4 unusual dining venues worth visiting in Singapore: The Nation

SINGAPORE MIGHT not be a favourite shopping destination for Thais, but it's well worth a visit to sample what has to be one of the most diversified dining scenes in this part of the world.

Thanks to an entrenched dining out culture, residents today are forever seeking out extraordinary concepts, while chefs and entrepreneurs come up with trends guaranteed to draw the curious and fun-loving gourmet.

How about having your selfie printed on a cup of coffee? How much more do you enjoy your food when you're actively encouraged to use your fingers?

Here are just a few of the places I discovered during a recent visit.

Selfie Coffee

This small cafe in trendy Haji Lane doesn't attract passers-by so much for its aromatic freshly brewed coffee as for the banner in front of the shop. That shows the photo of a customer printed on a layer of whipped cream and is proving sufficiently interesting for people to give it a try.

This is the first Singapore outlet of the Malaysian firm Avril Cafe and follows on from the success of its branches in Penang, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.

You can have hot, cold or frappe selfie coffees at prices that range from S$7.50 to S$8.90 though the staff recommend a cold drink as your selfie on top of the cream will last for longer than on hot - for up to an hour.

After ordering a drink, the staff gives you an iPod to take an on-the-spot selfie. Props such as oversized colourful sunglasses, bow ties, tiaras and flowers are also provided and you can take as many as you like though do remember that other people are waiting in line!

Alternatively, bring your own pictures for transfer to the cafe's smart device. The selected picture is then uploaded to a printing machine that digitally prints the photo on the whipped cream layer. The ink used for printing is edible and similar to those used for printing photographs onto cakes.

The dining area on the second floor is decorated with a jungle theme and has space for about 30 people. You can munch Thai curry chicken pie, chocolate lava and carrot and rainbow cakes.

The Straits Times reports that the chain plans to develop more drink options for non-coffee drinkers such as Horlicks and Milo. The cafe currently sells some 80 selfie coffees every weekday and double that on weekends.

Find out more at the "SelfieCoffeeSingapore" page on Facebook.

Dancing Crab

There's the Thai restaurant Ruen Malika on Sukhumvit Soi 22 that invites diners to eat with their fingers just like in the old days when it was part and parcel of the traditional culture.

In Singapore the finger-dining experience is available at Dancing Crab eatery at the Orchard Central mall, which serves a mix of robust, country-style Cajun seafood and rich Creole cuisine minus cutlery and plates on disposable plastic tablecloths.

Disposable plastic aprons are also provided for customers to protect themselves from flying claws.

The most popular dish is Combo Bag#1 (S$88), which gives you one Sri Lankan crab, 300 grams of prawns and 250g of clams along with potatoes, corn and sausages. The Combo is served with your choice of sauce from a selection that includes spicy miso butter, beurre blanc, and zesty garlic butter.

The firm favourite though is the signature sauce with its rich tomato base, spices and herbs that can be enjoyed mild, spicy or extra spicy.

The seafood combo is ladled fresh out of the pot into a bag, which is then emptied on the table so diners can dig in with their hands. I tried the spicy signature sauce and it's pretty fiery so it will please anyone used to hot Thai dishes. If it's not hot enough, Sriracha hot chilli sauce is available to add.

Another option is the Combo Bag#2 (S$40), which comes with 300g of prawns, 250g of mussels, and 250g of clams together with the sausages, corn and potatoes.

Visit www.DancingCrab.com.sg for details.

Wheeler's Yard

Cafes and eateries, it seems, are no longer venues simply to enjoy food and drink. Today, they also serve as meeting venues for bike enthusiasts and collectors whose numbers are growing so rapidly that bike-friendly cafes and bistros are popping up all around the globe.

Converted from an old and spacious industrial warehouse in an alley off the main Balestier thoroughfare, Wheeler's Yard is where cyclists meet, eat and do repairs.

Half of the spacious space is given over to a wide selection of handmade urban bicycles in an array of colours and sizes plus all the accessories - headsets, grips, tyres, gloves, helmets, saddles, bells and bags.

Vintage bikes and antique furniture are on sale and Wheeler's Yard offers a build-a-bike service where customers can choose the frames and components of their bikes as well as a repair service. Rental bicycles at hourly rates are provided for anyone wants to take a leisurely tour round the rustic Balestier neighbourhood.

The bike cafe is operated by TC Boomtown - a lifestyle subsidiary of the logistics firm Tiong Choon and it's the firm's former automobile warehouse that serve as the venue.

Bicycles, helmets and frames double up as the decorative items on the tables and walls in the indoor, air-conditioned, self-service dining area.

The aromatic coffee, mouth-watering desserts, brunch and dinner menus are definitely worth a pit stop. Among the choices are fish and chips (S$22.9), prawn aglio olio (S$ 19.9), home-made buttermilk waffle with honey and butter (S$9.9) and freshly brewed coffee ($4).

Visit www.WheelersYard.com for details.

Bacchanalia

A refurbished shophouse on Hong Kong street is home to the small and friendly Bacchanalia run by chef Ivan Brehm who used to work at Fat Duck, the three-Michelin starred restaurant in England known for its modern culinary developments and multi-sensory cooking.

Conscious diners today are aware of where the food they eat comes from, how it is grown or produced and what ingredients are used.

In addition to farm-to-table sourcing and progressive cooking techniques, the restaurant uses sustainably sourced ingredients - and that means cooking with organic ingredients from small producers who make responsible food choices.

Herbs and vegetables come from its own organic farm in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands.

There's nothing exaggerated about the interior design; everything is neat, clean and serviced by well-informed staff. The open, stainless steel kitchen is set right into the dining area and next to the entrance.

Based on the concept that there are no boundaries between friends and food, diners can watch Brehm and his crew at work.

The restaurant offers tasting menus that change every few days based on what's fresh and in season. These come in the form of a three-course lunch (S$48) and five to seven courses for dinner (S$115-150).

On the day I visited, dinner started with bread and broth - thick-crusted bread with a savoury dip of deconstructed pesto and Parmesan cheese served with a warm shot of broth extracted from seven different types of vegetables.

"A reinvigorating broth offers diners a comforting welcome and prepares them for the meal that is to come. I feel that without this symbolic start, guests never really find the right state of mind to really connect with their meal and the people that are part of it.

"The bread is meant to be broken and shared and with it a special communion is produced," Brehm states on his restaurant website.

Next up was aligot of white truffle and cheese cooked with herb gremolata with the crunchy texture enhanced by crispy baked cauliflower. Carrrots in a variety of textures played a leading role in the next dish.

Chunks of seared carrot topped with thinly slices of baby carrots and carrot jam were served next to spongy carrot cakes, carrot puree, carrot cream and hummus.

Onion soup came to the table with a bowl of cheddar cheese and rye croutons and a pot of hot caramelised onion broth. For main course, Iberico pork loin was slow cooked and slightly seared and served with dandelion puree, rehydrated walnuts and tarhana tuile with aged balsamic.

The meal ended with grapefruit jam tart layered with bitter chocolate ganache and pecans and topped with Assam tea ice cream.

Visit www.Bacchanalia.asia for details.

The writer's trip was made possible by the Singapore Tourism Board.