For those who prefer to dine far from the madding crowd, these three restaurants will appeal with their out-of-the-way locations.
In plane view
Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe
#01-01, MAJ Aviation Building 80, Seletar Aerospace
Open Tues to Thur, Sun, 10am -10pm
Fri, Sat, 10am - midnight
It's not uncommon in Singapore to dine out in the open, facing a body of water and watching ships sail by. But what if you could dine facing a runway, and watch private jets as they take off and land?
That was the vision of 60-year-old artist Poon Kng Joo when he came up with the idea to open his own cafe, and next week, that dream will come true with the official opening of Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe at Seletar Aerospace. The credit all goes to his wife, says Mr Poon, for finding the advertisement on Google and flagging it to him around August this year. Despite some friendly advice that the space would be too out of the way to attract any business, he decided to make a bid for it anyway, because of how much he loved the unique view.
"Previously (the cafe) was a Japanese restaurant, and we knew business here would be very difficult. I was unsure at first but then I came to talk to the landlord and really liked the view. It's very exciting, sometimes you will see a whole helicopter passing by on a trailer," he describes animatedly.
Before you write it off as yet another hipster cafe, however, know that the 20-odd bicycles hanging around the cafe are not simply for show. In fact, these classic and modern classic bicycles that go as far back as the 1950s are all in perfect working condition, and were lovingly restored by Mr Poon himself - a well-known bicycle enthusiast. These 20 are a mere fraction selected from his personal collection of over 100 bicycles.
Restoring bicycles is a pretty simple task for him too, says the easy-going Mr Poon with a laugh. As the owner of Soek Seng Motor Pte Ltd, and experienced restorer of classic and luxury cars including Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and Porsches, it takes him up to a year to put together one car, so doing three bicycles in a week is a cinch.
Aside from showcasing his collection, Mr Poon also looks forward to the cafe as a space to display bicycle-related artefacts and artworks, such as his own installation of classic metal bicycle bells, and the bicycle-related cartoons he has personally hand-painted on the surface of every table.
Foodwise, the menu will be taken care of mostly by his in-laws, who have experience in the F&B industry. His 29-year-old nephew Tan Ying Hao, the cafe's manager, says some of the items on the menu will be local fare such as seafood hor fun or mee goreng (S$5.50) for lunch, while the all-day menu will see familiar Western comfort food such as a sirloin steak (S$10.50), chicken chop (S$8.50), and beef kebab (S$13.80).
Says Mr Poon: "When I first said I wanted to open a cafe, people were doubtful, but now that it's up and they see it, they are stunned. There was an impact, and when I do things, I always want an impact - I want to be different." He adds: "(The cafe is) far, but that's not a bad thing. There are many cafes that are very out of the way, but people still go. People can drive here, cycle here, so you'll get a different crowd - I would like that."
11 Rhu Cross, #01-02
PAssion WaVe @ Marina Bay
Open Mon to Fri, noon - 2.30pm,5.30pm - 10pm
Sat to Sun, noon - 10pm
More than four years after relocating their biker-themed restaurant to a forested corner of Sembawang, the owners of Handlebar have launched their second venture at yet another unconventional location.
Called Kontiki, their new restaurant is located at the first floor of the newly constructed PAssion WaVe @ Marina Bay - a community lifestyle and water sports hub along the Marina Reservoir, opposite Gardens By The Bay.
Although it is rather inaccessible via public transport, owner Jan Pek explains that they love the location not only because of the view of the marina, but also because of how quiet the area is. She says: "As the Singapore lifestyle becomes more stressful, people will be looking for this kind of place to chill at. So I'm basically providing an escape for them."
Kontiki opened in late August this year, and is named after a 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean, made entirely on a raft.
Naturally, this means the restaurant's decor carries a nautical theme, all designed by Ms Pek herself.
The menu is largely similar to the one at Handlebar, with signature dishes such as their cheeseburger (S$14), pork chop (S$22), and beef short ribs (S$34), plus a few new additions such as mussels gumbo (S$26) and portobello mushroom burger (S$16).
Their hope is for this 100 to 120-seater restaurant to give off a completely different vibe from their biker-themed restaurant, hopefully one that is more family-friendly, says Ms Pek, who used to work in the motorcycle industry before making the switch to F&B.
According to her, the reason they keep a look-out for unconventional spaces to open their F&B establishments is that they want to give people a unique dining experience. She recalls: "When we were young, we would always go on bike trips to places tourists don't often go to. Like we'd go to Malaysia, and stay at a small obscure resort. I think we like the personal touch you get when interacting with people in a small town, rather than in a bustling city where everything is catered to the masses."
She also points out that "no matter where we have our restaurant, it still won't be very far away. There are quite a lot of people who drive all the way to Malaysia just to have good food. So if they can find it in Singapore, why not? I think they will come."
Smith Marine Restaurant
Pulau Ubin Coastal Area
Open daily, 10am - 7pm (pick-up at Changi Village Ferry Terminal, by reservation only)
As far as destination dining goes, Smith Marine has got to be one of the hardest ones to get to. It isn't even located on mainland Singapore, but instead, the restaurant sits on a kelong next to Pulau Ubin.
They call it a "modern kelong", says its marketing manager, Jessie Toh, who explains that "when you say kelong, people know straightaway that it's in the middle of the sea". What makes it "modern" however, is that it's not the usual rickety wooden structure, but instead has a solid tiled floor, is covered with a roof, and even has a portable air-conditioner.
"My boss opened this restaurant because he wants to promote fresh seafood," says Ms Toh, who adds that it has been a challenging process to get the restaurant up and running, especially because of its unique location. "That's also why we require advance reservations for example, because it's not like there's a FairPrice next door for us to run to," she jokes.
Smith Marine Restaurant is part of a 5,000 sq ft structure under marine agriculture company Smith Marine Culture and Trading, which also consists of a fish farm that is not accessible to the public, but supplies the restaurant with live flower crabs, mussels, and lobsters, among others. The menu is a typical one that you might expect at a zi char restaurant, with dishes such as salted egg sotong (S$12, S$18), fried seafood noodles (S$6, S$8, S$12), and sauna prawns cooked on hot stones (S$30, S$55).
There's a pre-meal activity you could take part in as well - catching your own fish from what they call their "sure-catch pond", with rod and bait provided. It's the best way to make sure your fish is fresh, although you won't be able to predict which of the two types of fish - sea bass or snapper - you are going to get, says Ms Toh.
Later, you can either take your catch home at S$15 per fish, or have the restaurant cook it for you at S$35. Cooking methods include Teochew-style, in soy sauce, wine, or even as a curry.
Of course, getting to Smith Marine Restaurant is only possible by boat. So aside from driving your own boat to the kelong and parking it there, customers can also make their way via a 10- to 15-minute bumboat ride from Changi Village Ferry Terminal, at S$100 for a two-way trip, with a maximum of 12 persons per boat.
Says Ms Toh: "We don't want people to just come here, sit down, order, eat and then go. That's no fun. We want you to bring your kids, play some pool, then sit around and relax."
This article was first published on October 31, 2015.
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