Haji Lane, a narrow stretch of pre-war shophouses between Beach and North Bridge roads, is known for being the go-to place for indie and quirky fashions. However, it is also fast becoming a hip food enclave.
More eateries have also opened in parallel street Bali Lane.
In the last year, no fewer than 10 new food and beverage outlets have been added to the mix of restaurants, cafes and bars in the two lanes, joining popular ones such as Mexican restaurant Piedra Negra, Bar Stories and live-music venue BluJaz Cafe.
These range from cafes such as The Pantry and Elffin & Elffin, which offer cakes and savoury items such as pies; to bistros such as CAD Cafe in Haji Lane, I Am, at the junction of North Bridge Road and Haji Lane, and Stateland Cafe in Bali Lane.
Openings in the last month include week-old biscuit shop Al'Frank Cookies and two-week-old Eisky Fabulous, which sells made-to-order ice-blended drinks. Both are located in Haji Lane.
Four-month-old Stateland Cafe has just expanded, opening a second unit last week two doors down from its first.
Along Bali Lane, Pita Bakery, a shop which specialises in making fresh pita bread from scratch, opened two months ago; while Choo Choo Chicken, a Korean fried chicken eatery, opened in January.
A halal cupcake shop, Cake Delights Bakery, along North Bridge Road between Haji and Bali lanes, opened two months ago.
Beyond these two streets, other eateries have also been sprouting up in Kampong Glam and the surrounding streets.
There is a halal Vietnamese restaurant, Pho 4 All, in Jalan Pisang and an Italian pizza bar called Don Antonio in Jalan Klapa.
Keen on other types of cuisine? Tuck into Western- and Asian-inspired tapas at two-month-old 26 Tapas Bar in Kandahar Street or Creole flavours at South American bar-restaurant The Beast in Jalan Klapa, which opened seven months ago.
And the list of food offerings does not stop there.
In the coming months, eateries slated to open include Koi Bangers + Izakaya in Haji Lane, an izakaya bar offering its take on bangers and mash, and I Am's second outlet, a New York-inspired bakery-cafe in Bali Lane.
New food-and-beverage operators say they moved into the area because of its charm, eclectic vibe and unique mix of tenants. These include shops selling vintage clothing and niche fashion labels as well as interior and homeware. There is a bicycle shop, hair salons and a men's grooming parlour.
New entrants say they hope to complement existing offerings by adding experiential offerings in which both food and ambience take centrestage.
For instance, each cafe has a unique concept. Some double up as art spaces, while others showcase their cakes amid quaint furniture and whimsical decor. F&B operators say there is no direct competition as each of them has something different to offer.
Mr Jamuri Busori, 42, co-owner of I Am, a bistro-cafe inspired by the city of Amsterdam, says: "One thing I like about this area is that it has a very Bohemian feel and vibe. The narrowness of the street and the pre-war shophouses remind me of the small alleys in Europe.
"We're not here to compete with others. It is a very communal and carefree space that we share."
For example, he says when his restaurant is full, he recommends diners to the nearby Stateland Cafe.
Ms Melissa Wang, 34, owner of Shop Wonderland, the retail arm of her events company, and its newly-opened cafe, The Pantry, says: "People who come to this area usually have to make plans to do so because it is not as centrally located as, say, Orchard Road. In the past, there were fewer places where people could just spend time.
"More F&B outlets in the area are good because they draw a crowd and people will naturally be inclined to spend more time here, which benefits all retailers."
First-time F&B entrepreneurs Wilson Lee, 48, and his wife Gina Kwok, 42, of Eisky Fabulous say they saw an opportunity to offer cold beverages in the area.
The couple, who run an investment company and own the shophouse they operate from, say that given the dynamics of the street, where people have to walk from shop to shop and sometimes in the midday heat, it made sense to provide cold drinks.
Mr Lee adds: "We like that there is a very kampung vibe to the street, which is missing in a lot of other areas in Singapore. People are always laughing and talking and are also very friendly."
On why more F&B operators are moving into Haji and Bali lanes, Mr Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy and research at property consultancy SLP International, says the area offers them a niche location where similar businesses can gather to create a clustering effect.
He adds: "When there is a critical mass of interesting F&B outlets in that area, the place will start to have a positive theme or reputation which could draw customers and be etched in the minds of some food lovers."
Rental in Haji Lane has tripled in the last 10 years, owners of some shophouse units there say.
At present, depending on the condition of the shophouse, and whether the tenant leases just the ground floor and/or its upstairs unit, rental can range between $8 and $12 per sq ft.
I Am's owner, Mr Jamuri, a former IT professional who used to run a music production company in Haji Lane, recalls how some 10 years ago, a ground-floor shophouse unit in the middle of the street used to cost him just $850 a month.
These days, the tenants SundayLife! spoke to say their rent ranges from about $4,500 to more than $6,000 for a ground-floor unit.
Since May last year, the street has been closed to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday from afternoon till late in the night.
Tenants in the area say they hope for it to become fully pedestrianised in time.
Their sentiments are echoed by those who frequent the area.
University student Julia Ong, 22, says: "I love that there are now so many places to eat in this area. There is no shortage of cafes for coffee and cakes or heavier foods such as pastas or waffles.
"When I walk along Haji Lane, I tend to forget it is open to vehicles because it is so narrow and everyone walks in the middle of the road. It would be a lot safer if it became a pedestrian mall, and I think this would add to the uniqueness and carefree spirit of the area."
The Pantry at Shop Wonderland
What: The Pantry, located on the first floor of Shop Wonderland, serves cakes, coffee and some savoury items. It sells a range of items from bakeries such as Maple & Market, Carpenter & Cook, The Gourmet Pie Company and The Audacious Cakery. Items include black sesame cupcakes, a gula melaka cake with almonds and coconut, and pies.
Where: 37 Haji Lane Open: 10am to 8pm, daily
Info: Call 6299-5848
CAD Cafe - Coffee Art Design
What: Stop by for a coffee or juice as well as breakfast items such as scrambled eggs on toast and grilled cheese toasties. Other items include soups, salads and main courses for dinner. Where: 23 Haji Lane
Open: 8am to 10pm (Tuesday and Wednesday), 8am to midnight (Thursday and Friday), 10am to midnight (Saturday), 10am to 10pm (Sunday), closed on Mondays
Info:E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to cad.sg
What: The takeaway blended-drinks shop sells "smooshies" (right), a cross between a smoothie and a slushie. The base is fresh watermelon and flavours include strawberry, green apple and cappuccino. Prices start at $3.50.
Where: 11 Haji Lane Open: 3.30 to 7.30pm (Tuesday to Friday), 12.30 to 7.30pm (weekend), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6341-7212
What: The cookie shop opened last Thursday and offers housemade cookies which include ingredients such as chocolate chips, walnuts, macadamias and raisins. Baker-owner Frank Yap also has gluten-free cookies and can customise recipes. Prices range from about $6 to $8 for 100g.
Where: 12 Haji Lane
Open: 10am to 8pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to 9.30pm (Friday and Saturday)
Info: Call 6341-7041
Koi Bangers + Izakaya
What: The eatery will serve its take on bangers and mash as well as sushi and sashimi with a twist. It is an offshoot of Koi Sushi + Izakaya in Club Street.
Where: 9 Haji Lane
Info: Opens next month
What: The breezy non-airconditioned cafe serves hearty sandwiches, burgers (left), pastas, pizzas and fish and chips. Top sellers here include its seven-layer cakes and rainbow mille crepe cake, priced at $8.90 a slice. Expect to spend $10 to $30 a person.
Where: 674 North Bridge Road, junction of North Bridge Road and Haji Lane Open: 11.30am to 11pm (Monday to Thursday), 11.30am to 1am (Friday and Saturday), 11.30am to 10pm (Sunday)
Info: Call 6295-5509 or e-mail email@example.com. Go to www.iam.com.sg
Cake Delights Bakery
What: The two-month-old bakery is run by a mother-daughters team comprising Madam Latifah Maiden Pichai, 46,Ruquoiyah Abdul Haleem, 20, and Nur Himayah, 17. Madam Latifah's sister Aynoon Beevi, 47, and her daughter Naziroh Najim, 22, help out. Cupcakes, available in various flavours such as milo, salted caramel and red velvet, are priced at three for $10. More items such as fruit tarts and cheesecakes will be introduced soon. Where: 664 North Bridge Road, between Haji and Bali lanes
Open: 11am to 6pm (Tuesday to Thursday), 11am to 8pm (Friday and Saturday), closed on Sunday and Monday
Info: Call 6341-5059. Cake orders should be made five days in advance
Choo Choo Chicken
What: The Korean restaurant specialises in crispy fried chicken tossed in sweet, spicy or soya sauce-based sauces ($15 for eight pieces). Other offerings include Choo Choo Chicken burgers, a Korean rice cake with seasoned short-grain rice, seaweed and ingredients such as tuna, kimchi and spam ($6.90). Lunch sets start at $7.90.
Where: 33 Bali Lane
Open: 11.30am to 11pm daily Info: Call 6299-0980
What: Breakfast items include French toast ($11.90), scrambled eggs on waffles ($14.90) and Eggs Benedict ($14.90). There are also three types of pasta ($10.90), while desserts include thick toast with various toppings such as Nutella and chopped nuts, and waffles in flavours such as red velvet and chocolate. A plain waffle with berries and maple syrup starts at $9.90. Where: 30 and 32 Bali Lane
Open: Noon to 10pm (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), noon to midnight (Friday and Saturday), closed on Tuesday
Info: Call 9296-4997 or go to www.facebook.com/statelandcafe
Unnamed eatery by I Am
What: I Am, at the junction of North Bridge Road and Haji Lane, will be opening a second outlet in Bali Lane. Nestled between Stateland Cafe's two outlets, the unnamed eatery will be a New York-inspired bakery-cafe. Where: 31 Bali Lane
Info: Opening in September Pita Bakery What: The two-month-old bakery makes fresh pita bread from scratch, which it supplies to neighbouring Mediterranean restaurants as well as cafes and hotels. Customers keen to purchase pita bread in small quantities can buy a packet of 10 for $10.
Where: 29 Bali Lane Open: 9am to 7pm (Monday to Saturday), 9am to 1.30pm (Sunday)
Info: Call 6635-6256
Jiv Jago Vegetarian Cafe
What: The restaurant offers vegan and vegetarian pastas, pizzas and burgers. Expect to spend about $8 to $15 a person.
Where: 17 Bali Lane
Open: Noon to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 9679-6722 or e-mail jivjago.sg @gmail.com
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood
Pho 4 All
What: This halal Vietnamese restaurant serves pho, or thin flat rice noodles, in beef or chicken broth. The noodles are complemented with desserts such as red ruby. A bowl of pho starts at about $7. Where: 7 Jalan Pisang
Open: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 9pm (Monday to Friday), 6 to 9pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6294-0703
26 Tapas Bar
What: The East-meets-West tapas bar serves items such as chicken wings with a housemade chilli sauce, curried prawns and smoked duck with green apple. There is also a selection of pasta and pizza. Dishes are priced between $5.90 and $17.90.
Where: 26 Kandahar Street
Open: Noon to midnight (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6299-3252 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.facebook.com/26tapasbar
Don Antonio Pizza Bar
What: The month-old pizza bar is headed by chef-owner Antonio Cocozza, 43, who is from Naples, Italy's pizza capital. Aside from pizza with toppings such as sundried tomatoes, pepperoni and porchetta, it also serves pastas such as pacheri with Genovese sauce and ravioli with porcini mushrooms, served with butter and sage. Prices range from about $15 for antipasti to $24 for a pasta. Where: 2 Jalan Klapa
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6293-6548 or e-mail email@example.com. Go to donantonio.sg
Eazy Eazy Kitchen
What: Formerly known as Sarang Cafe, the restaurant recently teamed up with retail shop Eazy Eazy to start a new dining concept. For now, dishes include demi-glazed chicken, Cajun-style grilled dory fish, pizzas and sandwiches. There are plans to introduce Thai dishes in the coming months. Prices range from $10 to $20 a dish.
Where: 29 Bussorah Street
Open: Noon to 11pm (Monday to Thursday), noon to midnight (Friday and Saturday), noon to 10pm (Sunday) Info: Call 9230-2374 or 9012-5747 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.facebook.com/kitchenbyeazeyeazy
What: Dishes here include lasagna, aglio e olio pasta with smoked salmon, sandwiches, pizzas, eggs and toast as well as ice-cream sandwiches. Prices range from about $5 for a slice of pizza to about $15 for a burger.
Where: 48 Arab Street Open: 10am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to midnight (Friday and Saturday)
Info: Call 9734-4187 or e-mail email@example.com
This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.