Keong Saik Road was once a prominent red-light district littered with brothels in the 1960s. But it's long eradicated the impression people have of the street. This bustling stretch of eateries, shops and offices has somehow seamlessly fused the traditional with modern to offer some of the most unique (and delicious) places in Singapore. From gourmet restaurants and trendy bars to even bespoke tailors, Keong Saik is filled with an endless array of options as you traverse its row of shophouses.
Where to eat
Can a Singaporean chef – who's never even stepped foot in Italy, we might add – make pasta as well as the Italians? At Bar Cicheti on Jiak Chuan Road, the answer is a resounding yes. The mostly handmade pasta is done fresh by Aun and his team at Bar Cicheti's open kitchen. On its spring menu are creations like the bucatini ($30) a thick and hollow noodle soaks up the fragrant saffron broth it's cooked in and finished with spring peas, seared Hokkaido scallops and citron zest. Another winner is Aun's take on classic Italian pesto: spaghetti ($28) is tossed in a blend of jalapenos and basil before it's twirled together with pistachios, pine nuts and ricotta salata.
With Keong Saik already so bustling and vibrantly colourful, you’ll feel right in the heart of Spain when you dine at Esquina. In this sexy little Spanish restaurant, get a taste of some of the most delicious Spanish and Catalan dishes you can find in Singapore – prepared by head chef Carlos Montobbio. With his eagerness to try out new flavours and techniques, you can always expect the best when it comes to snack starters, like the sea urchin sandwich with cheese and truffle ($12), or the mains - such as the uni and lobster paella ($34) and Spanish suckling pig ($32). Don’t worry, I don’t think they’ll take any offence if you keep shouting “delicioso!” while you’re there.
Keong Saik Road houses one of the hottest restaurants in Singapore, literally. Besides earning the number 12 spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2018, Burnt Ends prepares its mouth-watering array of delightful meat cuts in custom-made ovens and grills that can achieve temperatures of over 1,700 degrees. With the heat, definitely come the strong flavours – each dish has a tinge of that addictive smoky taste that makes you crave for more, definitely a carnivores delight. Despite its almost vicious, over-the-top demeanor, the modern Australian-style barbecue restaurant is actually quite cosy, having had found the perfect balance between classy and chill, for you to browse through its menu that changes seasonally. However, one of its constant signature dishes, The Sanger ($20), is a must-try – savory pulled-pork, perfectly balanced with coleslaw between two of the fluffiest glazed buns.
Disguised as just another shophouse along the roads of Keong Saik, is the cure for hunger – pun intended. At Cure, fine dining meets casual: intricately flavourful dishes in a chic and cosy restaurant, but at an affordable price. With its chef tasting menu (seasonal), indulge in the delicious creations of chef Andrew Walsh that include meticulously and uniquely prepared salmon, prawns, beef, and pigeon, to name a few. Customers can choose between the three-course ala-carte ($95), five-course menu ($120), and chef’s tasting menu ($150) from Monday to Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, the three-course ala-carte is replaced with a plant-based menu ($120) instead. Don’t worry, the food is not as confusing – they are just simply delicious. Best part, you can pair them with some wine to fully immerse yourself in that fine dining experience.
With mismatched tables and stools for seats, this zi char joint is loud, crowded and unrefined – just the way we like it. You’ll spot a glistening plate of prawn hor fun ($16-$48) on almost every table. Unlike typical hor fun dishes, the sauce here is less starchy and has a soup-like consistency. Each spoonful delivers a broth made from prawn stock that’s rich in umami with a hint of heat from fresh red chillies. Other specialties include claypot yong tau foo ($14-$28), vegetables and tofu stuffed with fish and squid paste, and braised pork ribs in black bean sauce ($14-$28).
Named after chef and co-founder Alain Devahive’s daughter, Olivia Restaurant & Lounge serves traditional and contemporary Catalan dishes that are sure to hit the spot. Start your meal with a series of snacks like shavings of Jamón Ibérico de bellota ($32), Ibérico ham croquettes ($7) and a delicate Catalunya lobster-avocado roll. Progressing to mains, there's tuna cheek served in a robust marmitako sauce ($35) and secreto Ibérico” pork ($32) with padrón peppers and pico de gallo. And if you still manage to find room, finish things off with mouthfuls of black rice with grilled calamari ($30).
Keong Saik is the epitome of simple made intricately beautiful. So, it is to no surprise that the vegetables and fruits found here fit those criteria as well. At Afterglow, eating healthy is made sexy with its locally and regionally farmed crops perfectly matched together into unique and innovative vegan dishes to indulge in. Healthy go-ers won’t have to lose out on flavor in their dishes with its huge selection of delicious nutritional grub, like its dragon fruit, pomegranate, avocado salad bowl with chunky chopped macadamia and mint dressing ($16), zucchini linguine with walnut ‘meat’-balls ($20), and acai bowl ($15). You’ll definitely not skip the vegetables at this deli.
Who doesn’t love bread? If you don’t, you definitely have not tried the ones that Keong Saik Road has to offer. At Bread & Hearth, the age-old time-consuming methods of baking are used to prepare the handcrafted European-style breads, tarts, and sweet-rolls – and it definitely shows. Upon arrival to this artisanal bakery-café, you’re greeted with an alluring aroma that promises a taste to match it. From its craft burgers on brioche buns (from $11.80) to its rustic sandwiches (from $7.50), everything is freshly baked on-site the night before, resulting in the warmest and fluffiest baked good you can imagine.
Potato Head Folk nails the flippant, friendly vibe it boasts at its Seminyak, Bali location – easily one of South-East Asia’s trendiest bars. Burger joint Three Buns occupies the first two floors and there's a quiet bar nestled on the third, plus a twinkle-lit tiki bar on the building’s lovely open-air rooftop. Classy and cool without a hint of pretentiousness, Potato Head is a highlight along Keong Saik Road, standing tall in its lovingly-restored shophouse.
Tucked in the middle of a park near Keong Saik, you might miss this Japanese restaurant – unless you spot the long line that always precedes it. At Man Man, you’re not just spending your money on some of the best unagi rice bowls in Singapore. You’re spending on a full Japanese experience – especially if you order the Hitsumabushi ($29.90). With it, you get an unagi don, from eel shipped all the way from Japan, that can be enjoyed in two different styles. First, try it plain as it is or with the provided spring onion and wasabi – which you have to grind yourself, so you’re certain its fresh. Second, pour some dashi over it to make a porridge-like dish. Either way, that mouth watering smokiness from the charred-to-perfection eel greets you, as you bite through the contrasting textures of smooth tender flesh and crispy grilled skin. After a night (or lunch) at Man Man, you’re sure to come back – if you don’t mind the 45-minute queue time.
Another gem nestles along the roads of Keong Saik, waiting to please palates and satisfy bellies with its French-inspired cuisine with an Asian twist. Awarded a Michelin star in 2017, Meta is a stylish restaurant that transforms fresh seasonal ingredient into unique and innovative dishes. In its classy and contemporary space, where the best seats look into the kitchen, try out the five-course menu ($148) or the seven-course menu ($188) prepared by head chef Sun – which include dishes like Jeju abalone, Meta’s Iberico Secreto (a marbled cut from Spanish pigs), Rhug Estate rack of lamb and many more. In these dishes, you’ll be able to taste the pride and playfulness that is put into them, as you rediscovery some French classics but with an Asian flare. How Meta is that?
Neon Pigeon, an Izakaya restaurant, redefines everything that a pigeon symbolizes by making it so much cooler. In its low-ceilinged room, graffiti art by street artist Zero fills the rough concrete walls, creating the perfect setting for the underground party that is just waiting to take place. There, small servings of delicious Japanese bar foods are served, such as Tokyo hummus ($9), Japanese crab cakes ($18), and duck tonkatsu ($18), alongside cleverly infused cocktails like the Teared Negroni ($20) – a mix of rosemary infused saked umeshu, Campari, mancino rosso vermouth, and prosecco.
Where to drink
Keep an eye out for the pineapple lamp along the revamped stretch of Kēsa House on Keong Saik. Once you spot it, push open the heavy white doors to find a long, bronze, H-shaped bar with a brass chiller running down the middle. It directs the eye to a mosaic portrait of Ernest Hemingway. The drinks here are just as good as the Hong Kong original – which is the best bar in Asia, we might add. The bar takes a culinary approach to its tipples, making use of a centrifuge, rotary evaporation, sous-vide cooking and fat washing. It’s apparent in drinks like Islands in the Stream, where pink grapefruit juice is clarified and carbonated with salty gin – a take on a G&T that transports you to a beach with the crisp sea breeze on your face.
Welcome to The Guild, the antithesis of the speakeasy that once occupied its grounds on Keong Saik Road. Instead of chichi cocktails written on an illegible menu, you get generous pours of craft beer from Hong Kong's largest independent craft brewery, Young Masters. In its grand yet homey interior, it's not just alcohol on the menu. Besides a comprehensive selection of natural wines and creative cocktails such as the Umami Gibson ($25) – shitake infused vermouth and black tomato gin – Chef Vincent Lauria makes sure your stomach is well padded with local produce like Pulau Ubin oysters (from $6) and fried frog legs with special sauce ($16). His American meets Singaporean dishes of dry-rubbed barbecue stingray ($32) and mac and cheese that comes with a house cured egg yolk($20) show off his culinary creativity and redefine what local comfort food should be.
Arguably the iconic representation of Keong Saik Road, Potato Head is definitely one of the most up-coming and trendiest bars in Singapore. No surprise there, considering it has a venue catered to whatever mood you are feeling. If you’re a little famish and just looking to grab a bite, the first two floors are occupied by the burger joint Three Buns – where burgers are expertly crafted for indulgence. For something more exciting, intimate and alcohol-filled, stop by the artsy cocktail club Studio 1939 on the third floor, where loud music is played while unique drinks, such as Zombie #36 ($20) – House 5-rum blend, Potato Head falernum, pomegranate syrup, passion fruit syrup, and lime juice – are enjoyed. Alternatively, nestled at the top floor of the building is the Rooftop Bar, for those looking for something more chill (and perhaps, romantic). Illuminated by the stars, moon and a couple of fairy lights, enjoy a glass of whiskey ($20) or mojito ($16) as you take in the spectacular view of Keong Saik Road.
Keong Saik Road may be synonymous with alcohol, but it’s sure able to cook up a fine cup of coffee. At Kafe Utu, you’ll be transported to Africa the moment you step foot into the coffeehouse due to its wood and leather furnishing, as well as African-inspired paintings and portraits. The specialty house blend is called “Ubuntu” – a combination of coffee beans from Uganda, Mexico, and Brazil – whereby you could have it black ($4.50) or with some Hokkaido milk ($6). What’s a coffeehouse without any food? The ones here are really to impress. Try the buttermilk fried chicken ($18), which is accompanied by homemade sauces of congo bongo, fresh mango chilli marmalade and house chilli. If you’re feeling rather famish then, order up a curried avocado with raw garlic and toast ($18) and ricotta hotcakes ($24) from the brunch menu.
What to do
Mills is the perfect tailor for any man to take their first steps towards becoming a gentleman. With full suit packages as cheap as $478, the only thing you have to worry about is whether you have enough closet space for all your new classy apparel. The quality of the suits makes the prices seem like a real steal. Following a tailoring style that focuses more on the old school, the suits priorities the classic aesthetic over what’s trendy, resulting in garments that are stylish without trying too hard. With an appointment only system, the consultations are intimate to ensure that you can take your time to make every small decision; the tailors guide you along the way – giving advice and detailing the pros and cons of each material. Mills takes pride in the amount of customization it can do, providing a huge range of alternative designs, from buttons to pants adjustors, to guarantee a unique suit or shirt crafted personally for you.
Keong Saik Road isn’t just the place to treat that tummy and alcoholic in you. Your mind, senses and muscles can embark on a journey of relaxation as well at Bodylite. At this neighbourhood spa, pamper yourself with a wellbeing body massage (from $75/hour), a full body massage to reduce tension, soothe sore muscles, increase circulation, and induce relaxation. If you fancy something simpler, like a back and shoulder massage ($48/half hour) or a foot reflexology ($38/half hour), it has those too.
Let’s face it, the Japanese tend to do everything better than us. Especially, when it comes to hair. So, drop by Keong Saik to experience a hair service from the land of the rising sun. At Covo, expect cuts ($78 women; $68 men) or other hair treatments like rebounding ($300), Eclasta Silky treatment ($90), and COVO original creep perm ($140) by experienced Japanese hair professionals, as they suggest and execute the perfect hairstyle to look super kawaii.