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Katong shophouses
Photograph: Darren Soh/ Singapore Tourism Board

The best restaurants and cafés in Katong

Heritage eats and hip cafés abound in the colourful neighbourhood of Katong

Written by
Time Out Singapore editors
,
Fabian Loo
&
Dawson Tan
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There's no shortage of things to do in the eastern neighbourhood of Katong but eating definitely steals the limelight. The heritage district is rich in local Peranakan culture and also features incredibly varied cuisines, with Vietnamese and European communities making it their home. Then, there are the ultra-hip cafés that have sprouted up in recent years to check out too. Here's our guide on how to eat your way through Katong.

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Exuding an old-world charm, Baba Chews is peppered with black-and-white Peranakan tiles, thematic art pieces, and vintage leather furniture mixed with warm wood mediums. Serving up modern Asian and Western cuisine, there’s truly something for everyone. But with a recently refreshed menu, guests can look forward to more fun innovative dishes such as the No Rice Paper Roll ($19), Prawn Oil Kombu Tagliatelle ($24), and the Granchio ($23) – Singapore chilli crab inspired tagliatelle.

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Good Intentions blurs the line between café and bar. While the first floor features cosy nooks and a drink counter lined with taps of beer, the second storey is a breezy dining space that overlooks the busy streets of Katong. The 15-strong beer list offers much more fun, with happy hour running till 7pm daily. While safe for work aromatic brews that go for just $3 with other non-alcoholic options include a floral-scented chamomile agave ice tea ($6) brightened with notes of earl grey and citrus. But no matter if you’re here for coffee or cocktails, the intent is clear: this is a place that is suitable for all occasions – from day to night.

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Common Man Coffee Roasters' third outpost in a breezy Joo Chiat shophouse is already a neighbourhood favourite. The breezy 80-seater space oozes industrial charm with exclusive brews and new menu additions such as a 30-hour ferment sourdough pancakes ($24), avocado toast ($22), smashed burger ($28), and the Common Man caesar ($25). Aside from freshly baked pastries, the display shelves at Common Man Joo Chiat also come lined with specially curated coffee-making wares, and coffee-inspired treats made in collaboration with the café’s new neighbours.

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Tigerlily Patisserie has come into full bloom. What started as a virtual bakery during the lockdown period last year has now grown into a full-fledged 24-seater café in the east – complete with a dine-in space and an expanded repertoire of sweets and savouries. Bakes are aplenty but what comes with a new and bigger kitchen is hearty brunch nosh such as the Monsieur Kim ($15)and the Salmon Tzatziki ($14). But know this, prepare to wait in line with every visit as owner Maxine Ngooi's desserts are still the real draw to the spot.

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Neptune is the latest café to open in Katong. It is opened by the same people behind successful eateries that include Apollo Coffee Bar, Atlas Coffeehouse, Columbus Coffee Co – so expect the same focus on quality brews and hearty grub. The gorgeous interior is another highlight, too. Drop by for brunch, and look forward to a portobello ragout ($19.50), where a toast comes half topped with spoonfuls of creamy mushrooms, and another with juicy, blistered cherry tomatoes.

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Chin Mee Chin has long been a breakfast institution for years, best known for its charcoal-toasted buns and traditional bakes. After closing for some two years, the old-school Kopitiam has made a comeback with a fresh lick of paint. In collaboration with Ebb and Flow Group, which is responsible for concepts that include The Dragon Chamber and Tigerlily Patisserie, to reopen at its original location along East Coast Road. The menu, however, will remain rooted in tradition.

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There’s a magician in the house. Through cards, he can predict the future, will things to appear, and make others disappear. He can also brew up a mean cup of coffee. Meet Ashley Cho, the owner of C Cafe, a magic-themed space that serves up coffee and card tricks in Joo Chiat. But the food is just as impressive, with highlights of smashed avocado on sourdough toast ($18), waffles with fried chicken thigh ($18), and more.

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  • Ice-cream parlours
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At the basement of this old shopping mall, you'll find The Humble Scoop, a young ice cream parlour in the East. Unlike other ice cream places, this shop only serves home-made ice cream with local and nostalgic flavours. There is guava with sour plum, pulut hitam, the In-Kueh-dible which is a salted coconut and gula melaka concoction and more delightful flavours you'll be sure to recognise. 

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One of Singapore's best-kept secrets, this small stall is only open on weekdays and even so, tends to run out pretty early so it might take you a few tries before you finally get to try it. It's all in the actual name of the shop, really. The prata kosongs here are super crispy on the outside and much fluffier on the inside. It may sound and look so simple but there's a reason why people keep returning to this gem in Joo Chiat. 

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Petit Pain is a hidden gem in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood. The bakery which specialises in croissants produces small batches of baked each day which run out pretty quickly. The baked goods are made without improvers, preservatives and artificial flavouring. Standouts include the croissants, said to be made via a three-day process, that are light, buttery and flakey and best when it is fresh. Other must-haves: the honey brioche, available only during opening, and the apple danish. 

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You haven't fully experienced Katong unless you dine at a Peranakan restaurant and Chilli Padi is as authentic as it gets. Red batik cloth drapes over the tables, a framed kebaya hangs on the wall and the restaurant is even located in a heritage shophouse from the pre-war era. Order the ayam buah keluak (from $16.80), which comes with generous chunks of chicken and whole kernels of buah keluak that have been conveniently cut to fit the length of your fork.

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The classic Katong laksa place, 328 lets you scoop all the good stuff into one spoonful – even the fishcake is thinly sliced so you’ll get a bite of it along with prawns, beansprouts and cockles. The broth itself is thick and coconut-y, which may to too jelat for some. But not us. And while you’re at one of its many outlets, don’t forget to order a slice of otah to accompany the dish. 

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Delicately-perfumed and sophisticated, the botanical-inspired flavours at Birds of Paradise tastes like edible poetry. This tiny gelato nook along East Coast Road Road is standing room-only and perpetually packed. Flavour, texture and colour are coaxed from flowers, herbs, nuts and spices for signatures like white chrysanthemum, strawberry basil, and lemongrass ginger (from $4.70 a scoop). Even their housemade waffle-cone ($1) is scented with thyme.

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Joo Chiat may be peppered with dozens of fine eateries, but for sterling Canto-Teochew classics, Joo Heng – a zi char joint-turned-restaurant – is one of your best bets. From the lush and homey dishes on offer, we highly recommend the tofu fried with large prawns coated in a sweet and savoury sauce, and steamed song fish head basking in fermented bean paste topped with a generous sprinkling of pork lard.

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Katong is home to a thriving Vietnamese community and you'll see plenty of eateries hawking dishes like phở, gỏi cuốn and more along the streets of Joo Chiat. Our favourite is Long Phung Vietnamese Restaurant for its affordable and consistently tasty bowls of noodle soup. Try the hủ tiếu bò kho ($7), an intensely rich and slightly spicy beef soup.

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A glass-paned window box juts out at Zaffron’s entrance, showcasing the chefs at work and the star of the show – a charcoal-fired tandoor oven. From the oven emerges a fragrant garlic naan and flaming red, seasoned boneless nuggets of dory fish tikka ($13), meaty and tender with crisp, charred edges. But the real showstopper is the dum chicken biryani ($11), a casserole of fluffy, mildly spiced basmati rice with succulent whole chicken leg, piquant au jus sauce, and perfectly cooked whole hard-boiled egg encased in a sealed naan top.

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Part of the fun while waiting for your food to arrive at Sinpopo Brand is in checking out the retro features, painstakingly curated, and overhearing the older folk reminisce about days long past. As for food, a good place to start if you want a square meal is the sambal fishball, a common hawker snack sliced in half and smothered in Sinpopo’s own blend of sharp and fiery sambal chilli. Then there are the requisite classics with a modern spin, like the Rojak Slaw, a traditional Malay favourite of vegetables and fruits slathered in sweet sauce.

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  • Barbecue
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You won't mind the heat of dining at the al fresco restaurant when you're too busy tearing into a rack of barbecued ribs. This is the closest you'll get to an authentic American barbecue experience in Singapore – everything is marinated in its homemade spice mix, smoked in custom-made barbecues imported from the USA and slathered in a barbecue sauce that'll have you licking your fingers.

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Occupying the iconic Red House in Katong, it's really hard to miss the cosy looking spot that is Micro Bakery. With a mission to serve delicious and hearty food and to provide a space for people to take a break from the hustle, you'll feel comfortable right away at this café with its warm decor and the smell of freshly baked bread constantly in the air. Besides the breakfast options like the scrambled eggs tartine ($14) and Big Breakfast ($18), be sure to get some buns, cakes, sourdough loaves, coffee, and even Comte cheese to go. 

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This is one scenic Starbucks location to visit. Built in 1928, the Katong Square was once home to the former Joo Chiat Police Station – and according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, was used to lock up triad gang members. Its dreary history has since made way for a brighter tale – one filled with a sun-strewn interior, various Peranakan-inspired artworks by local artist Danielle Tay, and aromatic brews. 

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