KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 ― Harry Grover is a name synonymous with specialty coffee ― Aussie-style ― in Singapore. The 33-year-old Perth native had worked in cafés during his teens before entering the coffee trade professionally in 2009.
Since then, Grover has spearheaded three different cafés down south ― 40 Hands, Kiasu Expresso, and Common Man Coffee Roasters (a collaboration between 40 Hands and Australian roaster 5 Senses). His little empire looks to spread to Malaysia as well; KL-based Urbean Coffee uses beans from Common Man Coffee Roasters.
Each café has a different style. The first, 40 Hands, is a hole-in-the-wall spot in the quiet enclave of Tiong Bahru. Grover converted the ground floor of a 1930s shophouse into a graffiti-walled space favoured by hipsters and coffee aficionados alike.
“40 Hands has a lot of soul. I learnt a lot there and worked really hard to make it work at a time when specialty coffee in Singapore was virtually unheard of. It was my first baby. It’s a bit rough around the edges but lots of people in the community love it,” he says.
Kiasu Espresso, Grover’s second café, is a tiny takeaway coffee bar along Tanjong Pagar Road that offers quick caffeine fixes for the always-on-the-go Singaporean. The outlet's name comes from his favourite Singlish word, which also captures the spirit of coffee outlets mushrooming all over the island since his opening 40 Hands in 2010.
“Kiasu Espresso is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek offering ― just a simple espresso bar that serves good unassuming specialty coffee and snacks. It’s kind of a way for me to say we are in a specialty industry but it’s still just coffee and we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously (though at the same time you should take your product seriously),” says Grover.
Located at the popular Robertson Quay/Martin Road expatriate neighbourhood, Grover’s newest venture Common Man Coffee Roasters has a distinctive Melburnian coffee shop ambience.
“Common Man Coffee Roasters is the café I always wanted to do once I had professional and financial backing. It’s a slicker place with a beautiful and unique fit-out, a Melbourne standard brunch menu and a roastery supported by 5 Senses – a partnership which is a dream come true for me,” says Grover.
Besides coffee, the brunch offerings here certainly dazzle. The fluffy brioche French toast is crisp on the outside and pillow-soft inside; add a drizzle of maple syrup, some Kapiti vanilla ice cream, and you have a perfect breakfast. For heavier fare, their signature Turkish Common Man Breakfast ― a soft-boiled organic egg wrapped in deep-fried phyllo, served with cucumber, tomatoes, olives, hummus and pita bread ― delivers.
Whether you are looking for a great spot for your weekend brunch or just a quick cup of excellent coffee, Harry Grover’s cafés demonstrate uncommon charm, just like the man himself.
78 Yong Siak Street #01-12, Singapore
100AM #01-03/04 100 Tras Street, Singapore
Common Man Coffee Roasters
22 Martin Road #01-00, Singapore
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on January 10, 2014.