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Healthy Soba IKI
Photograph: Healthy Soba IKI

10 hidden food gems in the Central Business District

Satisfy your lunch cravings at these lesser-known haunts

Cheryl Sekkappan
Pailin Boonlong
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
&
Pailin Boonlong
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Lunch – the meal that every office worker looks forward to. For most in the Central Business District (CBD), obvious favourites include Amoy Street Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and the newly-opened Market Street Hawker Centre. But the CBD is also packed with overlooked malls and office towers, each hiding an untold number of food stops and affordable eats. To help spice up your lunch hour, we've sussed out the best hidden gems in the CBD. 

RECOMMENDED: The best business lunch sets in the CBD and The best ice cream shops in Singapore

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown

Chances are, if you’ve worked in the CBD before, you’ve seen the snaking lunchtime queues along the Far East Square walkway of Chilli Pan Mee (Batu Road). This noodle shop is one of those unassuming eateries in the CBD, slightly grotty and with scanty service, but the food is well-worth the long queues. They’ve made a name for themselves in Kuala Lumpur, and this outpost has been declared by many to be one of the more authentic renditions of Malaysian pan mee.

TRY What else to get but the chilli pan mee ($7.80) – it’s this Malaysian franchise’s signature dish. It’s topped with minced meat, ikan billis, lard, and a runny poached egg. Give it all a mix to properly coat each strand of noodle. Note of warning: the chilli is spicy, and just a small dollop will already set your tongue on fire. 

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Raffles Place

Old-school Chinese restaurant Kia Hiang at International Plaza has been a long-time favourite among those working in Tanjong Pagar. But some may not know of its sister restaurant, Myo Restobar, which lurks out of sight at Oxley Tower just downtown (the same venue turns into a club at night). Serving dim sum and other homestyle Cantonese dishes, Myo does comfort food right. Ambience-wise, Myo Restobar also strikes just the right balance between casual and formal if you need a place for a corporate lunch. 

TRY Don't miss the signature Kia Hiang Claypot Spring Chicken ($18) that's made using a recipe that's been passed on for generations. The chicken is wrapped in a layer of Chinese cabbage and stewed for hours in a herbal gravy resulting in meat that simply falls off the bone, best eaten with a plain bowl of rice.

 

 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Raffles Place

Eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean bland, tasteless food. It’s certainly not the case over at Healthy Soba IKI, a handmade soba restaurant that’s tucked away on the fourth floor of One Raffles Place. They hand knead organic buckwheat dough here, making sure that each bowl of soba is made fresh: it’s only cooked after ordering. That gives Healthy Soba IKI an edge – each bowl is filled with springy soba noodles, even if served with hot broth. 

TRY The Avocado Kaisen Totoro Soba ($18), a chirashi-style soba which comes with fresh salmon and tuna that's paired with a cold dipping sauce. 

  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Raffles Place
  • price 2 of 4

Commonly known as the 'dungeon' by its regulars, Il Fiore is hidden in the belly of Singapore Land Tower right at the bottom of a spiral staircase. Don't let its name fool you either – you won't find only Italian fare at this hideout, but also surprisingly good local fare. Whether you want pastas and pizzas or hor fun and other zi char staples, Il Fiore can cook it up for you. It's a weird combination of cuisines, we admit – but it works. 

TRY Go Asian with the pork knuckle beehoon or Dungeon oyakodon. For Italian fare, go for the linguine carbonara or seasonal specials like the stewed French mussels. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Tanjong Pagar
  • price 2 of 4

While the CBD might be filled with swanky bars and after-work watering holes, Katanashi-An is a relatively unknown Japanese izakaya that’s just an easy stroll from Telok Ayer MRT Station. It’s a stomping ground for the quintessential Japanese salaryman: majority of the conversations are held in fluent Japanese, and at each table, a large carafe of sake. Like many izakayas, the menu is slightly rambly, and might take a while to decipher since it’s in a mix of Japanese and English. 

TRY If you’re there during the day, the dashi ochazuke (from $12) should be your top choice. Choose from toppings like roasted chicken ($12), salmon sashimi ($15) or unagi hitsumabushi ($18) for a simple but hearty meal. 

  • Restaurants
  • Pan-Asian
  • Raffles Place
  • price 1 of 4

Boat Quay is a stretch that everyone knows is filled with restaurants – and to be very honest, many of them are marked-up booze traps or seafood joints just for unwitting tourists. But smack bang in the middle is Shrimp Prawn Seafood, a Thai eatery that’s best known for goong ob woonsen (shrimp vermicelli). It’s similar to our local tang hoon, but with stronger flavours, thanks to the finely-chopped Thai garlic and lard. 

TRY One of the premium vermicelli dishes. The standard goong ob woonsen with king tiger prawns ($18.80) gets the job done, but there’s no reason to settle when the restaurant also offers variations like French foie gras ($32.80), jumbo Canadian scallop ($28.80), and Atlantic snow codfish ($43.80). 

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  • Sport and fitness
  • Cycling
  • Raffles Place

Find yourself in the Central Business District and craving for a drink? Head up the narrow escalator at Manulife Tower to get to Ally, a spin studio with an in-house coffee bar. Here, you can get single-origin coffees for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, or some shakes for a refuel after a hard session on the bikes. There's a spacious, sunlit lounge where you can sit and relax before heading off to tackle the rest of your day. 

TRY The iced soy milk latte ($5.50) has just the right balance of milk and caffeine. For a fruity and filling drink, get the Triple Berry Acai shake ($9). 

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Raffles Place

Most of us in Singapore are familiar with North and South Indian cuisines, but we're willing to bet that for most, East Indian cuisine is as foreign as it comes. If you're looking to step out of your comfort zone, then Aapon should be on your list. Although billed as a fine-dining establishment, this restaurant is all heart. Opened by chef-owner Chinmoy Ghose with his long-time friend Partha Roy, the menu here is built on authentic Bengali recipes inspired by the traditional homecooked meals he enjoyed when he was a child. Snack on phulkora singara, a Bengal version of the samosa that's stuffed with mildly spiced cauliflower and fragrant potatoes, or slurp up the surprisingly refreshing velvet of chicken soup that's extra silky thanks to almonds and cashews.  

TRY The kosha mangsho is an Aapon signature that hails from Kolkata with over 90 years of rich history. Dig into succulent chunks of goat meat, which has been slow-cooked in earthy spices. It's perfect with the basanti pulao, a ghee and saffron-infused rice.  

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  • Restaurants
  • Raffles Place

Shenton House has a treasure trove of affordable eats, including Jaggi's Northern Indian Cuisine, Hello Food Fish Soup, and Tofu Lane. But if you're craving some Western, then Olive's is your go-to for a fuss-free and comforting meal that costs under $6. Tucked in the corner of Shenton House, Olive's dishes out simple plates of mains and sides – just choose one main (chicken chop, roast chicken, chicken cutlet, baked fish, fish cutlet), two sides (mashed potatoes, butter rice, coleslaw, wedges, sauté pasta, salads), and a sauce (brown sauce, spicy Asian sauce, garlic cream, hot salsa) – and you're good to go. 

TRY Our winning combination consists of the chicken chop, mashed potato and coleslaw, drizzled in spicy Asian sauce. 

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Chinatown

At Chojiro Osaka Sushi Restaurant, they pride themselves on staying affordable while doling out exceptionally fresh sashimi cuts and premium sushi platters. It’s their range of sushi sets that most would flock down for, with the cheapest starting from $15.99. Those looking to splurge will enjoy the Arashiyama Set ($45.99). It’s an instant winner with a selection of premium sushi: ootoro (fatty tuna), ikura (salmon roe), and a hefty slab of anago (saltwater eel) included. Each set comes served with a chawanmushi and miso soup. 

TRY The overflowing ikura bowls that’ve clinched them a spot in our books. Prices start from $29 for their ikura salmon sushi, but the price is well-justified for eight rolls of salmon sushi – since it comes with a generous, non-stop cascade of ikura. 

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