Telok Ayer may have taken its name from the Malay community (it translates to ‘bay’ and ‘water’, respectively), but the area was mainly populated by Chinese immigrants back in the day. Originally a coastal road situated along the island’s old waterfront, the street has transformed itself into a buzzing lifestyle district, teeming with restaurants and bars to feed the CBD office crowd. Pay a visit to one of the museums around the area or pop into the lean shophouses that dot the strip, where boutiques, gyms and a dance studio are tucked away.
RECOMMENDED: Check out our guide to the Ann Siang Hill area
Restaurants and bars
If you’re a fan of laid-back, Aussie-style café nosh, check out Sarnies. Opened by Australian Ben Lee, this sandwich shop lives up to its name with rustic ’wiches like roast chicken with house-cured bacon ($15) and tuna mayo with bell pepper, onions and coriander ($14.50). For heartier fare, check out its evening and weekend brunch menus, brimming with sinful options like truffle mash in bacon ($13) and churros with salted caramel sauce ($10). Top it off with Sarnies’ cuppas that have made it to Lonely Planet’s list of best coffees – choose from an exhaustive list of brews including flat whites, macchiatos and mochas.
Bitters & Love
The bespoke cocktail bar features the works of head bartender Naz Arjuna, senior bartender Dee and junior bartender Chao Wei. Having shifted to their Telok Ayer digs after two years at North Canal Road, Bitters and Love brings with them a loyal customer base as well as custom-made tipples. Complement the drinks with bar grub such as truffle potatoes, which start from $13.
The homely restaurant brings Thai-Indonesian cuisine to the table, set within an antique-themed ambience. Settle in for a zi char-style meal, with favourites such as ngoh hiang ($8.80), tom yum seafood soup ($8.80), crispy baby squid ($12.80) and more. Wash it down with desserts that come with a twist – think durian with glutinous rice ($4.50) and sago doused in gula Melaka ($3.50).
Chong Wen Ge Café
Founded by a group of middle-aged uncles who want to reach out to the younger generation and increase their awareness of Singapore’s roots, Chong Wen Ge promises a café experience steeped in heritage. Its name pays tribute to the Institute for the Veneration of Literature, Singapore’s first Chinese school, and the café is also part of Thiam Hock Keng temple complex, which was gazetted as a National Monument in 1973. Enter through the Chong Boon Gate and be greeted by authentic Peranakan-tiled flooring, piano sounds and the backdrop of the intricately decorated Chong Wen Pagoda.
Fat Saigon Boy
At this Aussie-Vietnamese joint, Melbournian Cang Lai cooks up rice and noodle dishes topped with chargrilled lemongrass pork ($13), Vietnamese-style chicken ($13), as well as hulking bowls of pho ($13). Snack-sized portions of Vietnamese fish cake ($8/three), chilli chicken wings ($8/four) and rice paper rolls with roast pork belly ($8/two) are also on the menu.
FYR Cycene Ond Drinc
Cooking up traditional European fare with Asian spices in the grill is the specialty of FYR Cycene Ond Drinc (Ye Olde English for ‘kitchen and drink’). All the dishes – desserts included – are cooked using the kitchen’s lychee wood-fed Josper charcoal ovens, which imparts a sweet-smoky note. Experience this in the grain-fed Holstein Cow rib-eye ($32), Ibérico pork chop ($32), and sharing portions of five-spiced half-chicken, striploin and tiger prawns ($55). That same smoke shows up in sweet treats like the baked pistachio melt and pandan ice cream ($18), too.
The Market Grill
Get your grill on at this shophouse restaurant, which serves up fresh cuts of smoky meat. Carnivores will want to stick their forks in the Black Angus prime beef rib ($150/serves up to three) or roasted bone marrow ($25). A selection of burgers, crafted by chef Colin West, also features prominently on the menu – go for the breakfast stack, replete with bacon, eggs and cheddar ($24-$33).
Bespoke menswear designer Chong Han San tiptoes into the F&B industry with this chic, minimalist restaurant located below his studio Q Menswear. The menu – by local veteran chef Derrick Lau (previously with Nadaman at Shangri-La) – is mostly omakase-driven. Dinner will set you back between $100 and $150, while lunch costs $68 and $88. But Marukyu also caters to the other end of the spectrum with its affordable set dinners ($23-$38) and lunches ($16-$35). There are also seasonal signatures from the à la carte menu such as the aburi otoro uni gohan, seared fatty tuna rice with sea urchin and tai carpaccio ($35), or Japanese sea bream sashimi with truffle sauce ($28).
‘Low and slow’ is the name of Meat Smith’s game. This 85-seater American barbecue restaurant under Loh Lik Peng’s Unlisted Collection is all about the brisket ($28/180g), spare ribs ($25) and smoked chicken ($22). Can’t decide? Order a barbecue platter ($95-$330) to have a taste of all of ’em. Lunch sees the addition of a small sandwich section to the menu – pick between Nashville fried chicken ($12), pulled pork ($14) and brisket ($16).
The kitchen-bar went through a revamp for its third anniversary, roping in Scottish chef Seumas Smith of Michelin-starred restaurants Lords of the Manor and Dinner by Heston. Moosehead serves up Mediterranean cuisine with influences from South-East Asian street food, such as slow-cooked pork belly with roast turnips and cavolo nero ($31), and bone marrow with anchovies on sourdough ($10).
Pololi, Asia’s first poké chain, is surfing straight out of Hong Kong and setting up shack on our shores in the CBD. Chef-owner Steph Kudus taps into her time living in Hawaii to capture the laid-back 'Aloha Spirit' in the beachy-chic takeout shop. The five flavours available daily are rotated from a repertoire of over 20 different poké flavours so you'll always have something new to try each time you head to the store. Select your bowl size ($17.99/180g and $15.99/150g) and pick from flavours such as the signature traditional spicy or yuzu salmon. Weekly specials include sweet onion teriyaki swordfish, Thai spicy tuna, Korean spicy tako, ginger marlin and even sambal, for those who like their fish with local spices. Also, grab some Hawaiian treats such as Spam musubi, tropical granitas and Kona Brewing Co’s beer while you’re there.
The Muffinry Bakery & Café
This tiny café serves up more than its namesake treat – check out its list of sandwiches and a menu chock-full of desserts, all baked on-site with The Muffinry’s own recipes. Try the char siew sandwich ($9.20) for a Muffinry twist on the local favourite, or a beef chilli con carne quiche ($6.90) for a spicy kick. Muffins are, of course, available daily – every day sees different flavours take the stage, but banana chocolate walnut and double chocolate are mainstays on the menu.
My Awesome Cafe
It’s hard to get particularly excited for yet another vintage café to hit the city, but we make exceptions for My Awesome Café on Telok Ayer. Located on the ground floor of what used to be the Telok Ayer Chung Hwa Free Clinic, My Awesome Café takes the retrospective-looking trend aesthetic and knocks it out of the ballpark with equal parts knack for sourcing and creative ingenuity.
Napoleon Food and Wine Bar
In an intimate 54-seater space, this food and wine bar places proud emphasis on vino from the Old World, with 32 European wines rotated every week alongside a Grands Crus selection – the highest level of vineyard classification in Burgundy, France. Owner Jean-Christophe Cadoret works closely with his 11-man team based in France to select wines for import. And diners may want to indulge in a glass of 2000 Château Latour or 2005 Mouton Rothschild (from $18/glass), or the 2014 Domaine Heimbourger Chablis ($16/glass, $80/bottle). You don’t have to commit to a full glass, either – there are tasting (25ml) and half-portions (75ml) available, which start from $10. If complex vino jargon puts you off the stuff, worry not, because wine is demystified here: reds are divided into categories such as ‘smooth’, ‘fruity’ and ‘spicy’, while whites are split into ‘dry’, ‘rich’ and so forth, complete with a colour-coding system so you’ll have an idea of the colour of your drink. Napoleon’s iPad menus also come preloaded with wine information and short clips from winemakers describing their vino – e-sommeliers, if you will. Complementing the wines is a repertoire of European dishes such as smoked whole spring chicken ($30) and hand-cut Angus beef tartare ($30).
Oven and Fried Chicken
Birthed from the union of two of the most popular chicken restaurants in South Korea, Oven and Fried Chicken offers both Okkudak’s special oil-free baked chicken, as well as Ssaldak’s rice flour-coated chicken. Choose from a range of grill-roasted chicken ($32/whole chicken, $17/half chicken), oil-free crunch chicken ($33/whole chicken, $18/half chicken), fried chicken prepared with rice flour ($33/whole chicken, $18/half chicken), and seasoned chicken ($35/whole chicken, $20/half chicken), which comes in sauces like sweet and spicy, Jambalaya and garlic. Oven and Fried Chicken also offers lunch sets ($9.90-$15) – and for the full Korean experience, wash it all down with a bowl of rice punch ($4).
Looking for pastries and sweets to complete your lunch? Check out Pantler, a quiet café along Telok Ayer. Helmed by Matthias Phua and chef Tomoharu Morita, both of whom came through the kitchens of Grand Hyatt Tokyo and Joël Robuchon Singapore, Pantler serves up cakes, sandwiches and pies made with carefully sourced ingredients from Japan and France. Try a cheesecake or cream puff for a taste of Pantler’s brand of delicate and refined pastries.
Park Bench Deli
The sandwich joint helmed by Ming Tan (he of Lolla fame), Andrei Soen (formerly of The Cajun Kings) and ex-Lucasfilm staffer Aamir Ghani takes Singapore’s sandwich game to levels beyond your basic tuna mayo stack. Think hoagies like kong bak banh mi ($16), whose pork belly chunks have been marinated in dark soya sauce, honey, anise and garlic then slow-cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Or the Cubano ($16), which floweth over with cheese, pickles and all manners of seared and braised pork. A word of warning: these sandwiches are messy, over-the-top affairs, so have a pack of napkins at the ready.
Royz et Vous
The Halal café-restaurant serves a straightforward Western menu, with the likes of sweet potato fries ($11.90), Buffalo wings ($14.90), eggs Benedict ($18.90) and smoked duck ($26.90). What Royz et Vous specialises in is coffee – try its cold brew ($8) made from freshly roasted beans, or choose from an extensive selection of Italian La Marzocco coffee, also available as a macchiato ($4.50) and piccolo latte ($4.50).
Elsewhere on Telok Ayer...
Aster by Kyra
Peranakan culture is more than just food and outfits – it’s architecture as well. And Aster carries the torch of vibrant Peranakan-style tiles. With state-of-the-art technology adapted from the Italians, the Singapore-based company salvages and cleans up, as well as produces Peranakan tiles for homes – and you can customise your own designs, too.
Musical Box Museum
Be fascinated by the tinkling of the tiny boxes at Singapore’s first museum dedicated to musical boxes. The people behind the museum aim to illuminate the public about Singapore’s role in bringing musical boxes to South-East Asia, as well as to promote the preservation of these artefacts, some of which date back to the 19th century.
Get your bespoke menswear at Q Menswear, which provides both ready-to-wear and tailoring services to create that perfectly fitted suit. The local outfit also stocks a slew of accessories such as lapel pins, pocket squares and everything in between so that you can look your spiffiest in the shortest amount of time.
Fitness is taken to a whole new level at this gym – forget typical classes and instead go hard with a specially tailored fitness regime using barbells, ropes and rings. Level Gym emphasises on workouts that incorporate daily movements, making exercise more relevant and integral to one’s life rather than a chore. Located in the heart of the CBD, Level Gym also provides nutrition consultations and physiotherapy.
SLAP Dance Studio
Pole dancing is no longer as controversial as it once was – and this studio is proper legit. It’s founded by Miss Pole Dance South-East Asia 2012, Naoko Enomoto, and is crewed by a team of professionally trained instructors who have tailored unique workouts for the busy office worker. SLAP also boasts the highest poles in Singapore, with a 4.6-metre ceiling height – so you know where to go for a challenge.