Eat in style

Five new F&B outlets pay as much attention to their decor as the food they serve.

Art Art And Away
27 Tessensohn Road
Opening hours: Tue to Thu: 1pm-10pm
Fri to Sat: 1pm-11pm
Sun: 1pm-10pm
Closed on Mondays
Tel: 6291-2612

Need to buy art to decorate your new home? Why not have a slice of cake and a cup of coffee while you're at it? That's the option that 34-year-old Gavin Choo hopes to provide the customers of his newest venture, Art Art And Away.

This art retail store cum dessert cafe is located on Tessensohn Road, just down the street from Mr Choo's first F&B outlet - superhero-themed restaurant Hungry Heroes. Although Art Art And Away is currently open to public, it will officially launch on June 16 and serve contemporary local desserts alongside their store retailing affordable decorative art.

"The main appeal (of our cafe) is that customers can find two mutually exclusive concepts in one venue - contemporary local desserts and affordable, quirky decorative art items," says Mr Choo, who used to work in PR and marketing before opening Hungry Heroes last year.

He explains that the dessert concept came about after observing "the 'local movement' (being) on the rise" and "Singaporeans starting to embrace our own culture and identity." From there, they decided to break away from the "brunch food" norm at other cafes to come up with contemporary versions of local desserts instead.

That's why the menu at Art Art And Away is a familiar one, with recognisable items like a Coconut-Cutting-Edge Pudding (S$12) with coconut pudding, kaya, and coconut jelly, and the Chee Cheong Fun 2.0 (S$8) with mango roll, Okinawa black sugar sauce, and strawberry sauce. They also have sundae flavours like Milo Dinosaur (S$8) with milo ice cream, milo crunch and milo powder, and Chendol (S$8) with coconut ice cream, gula melaka, pandan strips, red bean and corn.

Although they do not have a dessert chef in the kitchen, they work with a pastry consultant to come up with the dessert menu incorporating Asian ingredients and flavours.

As for the art and decor items in the retail store, those come from countries around the region like China, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia and are mostly priced between S$90 and S$130. According to Mr Choo, the plan is to eventually work with local artists and innovators to come up with their own line of original products.

Says Mr Choo: "Consumers nowadays are spoiled for choice, so they are on a constant lookout for interesting concepts with more depth, like our dual lifestyle concept. Our main objective is to introduce affordable art and decor items to the local market, and if the response is good, then we have plans to expand."


Brunches Cafe
96 Rangoon Road
Opening hours: Mon: 10.30am-9pm
Wed to Fri: 10.30 am-9 pm
Sat and Sun: 9.30am - 9pm
Closed on Tuesdays
Tel: 8685-8488

If you've always wanted to indulge your inner child and eat inside a car without the fear of spilling crumbs, here's your chance. At Brunches Cafe, a funky vintage eatery which serves fare like breakfast dishes, pastas and burgers, one of the main attractions is a vintage Mini Cooper with working headlights which is also a fully functional booth-like dining area.

Chef-owner Gina Lau says: "The previous owner of the car didn't want it anymore, so we bought it and modified it to make it a comfortable four-seater sofa. It's been a runaway hit, and we get a lot of calls requesting a reservation for that specific table."

The 32-year-old has wanted her own cafe for as long as she can remember, and she finally decided to take the leap in 2012, quitting her job in marine hardware supply to take up a culinary course at The Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (Shatec). She says: "I feared if I waited much longer, I'd miss my chance. I wanted to do something different before I got too old."

The cafe is 1,400 square feet in size, and has been open since March this year. In spite of marketing it only through their own social media accounts, the 50-seater has amassed quite a few regular customers in a relatively short amount of time.

Some bestselling items are their Steak and Eggs (S$19.50), Shrimp Aglio Olio (S$16.50) and the Juicy Beef Burger (S$19.50), but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that people are just as attracted to the interiors of the cafe as their food.

The cafe features a hodgepodge of vintage items, most of which are for sale. Ms Lau explains how they add to the atmosphere: "It just makes the dining experience more interesting when people can point out something they like and purchase it on the spot."

The range of items sold is vast, including toys that were popular in the 80s, ornamental objects, and black-and-white television sets, which inspire nostalgia in the older customers and curiosity in the younger ones. The vintage Mini Cooper car-cum-sofa, is unfortunately not for sale. Customers can even buy the sofas furnished around the cafe, so if you're in the mood to shop, be prepared to shell out anywhere between S$10 and S$3,000.

Many of the furniture items for sale actually belong to Ms Lau's aunt, Irene Soon, a vintage furniture collector. Some pieces are sourced from neighbouring countries like Thailand and Taiwan, while others are imported from Europe. The items are then modified to suit the cafe by her uncle, who works as an interior designer. She says: "My uncle and I share concepts and travel together to find inspiration. We usually like different things from different places, and he knows how to put them together so they look beautiful, not weird."

Ms Lau adds: "Starting a cafe isn't easy and sometimes, engaging professionals can raise costs too much. We want to keep our prices comfortable for our customers, so I use all the resources available to me, which includes my supportive family."


The Car-Rousel Cafe
Kallang Wave Mall, #02-12
Opening hours: 8am-10pm daily
Tel: 6384-6822

Stepping into the week-old Car-Rousel Cafe, there's no mistaking the theme that the owners were going for when shopping for furniture and decorations. Clearly they wanted something vintage. In fact, the lightbulb signboard, hanging lamps made of bicycle wheels, and the custom-made Volkswagen van (aka the kitchen) right smack in the centre of the space makes it look too "hipster" to fit into a commercial shopping centre like the Kallang Wave Mall.

"My husband and I are personally interested in old things and vintage cars - we collect car models and even rented a vintage car to get married in," says the cafe's 32-year-old co-founder Jolene Chng, who started the place with her husband and a few silent investors. "To us, these vintage cars symbolize the culture of freedom and fun in the 1960s, which is not the kind of lifestyle we have now because of our fast-paced modern lives. We want to recreate that kind of fun, casual environment for customers," she explains.

In order to achieve that goal, they spent about S$150,000 to create a custom-made Volkswagen van big enough to accommodate the entire kitchen, chairs bearing the brand name made from re-purposed oil drums, and vintage items like gramophones as decorations.

Ms Chng's first entry into the F&B industry was actually about three years ago, when she started baking for colleagues and office parties, and realised how much she enjoyed it. Eventually, she quit her job in the civil service and set up a small stall in a staff canteen to test the market, before opening her own bakery called The Little Patisserie on Waterloo Street.

Although that bakery is now closed, her baked goods line the shelves of Car-Rousel Cafe every day, as she comes in early to prepare desserts every morning. She also designed the cafe's menu - a small but relatively healthy selection meant to cater to the crowd she believes would visit the stadiums often - people who exercise and enjoy sports.

Their mains include sandwiches (fondly dubbed "vanwiches) with fillings like roast beef, smoked roast chicken, and beef pastrami (from S$6 to S$7.50), as well as customisable salads (S$6 and up). Desserts may vary on a day-to-day basis, but typical options include a tiramisu, fruit tart, or cheesecake.

Ultimately, Ms Chng's goal is to open a few more outlets following a similar theme with the word "car" in the title, such as "Car-Ravan". She says: "I wouldn't call it a chain store, it's more like a sibling store that's not entirely the same, so that Car-Rousel still remains exclusive. We're not actively looking around at the moment though because we want to get this one right first."


Banana Tree
26 Keong Saik Road
Opening hours: Tue to Sat: 11am-9pm
Sun: noon-7pm.
Closed on Mondays
Tel: 6221-5020

"Eating dirt" takes on a whole new meaning if you're dining at Banana Tree - a two-month-old dessert cafe on Keong Saik Road that's a franchise of the Korean brand of the same name.

Its signature item is a "Flower Pot" Pudding (S$6.50) served in three different flavours - banana, espresso, and strawberry - topped with colourful artificial flowers, and you're even given a miniature shovel-shaped spoon to eat it with.

Banana Tree was brought to Singapore by Korean national Molly Hong, who is good friends with the brand's founder who runs all three branches in Seoul. She says: "A lot of cafes sell similar kinds of coffee and desserts, but I think it's very important to be different. So although my cafe isn't really 'high society', it's cute and unique compared with the others."

In addition to the "Flower Pot" Pudding, Banana Tree also offers the popular Korean dessert bing su (Korean-style shaved ice, S$8.50 or S$12.50) also served in a flower pot and topped with a sunflower, an Oreo Bomb (S$12) made of Oreo cookie ice cream and cookies in a hot frypan, and Som Som Iced Lattes (S$7) topped with cotton candy.

It seems the "cute" concept is working well for Ms Hong because business has been unexpectedly good since she opened even though she hasn't done any marketing of her own. Instead, her desserts market themselves because customers are always taking photos and sharing them on social media, she says.

Ms Hong moved to Singapore about four years ago when her husband was posted here for work, and initially took on jobs teaching the Korean language and doing customer service for Apple. Three years later, she decided it was the right time to quit her job and fulfil her long-time dream of starting a cafe business.

"It's been challenging so far, because I'm not Singaporean and my English is not perfect. But I believe chain coffee places are getting less popular, while coffee places like mine are getting more popular because of their original concepts," says Ms Hong.

In fact, she has a goal of opening up to four outlets in Singapore, starting with one in an HDB area in the north. She adds: "My dream is bigger than this though. I want to expand my business to the region, like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It's difficult but I think this concept is strong enough."


Angelina Singapore
#01-82 Capitol Galleria, 15 Stamford Road
Opening hours: 10 am-8 pm daily
Tel: 6384-0481

When you step into Angelina Singapore, be prepared to be transported - not just in place, but also in time. Fashioned after the interiors of the Belle Epoque (French for the "Beautiful Era") in the early 1900s, the tearoom boasts ivory fittings, floral wall coverings, and muted gold accents throughout. Widely thought to have been a prosperous and peaceful period in France, the Belle Epoque is characterised as luxurious and elegant, which is exactly what one can expect from Angelina Singapore.

Opened two weeks ago, the cafe is a franchise of the famous tearoom of the same name in France. Apart from Singapore, the patisserie can also be found in Dubai, Qatar, China and Japan. Aditya Talwar, the director of franchise owner Re Global Hospitality, says: "All the Angelina restaurants derive their design inspiration from the Rue de Rivoli flagship store. The interiors were designed in France by design firm Lagence Versions and our fixtures are sourced mainly from France to recreate the luxurious and authentic atmosphere of the Angelina tearoom."

Apart from bestselling items The Mont-Blanc (S$13.50) and the Old-Fashioned Hot Chocolate L'Africain (S$12) whose recipe has been a closely guarded secret for more than a hundred years, Angelina Singapore caters to local food aficionados by also offering hot items, unlike its French counterpart. The Truffle Ravioli (S$29), Wild Mushroom Risotto (S$23), and Pan-fried Scallops (S$29) are just a few of the selections on its extensive menu.

Although diners are initially attracted to Angelina Singapore because of its historically popular desserts, Mr Talwar believes the interiors have a part to play in the success of its soft opening period so far. He says: "Diners in Singapore are discerning customers, and they are always on the lookout for places that offer a good ambience as well as delectable food. Decor definitely plays a part in influencing every restaurant's popularity, and we have received wonderful feedback from our guests on ours."


This article was first published on June 13, 2015.
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