The Thomson Road stretch has never been considered 'sexy'. And for the most part, this has suited its understated residents well. Who needs a massive shopping mall when you're just 20 minutes bus ride from Orchard Road? Fancy Michelin-star restaurants? No thanks, they prefer variety and have it in spades. The outdoors? There's MacRitchie, not to mention the fancy Singapore Island Country Club (for the lucky few). Plenty of reasons to check out this centrally-located neighbourhood.
RECOMMENDED: The best coffee in Singapore
What to eat and drink at Thomson
For a long time, Thomson was devoid of a decent drinking spot, then came Nickledime Novena and its 19 taps offering freshly-pulled craft beers (from $10 during Happy Hour, selected beers) from boutique breweries (Japan, Denmark, Germany etc…) and suddenly the stretch came alive. The brews though are just one reason Nickledime Novena is a popular en-route home/weekend hangout. The better than your average bar bites menu – snacks from $6, burgers from $16, mains from $14 – make it an affordable no-brainer for weeknight dinners. And if you’ve got a big group together, the platters (from $38) heaving with burgers, buffalo wings and fries will feed a hungry crew.
Seeing as good bagels in Singapore are pretty hard to find, it’s long overdue for Two Man Bagel House to open a second outlet. The dense, chewy bagels (plain, seeded, multi-grain, blueberry, salt from $3.50) are still hand-rolled but the menu at Thomson is a little different, with an emphasis on smoked meats: haddock, brisket, chicken breast. On our radar is the killer sticky barbecue ribs bagel ($14) with roasted pineapple, mayonnaise and red cabbage – a confirmed food coma inducer – and one we’re saving our calorie intake for the next time we finish a loop at MacRitchie.
For serious coffee drinkers, a trek out to Sembawang Hills for a strong flat white ($5) at Yahava Koffeeworks is worth it. One of the better coffee-centric cafes in Singapore, don’t go there hungry because their food menu (simple sandwiches and pastries) is limited. Go, if you’re all about full roasted Arabica goodness in a cup. And because they roast their beans inhouse, you’ll get the full nose-to-cup experience, which you can indulge further with complimentary coffee tastings. While they’re serious about their brews, we love that they’re not above the odd coffee trend: piccolo latte in a cone, nutella and espresso milkshake, making this a place for all levels of coffee lovers.
Vegans get a tough break: no dairy equals no ice-cream, or rather no conventional ice-cream. However the “ice cream ninjas” at Brownice have a magic formula of brown rice milk, cane juice and natural flavours which is more than worthy substitute. With 16 flavours (from gula melaka, Nutella, mint chocolate and PB’and Choc at $3.50 per scoop) and at just 80-140 calories per scoop, it’s hard not to give this creamy, yet less calorie-dense option a try. Bonus: They’re really generous with their scoops and they're launching new items like the Signature Smoochthie Jars and Ice Cream Sandwich.
There’s no shortage of pancake options in Singapore, much less along this stretch, but few outlets serve a healthy flapjack (from $7.90) made with 7 different grains and free of any processed starch, additives or fragrance. While the end result is a (literally) lighter pancake that’s a bit chewy to the bite, the combination with natural wine honey and fruit syrup is a welcome change from the overly sweet straight-from-the packet mix style we’ve become accustomed to. With savoury and sweet options, and other menu items like French toast (from $10.90), salads (from $7.50) and waffles (from $16.90), the signature order of the Matcha and Azuki Pancake ($16.90) is a failsafe order that won’t disappoint.
It’s hard to find fault with Pigsfly. While it’s no anniversary outing, every neighbourhood should have a non-hawker center “local” like this: reliable and affordable with a bit of a vibe to it. Beers and ciders aside (and they’ve got plenty from $8), the six different options: burgers, Thai food, Indian and pizzas etc.. means you can swing by regularly without resorting to eating the same thing twice. Another plus? They’re open till late so you won’t go hungry after pulling yet another OT shift.
A regular haunt for anyone looking to eat healthier, Real Food’s veggie dumplings with 13 different ingredients will make you forget you need pork in dumplings. With a menu full of vegan and gluten-free options (the beet burger is another favourite), they’ve not forgotten the good (read: sweet) stuff. Aside from vegan brownies and cheesecakes, they stock Bakening’s cruchy cookies that are made without any refined sugar, gluten-free and vegan approved. Hotsellers are the Choco Sea Salt and Choco Hazelnut but we personally opt for the seed-based cookies like nut-free Sunflower Crunch and Almond Sesame Crunch.
What to do at Thomson
Nope you don’t need to swing a polo mallet to check out the lush grounds of the Singapore Polo Club, they’re actually open to the public, just not all the time. The Polo Bar and Indochine restaurant welcomes the everyman on weekdays. There’s also Lush Spa – check out their indulgent 2 hour spa promos – open to the public on all days, regular yoga classes run by Alphabalance and the occasional polo match and divot stomping session.
It’s a little known fact that you can get a massage on-site at the School of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) where there’s 2 to 4 visually-handicapped massage therapists stationed. Opt for massage services – Head & Shoulder Massage ($10 per 20 minutes), Foot Reflexology ($10 per 20 minutes), Full Body Non-Oil Massage ($40 per 60 minutes) – that’ll be as good, if not better than your usual favourite, plus you can bring along your favourite cream or oil. Do call ahead to book a slot as they get busy. Available Mon-Sat 10am-6pm.
You may think you know MacRitchie Reservoir like the back of your hand but there’s always something new to discover, especially if you go off the beaten track and take a the 11 kilometer route deep into the rainforest. There you’re likely to get more than just a passing glance at the occasional croc (don’t worry they’re too busy swimming to be dangerous), playful monkeys and any of the other 80 bird and eight reptile varieties. And while the HSBC Treetop Walk is a definite don’t miss highlight, a leisurely paddle in a kaywak or canoe is an undderated atrraction.
Looking for a Christmas tree? Perhaps an ornamental orange plant or just fresh blooms or succulents to brighten the home space? There’s nowhere else better to source for your choice of plant/flower/seed than along Thomson Road and at Far East Flora.
More neighbourhoods to check out
The five-foot-ways still exist, as do the street hawkers (but now alongside chic bars and restaurants) and there’s always more than a few ways to people watch
A hub of activity, this neighbourhood hits all the right notes with its balance of trendy and local offerings
Yes, the best Indian food will be found here, but also other goodies like soya bean tarts, Indian-style barbecue meats and the unofficial museum of local music