Restaurants & cafés
Because we love buah keluak everything, Hambaobao’s Ayam Buah Keluak ($5) burger with bits of the nutty “fruit” embedded in a chicken patty and topped by chap chye is always on our list of favoured burgers. That they only charge $5 for their burgers (they have five on the menu) and don’t stinge on ingredients – the crispy pork burger comes with generous chunks of roast pork – is almost too good to be true. What we love as well is the reasonably priced add-ons, an extra patty will cost you $2.50, fries from $1, and the fact that the humble stall is run by a young couple Ryan Wee and Claire Ng, two individuals who are clearly living out their passion.
Brusque service, great popiah – guess we shouldn’t complain too much. Arguably one of the better tasting rolls ($2.50) around, while its no beauty – it arrives looking a little flat – the juicy turnip filling is full of flavor and rolled perfectly with a layer of crunchy batter bits, chopped peanuts, beansprouts, egg, julienned cucumbers and a generous drizzle of sweet sauce. If you dare to ask for a customized order, request for a smear of potent garlic and a dab of chilli. Maximise your time and order the kueh pie tee ($4.80 for six) that arrives semi-plated with chopped egg on the bottom. Fill each to the brim and bite into the crispy shell that shatters on contact. Pro tip: If you’re hoping to snag a seat, head down by 11.30am. Any later and you’ll be left waiting, watching, and dealing with food envy.
Nestled in the nook of Fairways Drive is this hideaway of a café and bar that makes up for its ulu location with its unblocked view of Champions Golf Club’s first tee, and a tranquil vibe usually reserved only for country club members. The menu is predictable – burgers, pizzas, pastas – but well executed, generous in size and ingredients. The thin-crust Pinto Pizza ($22) (one of 12 options) arrives with a liberal amount of Parma ham and shavings of Parmesan. While the juicy Pico Burger ($26) with a juicy, meaty patty, bacon and duck fat fries is the ideal Sunday brunch order. For beer lovers, linger behind and put away a few pints of Kilkenny draught, possibly the only peaceful place in Singapore to offer it freshly pulled.
You can tell a lot about an Italian restaurant by the quality of its pizza dough. At Acqua e Farina, the trek to Rail Mall is justified by the promise of excellent Neapolitan style pies, made with a dough that’s risen for 30 hours. Baked till crisp along the edges, with a soft, chewy middle, the Sicilian boat-style pizza – incidentally, they might be the only ones in Singapore to offer this – the Barca Bufala ($26) is festooned with a generous amount of Parma ham, creamy mozarella cheese and a well-balanced tomato sauce – a combination that’s nothing short of heavenly. Sadly, it’s so good, we’ve neglected to sample their handmade pastas or gilled mains, but we know we’ll be back.
While its sister outlets at the National Gallery and Clarke Quay makes for a sexier location outing, this is where it all started in 2012 when noted Singapore food ambassador Violet Oon (with her children Su-Lyn and Yiming) opened on Cherry Avenue. The unassuming space has since been renovated – they’ve added a show kitchen and private dining room – and introduced a brunch menu with its own version of roti prata called Roti Violet (from $7): think of these as stuffed roti filled with tuna, pulled pork or chickpeas, or a calamansi and sugar version. Like all heritage restaurants, they’ve made sure to keep certain signature items – the Coronation Chicken ($9), Dry Laksa ($22) and Meatless Meatballs Rendang ($15) – always available, which makes returning here a familiar pleasure, and one more chance to sample the other dishes on the menu.
Other things to do in Bukit Timah
Set up by two ex-professional footballers, Faruk Alkaff and Paul Masefield, the indoor and outdoor pitches with astroturf or artificial grass surface at Premier Pitch Turf City can be rented out from $60 an hour for games of five or seven-a-side.
The only day spa with a zen garden, it has become a favourite for its range of unique treatments like onsen baths (from $80, they have five bath salt choices) in a Rotenburo hot tub, the Geisha Organic Facial ($240) which uses rice bran, camellia oil, and uguisu no fun (powdered nightingale droppings) – yes, you read that right – and a 300-stroke Japanese meridian massage technique, and the signature Ganbanyoku ($180), a Japanese detoxification ritual taking place on a special Ganbanyoku Stone Bed to purge toxins and calories as you perspire.
Saddle up – horse riding isn’t just for trust fund babies or polo players. Learning to ride at Gallop Stables starts from as little as $65 (per 30-minute session). There’s also private or group lessons, a 20-minute pony ride ($45) for little ones, three years and up, and the option to go riding (with an instructor) for an hour ($85) on the Fairways Green Track or Fairways Sand Ring.
Since you’re in the hood, it makes sense to scale Singapore’s highest peak - incidentally 163 meters tall. The two-year multi-million dollar reconstruction effort means visitors now have new steps, boardwalks and rope railings to better learn about the hill’s native flora and fauna – it’s home to 840 species of flowering plants and over 500 species of fauna, including the Singapore freshwater crab and Sunda pangolin. The easiest way to the summit is to take the main path from the Visitor Centre up by the South View Path. For a tougher climb, detour through Taban Loop towards Dairy Farm Nature Park. And for motivation, know that the view of the quarry from the lookout point is pretty special.
Eat Organic makes living an organic lifestyle easy, and far from boring. Aside from the wide range of pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, organic meats (free-range pork meatballs, antibiotic-free chicken, organic pork), there’s a fridge of Kombucha drinks, shelves of gluten and organic free goodies (ready meals, pastas, baking pre-mixes) and biodynamic wines. They also stock harder-to-find items like gluten-free kosher goat cheddar cheese, sprouted bread, meat-free alternatives and macrobiotic and organic Japanese cheese. The upper level carries a variety of eco-friendly baby and household products, organic baby food, homoeopathic remedies and cosmetics, including vegan nail polish.
Being Bukit Timah, it comes as no surprise there’s a public golf course in the hood. Built in 1988, the 9-hole course is a par-34, 2000 meter course open to the public with reasonable green fees that won’t burn a hole in the pocket (a standard 9-hole round starts from $45). There’s also a driving range with 66 bays to ensure that swing is being worked on regularly.