SINGAPORE, May 29 — Every time I visit our southern neighbour, it feels as though a dozen or more new cafés have sprung up, each serving more-or-less identical items on their weekend brunch menu. Maybe that’s why they appear to draw the same crowds.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to brave the hordes on the weekends, I’d jolly well have something better than another plate of sausages, bacon and eggs. With that as my mission, here are three under-the-radar (as much as any eatery can be in the small island nation) cafés for some of the best brunch in Singapore.
The newest kid on the block, The Populus Coffee and Food Co., is but a mere five-minute walk from the Outram Park MRT station. Opened late last year, the café is run by coffee purveyors Department of Caffeine and 2Degrees North Coffee Co. and is already drawing ever-in-the-loop brunch lovers.
You wouldn’t know it’s brunch time though as the interior is lit by golden light so it always feels like the best time of day to relax here. Twirly filaments of the chic Edison bulbs aside, the clean lines of the staff uniforms — from the servers to the baristas, all dressed in white shirts and the occasional denim apron — also stand out, impressing regulars and first time visitors alike.
The espresso-based blends have memorable names such as Monolith, Caldera and Duxton Vice. (The last one is particularly cheeky.) Single origin filter coffee lovers will appreciate their range including a fully washed Kenya Thirikuab, a natural processed Ethiopia Kochere and a red honey Costa Rica Finca La Casa.
Food selections are superb. Their signature grain bowl of quinoa, bulgur wheat and pearl barley — generously smothered with slow-cooked pulled pork, furikake baby corn, red cabbage & apple slaw, chargrilled zucchini, roasted butternut squash, sautéed cherry tomatoes and mixed mushrooms — is thoroughly enjoyable.
Here, the French toast is done correctly: fried first before being finished in the oven. Is there anything that says weekend brunch more eloquently than a properly baked slice of vanilla brioche, served with butter rum bananas, pistachio crumbs and scented Greek yoghurt? (The edible flowers are a nice touch, too.)
For those looking for fusion-style brunch, look no further than Drury Lane in Tanjong Pagar. Unlike some other cafés that can be hard to find, you can’t miss Drury Lane even if you tried. It’s the only café along Tanjong Pagar Road with a red door; in fact, its entire storefront is a bright fire-engine red.
Inside, however, the ambience is more laidback. Customers wait patiently for their double-shot lattes and long blacks to go. Baristas are brisk but generally friendly, a rarity on the island. Next to the coffee bar, a semi-open kitchen offers a view of brunch orders being whipped up.
Coffee lovers get a choice of local and foreign roasters here. On a given day, you can try different cuppas, made from beans roasted by Singaporean roaster Papa Palheta as well as Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective, ensuring only the best brews in town.
The food more than keeps up with the coffee. The brunch staple of eggs Benedict is given a Nanyang twist with creamy salted egg yolk and grilled prawns on top of steamed mantou buns. Singapore’s national dish of chilli crab is turned into a pasta sauce; add wilted kale pasta and a poached egg, and you have a quite a meal.
In case you were wondering, the name Drury Lane comes from an old English nursery rhyme, The Muffin Man: “Do you know the muffin man? The muffin man, the muffin man. Do you know the muffin man who lives in Drury Lane?”
The rhyme serves as inspiration for their weekend-only Muffin Man breakfast – turkey bacon, smoked salmon and avocado egg whites on top of an English muffin. Another weekend-only special is their laksa squid-ink pasta with grilled prawns and smoked duck, a remarkable dish that proves fusion can work when executed well.
If you’re seeking something a tad more traditional, head over Rabbit Carrot Gun along East Coast Road, amidst the plethora of Katong laksa stalls. This time, the name of the establishment isn’t inspired by a nursery rhyme but a game of scissors, paper and stone. (Rabbit eats carrot, gun shoots the poor bunny, and... well, we’re not quite sure what a root vegetable does to a weapon...)
Popular with the expatriates living in the neighbourhood, Rabbit Carrot Gun is run by Norfolk-born Richard Huggins, who gives the place a nostalgic British feel without making it too stuffy. (Indeed, the image of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ensures that.)
Touches of colour peek out from black-and-white photographs adorning the walls. Charm and cheekiness: a winning combination.
I mentioned earlier that brunch staples such as the old sausages, bacon and eggs can be tiresome but I’ll gladly make an exception here for their Game Keepers Shooting Breakfast, a hearty platter of eggs, sourdough toast, pork sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. (You’d probably need to have returned from a hunt or a strenuous session at the gym to devour this without any guilt about the calories.)
For something not quite as heavy, try a bowl of fresh fruit and protein-rich Greek yoghurt. Salads are delicious without being belly-busting. Even something savoury — such as the signature sausage roll – can be a light bite.
Wash it all down with freshly squeezed fruit juices: I recommend the hangover cure of apple, beetroot, carrot and ginger. Then perhaps a lovely weekend lie-in, a languorous afternoon nap, till the next weekend when you can do this all over again...
The Populus Coffee & Food Co.
146 Neil Road, Singapore
Open Mon-Wed 9am-7pm (Tue closed); Thu-Fri 9am-10.30pm; Sat 9.30am-10.30pm; Sun 9.30am-7pm
94 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore
Open Mon-Tue 8am-6pm; Wed-Fri 8am-10pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Rabbit Carrot Gun
49 East Coast Road, Singapore
Open Mon 11am-4.30pm & 6pm-9.45pm; Tues to Sun 9am-4.30pm & 6pm-9.45pm
Tel: +65 6348 8568