Take a break from shopping and sight-seeing, and pop by these cafés for brunch or a tea-time snack while you're in Bugis. Since most cafés are air-conditioned, they're also a great way to cool down in between walking in this hot weather.
RECOMMENDED: The best cafés in Singapore
When historians decades from now catalogue the food culture of the 21st century, Symmetry will be their definitive example of a ‘hipster café’. Pop art posters, pre-loved trinkets, an indie music soundtrack, metal fixtures, and lots and lots of wood hang around the space, bordered on one end by a built-as-vintage brick wall. Thankfully, there’s substance beneath all this style. While its brunch is popular, Symmetry’s lunch and dinner menus – which deviate from the standard café fare – are its real triumphs. Its signature saikyo miso cod and mentaiko carbonara ($24) is an umami bomb on the palate, while the crab claw hazelnut basil pesto ($22) hides chunks of crabmeat. The truffle fries are on the higher end of the price spectrum at $15, but the crispy shoestrings, salted just so and piled high in a bucket, are one of the better examples on this list. Cap off your meal with a cold-brewed coffee ($7) – dripped over 9 to 12 hours – using single-origin beans from Papua New Guinea and served with a slice of orange. If you visit at night, Symmetry’s bar comes to life, shaking up original cocktails and pouring a well-stocked catalogue of cider, beer, sake, champagne and wine.
Paper Crane is one of those cafés you might miss if you weren’t looking for it. Nestled within the premises of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, the joint can only seat a maximum of five indoors, while the rest will have to settle for tables in the corridor that, knowing our national aversion to heat and humidity, is lined with a more-than-adequate number of fans. Founded by a former magazine editor and a Canadian chef trained at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Paper Crane isn’t fussed about pigeonholing its food into a cuisine as much as serving up honest, homely fare like Southern-style deep fried chicken with fries and slaw ($15). Because the chicken thighs languish in buttermilk and spices for 24 hours, the meat stays juicy while the crust crackles and pops – no greasy aftertaste here. And what beverage would Paper Crane serve to accompany fried chicken other than craft beer? You can order a bottle to a bucket ($15/bottle, $40/bucket of five bottles). The other must-tries include the Thai pan-fried seabass burger ($20) – the fish is delivered fresh every day from Ah Hua Kelong – and kimchi fries with grilled steak ($15). Pastas and salads go for an affordable $10 all day and here’s another bonus: the café doesn’t charge for GST or service.
All Things Delicious
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.
The Lab SG
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.
This Halal cake brand has grown to two takeaway outlets in the city, but you’ll want to retreat into its cottage-like Jalan Besar flagship for a sweet treat. The cakes here look bang on trend, but use recipes inspired by owner Shannon Lua’s grandmother. As-seen-on-Pinterest tiered cakes (from $280), frosted minimally between layers and dressed with foliage and fruits, are the hot order for weddings and birthdays. Butter Studio’s also a whiz at matching trendy ingredients. Milo and Speculoos? Check. Salted caramel and red velvet? Hell yeah. A slice goes for $7.90, with the option to add ice cream at $4 a scoop, and cupcakes start at $3.50 a pop. And if you must pad your stomach with savouries before the sweet, pick from the menu of standards like eggs Benny ($15), turkey bacon melt French toast ($13), and sausage lover’s platter ($16), available at lunch and late into dinnertime. Butter Studio’s open ’til midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, so definitely count this as an alternative to a Swee Choon supper pig out.
'ARC' stands for 'academy, roastery and café', three elements that are brought together under one roof for a complete bean experience. This Kampong Glam standout is owned by an all-star team of local Latte Art, Brewers Cup and Barista champions, including three-time Singapore Barista champion, John Ryan Ting. The blends and single-origins served out of machines and filters are all roasted within its shophouse premises, so you can bet the coffee’s fresh. Classes are available for coffee lovers of all levels, from basic appreciation workshops and latte art, to brewing courses for the wannabe barista ($50-$240). Coffees range from $3.50 to $7, brunch classics like salads and a pulled pork twist on eggs Benny are priced at an affordable range of $6.80 to $19.80, and meat-based mains go for $16.80 to $23.80.
Tanuki Raw (National Design Centre)
We know – this is a restaurant, you say. But given that Tanuki Raw’s outlet in the National Design Centre shares its space with a retail store, we’ll give it a pass. And you’re all the better for it, because the seven donburi on the menu aren’t your usual budget rice bowls. They’re generous, tasty and, most of all, affordable. The truffle yakiniku don ($18) is the absolute must-try: juicy US Black Angus short rib is served atop rice, draped in a truffle soya sauce and crowned with a gooey onsen egg. Likewise, the negitoro ($18) is rich without being jelak. Marinated minced fatty tuna is seasoned with black garlic and Tanuki Raw roasted leek before being tossed with shio kombu and laid on a bed of sushi rice. For an extra bit of crunch, the café serves this bowl with fried, pungent black garlic chips. And those subjecting themselves to the #MeatlessMondays trend can take comfort in the spicy garlic miso tofu don ($14), whose cubes of bean curd remind us of agedashi tofu. Besides that, cuisine-bending sushi rolls and sliders are also on the menu. And if you’re lucky enough to leave the office early, happy hour here is from 5 to 8pm every day: oysters go for $2 and cocktails start at $10.
Perhaps its location in an art school has compelled this café, whose name is annoyingly stylised as LOWERCASE (oh, how ironic), to look the part. Huge, airy and sunlight-drenched, the space has wooden palettes for tables – so you can prop your cuppa up in warehouse chic style – and a harem’s worth of pillows to make your time there as homely as possible. This laid-back but trendy café/bistro serves a mix of pastas and pizzas amongst other mains, as well as light bites in its selection of sandwiches and confectioneries. There is also a bar area – which regularly holds events – with beers served on tap or craft brews by the bottle.
This people-watching corner spot at Haji Lane also doubles as Dutch-inspired Halal café, I am. Scaling back on the breakfast-as-lunch fare elsewhere, its perpetual crowd flock to the restaurant for their selection of juicy burgers ($12.90-$17.90) including the charcoal fire-licked sloppy burger with a comfortingly messy sauce ($14.90) and sharing grub like melty chicken meatball Cheezy Bombs ($6.90) and baked garlic butter prawns ($10.90), all to kick start a day wandering through the street’s little retail nooks.
Part-café, part-gallery space, Artistry with its white-washed walls and concrete floors makes for a soothing sight for square eyes. When you're in need of a pick-me-up, order a Liberty bean coffee ($3.50-$7), tuck into a chilli crab burger ($25) or, if you’re on a health streak, the yogurt ice cream with granola and fresh berries ($14). When you’re done with your work, you can stay on to catch one of the spoken word performances or band tribute sing-alongs that start around 8pm, hosted about twice a week at the venue.
Located on the busy pedestrian crossroad of Arab Street, Haji and Bali Lane, this hole-in-the-wall coffee joint is the perfect place to set up camp for a productive afternoon. Set up by Chad Samson and Dave Code who first met as DJs and formed one-half of the funk and soul night, Pushin’ On (now on hiatus), the pair manifest their love for coffee, art and design (hence the name) in this joint. Expect its indoor display of street art and photography to change every two to three months or so, providing breaths of fresh artistic air to the oft-trotted junction. Dripping from the coffee machine here is the Woolloomooloo blend of Guatemalan, Mexican and Brazilian beans from Toby’s Estate, which makes a good full-bodied mouthful in a milk-based latte ($5) or cappuccino ($5). Accompanying that is a small menu of comforting bites, like hearty soups made in-house and CAD's much-hyped sourdough toasties. Craft beers from Brewdog are also available if you need a tipple.
Chye Seng Huat Hardware
Follow the hipster past the huge covered metal gates and you’ll find Chye Seng Huat’s semi-secret (well, not so much anymore) compound in the Jalan Besar industrial zone. Headquarters of Third Wave coffee pioneers Papa Palheta, the two-storey coffee complex hides a coffee school and retail space on the second floor, while a full inventory of coffee gear dominates its ground floor café. Wait in line by the vinyl player piping Phoenix or The xx into the perpetually crowded space, and order an espresso made with its Nuts and Bolts or Terra Firma blends, or a procured single origin to drink in the café.