A list of the best cafés in Tiong Bahru wouldn't be complete without the one that loves the neighbourhood so much, it named itself after it. This boulangerie – which first opened its flagship store at the eponymous neighborhood – set up by celebrity baker Gontran Cherrier together with the Spa Esprit group, serves French artisanal breads, tarts and coffee at three locations around town. Savory options like the Squid Ink Sandwich ($8.50) and Ham and Melted Cheese on Focaccia ($8) are great for satisfying the peckish while sweet options like the ever-popular Almond Croissant ($3.20) and the sinful Kouign-Amann ($3.50) are not-to-be-missed especially when bought fresh off the oven.
The low, glass-fronted entrance looks into a flurry of bright activity: a coffee bar and an aquarium-style kitchen pushes out dishes to diners lined along the deep, narrow walls of this pre-war shophouse. A herb and micro-greens garden from Edible Garden City isn't there for decoration – chefs use the fresh watercress and other vegetables in Open Door Policy's new dishes that are also gluten- and dairy-free. The revamped menu is a collaboration between Spa Esprit Group's executive chef Ryan Clift and ODP’s assistant head chef Freddy Ang. You'll find a warm wasabi green pea and scallop soup ($23), vegan maccheroni pasta ($25), a portobello bolognese gratin with bechamel sauce, as well as tender braised veal ossobuco ($32) on a bed of green pea risotto among others.
This French all-day dining destination is artfully designed with tropical motifs and comes with a garden patio for those who like their food and skin drenched in natural sunlight. In the day, you'll find brunch staples such as eggs Benedict ($21) and French toast ($17) and during dinner, you're served plates meant for sharing like a hefty 400g Australian Angus beef steak ($49) and black pepper tuna ($25). Fans of Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee should also be happy to know that Merci Marcel scores its beans from the historic roaster.
Platters of pastries and cakes tempt your taste buds as you enter Plain Vanilla Bakery, but resist that because you’re here for one purpose: to capture those cupcakes, squash them between your teeth, reduce them to a sticky, gooey clump. Choose from a dozen flavours ($3.90 each): chocolate hazelnut’s a bold, Nutella-fuelled prize crowned with more nuts; red velvet’s made with Valrhona chocolate and capped with a thick cream cheese frosting; and cookies and cream’s a chocolatey affair with smashed Oreos weaved into its frosting. You’ll want to collect ’em all, we promise.
One of the first few cafés in Singapore to introduce us to third-wave coffee culture, Forty Hands has been around since 2010 and has managed to stand the test of time. If you manage to nab seats in this perpetually packed café, order the eggs Benedict ($18) for wobbly poached eggs with molten centres that ooze when broken into, charred bacon streaked only on the fatty edges, and soft brioche buns that bring together the whole affair. Best to come mid-afternoon to stave off the lunch crowd.
Tiann's tries its best to be that gluten-free, paleo-friendly and organic (as much as possible) bakery. They stick to good old fashioned bakes like banana bread ($4.50) that also comes vegan if you pre-order two days in advance ($53/whole loaf). Also on the menu are chocolate hazelnut cake ($8.80) and ice cream made in-house with raw ingredients ($4.80). They do savoury and hot food too, like pies, toasties and waffles ($9.80-$16) and have reasonably priced coffee ($3.50-$6).