A whole new wave of casual, chic dining spots and hip cocktail bars have launchd in Chinatown, Singapore. From a Cantonese tapas bar and a trendy izakaya, to a bistronomy concept helmed by young Singaporean chefs, and the only authentic Portuguese restaurant in town, explore what these vibrant streets have to offer.
Sum Yi Tai
One of the latest joints to set up shop is Sum Yi Tai—which means “third mistress” in Cantonese. The old shophouse is split into a Chinese tapas bar on ground level, with a restaurant just above, and a private bar on the rooftop where you can soak in views of the city’s skyline. The moment you step in, you are transported to 1980s Hong Kong, in the best possible way. Admiring the mosaic artwork made of mah-jong tiles and a black Chinese dragon hanging from the ceiling, you make your way to your table, brushing past executives who have dropped in for post-work drinks and bites. If you are game for unique cocktails, you can try the refreshing chrysanthemum mojito. Consider pairing your drinks with Cantonese fare such as succulent char siew or barbecued pork belly glazed with maple honey, or deep-fried squid tossed with garlic and chilli.
Two doors down is Sorrel, a bistronomy concept by restaurateur and hotelier Loh Lik Peng, who owns the New Majestic Hotel and Hotel 1929 in the former red-light district of Bukit Pasoh and Keong Saik in Chinatown. The interior is modest, but make sure you ask for the counter seats facing the open kitchen. Here, Johnston Teo, the 24-year-old chef, leads his team of young Singaporean chefs crafting dishes using an unexpected approach which plays with contrasts. Think: steamed, sous vide and seared octopus served with Japanese algae emulsion fused with sago pearls and smoked potato, or scallops with almond-crusted foie gras. Each combination may seem odd, until you take a bite and realize his absolute brilliance.
FYR Cycene Ond Drinc
Further down the street is FYR Cycene Ond Drinc (pronounced FIRE Kitchen And Drink), a more casual establishment, dishing out modern European grilled meats and seafood brightened with Asian spices and herbs, where the dishes are given a smoky kiss in the Josper charcoal oven. You see groups of diners digging into the massive sharing plates of five-spiced half chicken, strip loin, and tiger prawns. You can’t resist the seafood, so you take your server’s recommendation of the spiced deboned red snapper spiked with a piquant marinade. The baked pistachio melt calls your name for dessert.
Over on Keong Saik Street, you will see crowds streaming into Neon Pigeon, even on week nights. In case the quirky name didn’t tip you off, this modern izakaya is essentially a small plates restaurant. Inside, you notice vibrant graffiti work by a local artist splashed across the walls, and a semi-open kitchen where hip chefs fire up your meal. You mingle with expats and locals, and drink a sake to go with the Japanese-inspired dishes. You start with the roasted bone marrow flecked with furikake (ground fish, seaweed and sesame seeds), followed by the more substantial smoked baby back ribs with sake barbecue sauce.
Not far from Keong Saik is Boca, the only authentic Portuguese restaurant in town. Inside is designed elegantly. You spot a long bar counter designed for nibbles and drinks before heading up to the second level for dinner. The third level is a wine cellar housing superb wines from Portugal. You try the signature acalhau, dried and salted cod, and the flaky Portuguese tarts filled with creamy custard, and wonder why this spectacularly delicious cuisine is not more common in the city. But for now you don’t care, and just enjoy your meal.