the crowd, though, as only the early birds get the worm. Or in this case, stellar beef rendang and sambal goreng. There are only limited quantities of each item, so hot favourites like the tauhu telor sell out fast. Aside from quintessential Malay dishes, there are also rarer ones like lemak siput sedut, or sea snails swimming in a coconut-rich broth. And be sure to scream ‘yes’ when asked if you’d like a dollop of sambal with your rice.
This never-tiring after-hours joint at River Valley is a Mecca for night owls hoping to fill up their bellies. Its menu covers the greasier end of the supper scale, with classic Indian-Muslim orders like fried Maggi noodles ($7.50), cone-shaped tissue prata ($3.80) and roti john ($6). Western fare such as burgers ($7.50-$8.90) and cheese-drenched fries ($6.90) are also available, and anything you order should go down well with a tall glass of Milo Dinosaur ($3.90).
Set up by the people behind Bishan Park brunch spot Grub, FIX serves plates with a Mexican-themed menu. The Chicken Pascal ($16) is a slow-cooked chicken leg drenched in chipotle tomato sauce, and the lamb shank ($25) soaks braised mutton in red mole dressing. On the menu is also the café’s take on the fajita, featuring grilled beef and kimchi ($19) served on hot plates with a side of guacamole and chinchalok-spiked tomato salsa. For dessert, the café puts a local spin on the Bunuelos – a cinnamon sugar-fried tortilla that comes with scoops of vanilla ice cream – by coating the bread with sticky gula Melaka.
The decor of Islamic Restaurant is grander than you’d expect of a 95-year-old briyani shop. Then again, its regular patrons included the late presidents Yusoff Ishak and SR Nathan, and even the sultans of Brunei, Johor and Perak – literally providing meals fit for a king. Owner Abdul Rahiman was once the head chef for the wealthy Alsagoff family and his briyani was especially well-loved. Today, Islamic Restaurant is run by Rahiman's grandson, who still keeps the briyani recipe a secret. While there are six versions of the dish, including chicken, prawn and vegetable ($10-13), the mutton briyani ($10) – with generous chunks of fork-tender meat buried under a mountain of fragrant basmati rice – is the indisputable star. The chicken tikka masala ($8) is just as sublime: the aromatic curry is thick enough to scoop onto warm garlic naan ($2.20), without compromising its crispy texture and you’ll be dreaming of it long after you’ve finished the meal. Thankfully, Islamic Restaurant does home delivery, too.
For those who prefer their meats conveniently wrapped, roll into Tazeh by Shabestan for hearty falafels and kebabs stuffed with chicken, beef or lamb ($10.90-$11.90). Meats of your choice can be wrapped in freshly baked pita bread with classic Lebanese pairings of hummus and couscous, or finished Greek-style with feta cheese, mint and sundried tomatoes. Vegetarians can opt for veggie falafels at $9.90, which you can pair with a side of fries ($4) and soft drinks ($2). If you’re there as a big group, order some cheesy fries ($5) and spicy chicken wings ($5) to share.
Opened by three brothers with a case of wanderlust, this people-watching spot on the corner of Haji Lane and North Bridge Road is the hippest on this list. In-house specials include charcoal-grilled beef burgers ($14.90) and lightly battered fried dory ($15.90), which comes with your choice of lemon or malt vinegar to douse on the accompanying thick-cut French fries. The one downside to I AM is its sheer popularity – you’ll have to wait for a seat and deal with the slightly frazzled service.
Opened by Haji Isrin at the corner of Kandahar Street in 1948 – where it remains today – and now run by third-generation owners, the stall continues to churn out homely platters of authentic Malay dishes to a throng of people, including celebrities like former sports personality Fandi Ahmad and musical artist Dato Ramli Sarip. 'Generous' is Nasi Pariaman's middle name. Plates are packed with rice covered in gravy of your choice – there’s chicken curry and lodeh – and an assortment of side dishes such as sambal goreng, bagedil, ikan bilis, tofu and long beans. But the star here is the beef rendang ($3.50), a tender hunk of meat that’s drenched in spices, chilli and gravy. Pair this dish with a steaming cup of teh tarik ($1.30) to complete your meal.
At this bakery-slash-café, rustic cakes are whipped up using recipes tried and tested by owner Shannon Lua's grandmother. The bakers here are quick to hop onto the minimally frosted cake trend with slices of salted caramel and red velvet ($7.90), and lychee rose ($7.90). Add on ice-cream at $4 a scoop, or pair dessert with Dutch Colony-brewed coffees ($3.50-$6.50). Standard café-issue fare takes fusion turns here: crab cakes are dressed with hollandaise and topped with poached eggs ($15), and chicken burgers ($14) are spiked with tandoori spices.
Eclectic decor and mismatched furniture dominate this casual chill-out spot along Arab Street. It does a mean double beef burger that’s topped with caramelised onions and veg ($22). Have it with a side of truffle tater tots ($5), seasoned with truffle oil and grated Parmesan. For a more localised spin, try the beef dendeng version of a burger, its patty dripping with satay sauce ($18). For drinks, sip on coffees from $3.50 or try the café’s bandung latte ($5) and for dessert, order a plate of its fancy goreng pisang ($11).
Don’t go searching for All Things Delicious at Crawford Lane – the Halal café has since moved to bigger and brighter lodgings (courtesy of the skylight) on Arab Street. Baked goods are the order of the day with sweet offerings like sticky toffee puddings ($6.90), carrot cakes ($6.90) and gula Melaka scones ($3), to name a few. And good news for fans of the perpetually sold-out Mel’s house-blend granola ($12/500g): the new location has a larger kitchen, so the café hopes to produce more quantities of the crunchy rolled oats mixed with almonds, coconut, treacle and sea salt.
For heartier offerings, try the colourfully plated wholesome breakfast ($16.90) that comes with scrambled eggs, mushrooms, Moroccan-spiced tomato relish and smoked salmon. On weekends, opt for the shakshuka – a Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in tomatoes, capsicums and onions – topped with a dollop of sour cream and accompanied by slices of bread for dipping.
Located along Bedok Road is Badoque Café, a restaurant that serves up Asian fusion, Greek and Mediterranean fare. To try on its menu is the beef ribs ($36) that come in generous portions and are served with homemade barbecue sauce. Other dish highlights include the pan-fried salmon with mashed potatoes ($24) and spaghetti with chunks of salmon belly ($22).
Opened by French-trained celebrity chef Amri Azim, this restaurant offers gourmet steaks and ribs at affordable prices. For steaks, go big and order the Australian M6 grade wagyu ($45) but if you’re looking for cheaper options, try the Angus beef sirloin steak ($14.90) or burger ($12.90) that come with two sides. Apart from grilled meat, the restaurant also whips up pastas and grilled fish dishes that start from $7.90 while its dessert menu consists of lemon curd tarts ($4.90) and Belgian waffles ($8.90). And on Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant offers freshly shucked oysters at $18 for half a dozen shells.