The third wave of restaurants and bars has swept into the bustling area of Telok Ayer Street, Amoy Street and Boon Tat Street.
In particular, new restaurants in Boon Tat Street have spiced up the hot foodie enclave bound by Tanjong Pagar, Raffles Place and Telok Ayer MRT stations.
They are restaurants FYR and Sorrel; Chinese restaurant and bar Sum Yi Tai; and the revamped Bartini Kitchen & Bar, now known as Den. These add to others in the area, including Pantler patisserie, Korean chicken joint Oven & Fried Chicken and American smokehouse Meat Smith.
The additions come almost two years after the second wave of eateries opened there. At the time, the new kids on the block were Japanese restaurant The Flying Squirrel and The Market Grill.
Before this, the area was known mainly for its Korean barbecue joints, economy rice stalls and older establishments such as Italian restaurant Porta Porta and Vietnamese restaurant Pho 99.
Even the popular Amoy Street Food Centre has been spruced up. It re-opened last month. While most of the old favourites such as Piao Ji Fish Porridge and Yuan Chun Lor Mee have returned, some new stalls have also opened. These include Koko Ice Cream, which sells Thai coconut ice cream, and Jap-Kor Cuisine, which serves Japanese and Korean dishes.
Besides the high human traffic, restaurateurs tell SundayLife! that the attraction of the area is the contrast of the cosmopolitan Central Business District with the old-school charm of the conservation shophouses.
Pantler owner Matthias Phua, 28, says: "Telok Ayer Street not only has the most number of national monuments, but it also has conservation shophouses in the midst of the CBD, which is appealing to those who want to have a stand-alone store and not be in a mall or office building. The area is also no longer just for offices as many residential and retail developments are popping up."
Landmarks include Hokkien temple Thian Hock Keng, Al-Abrar Mosque and the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre.
Hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 42, says he is fond of Singapore's heritage districts and shophouses. He opened The Market Grill there in 2013 and now has Sorrel and Meat Smith nearby.
"The area has an interesting streetscape. It's also central and easily accessible to the CBD. So, when the spaces became available, I decided to take them up," he says.
Even with the influx of new eateries, current business owners are keen on more entering the scene, saying that each concept has its own identity. Modern Chinese restaurant and bar Sum Yi Tai, for example, is unique in the area, merging traditional Chinese cuisine with a rooftop bar.
Its co-founder Tay Eu-Yen, 35, says: "We grew tired of moving from a Chinese restaurant to a bar when we wanted both Chinese food and a good night out." She plans to introduce other types of cuisine, such as Sichuan and Hakka, to the Cantonese food the restaurant serves.
More space has been freed up for new entrants.
Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee closed last month at 74 Amoy Street and will re-open next month at the RELC Building, next to Shangri-La Hotel in Orange Grove Road.
Taiwanese porridge restaurant Goldleaf, also in Amoy Street, has moved a few doors down to 103 Amoy Street.
Other upcoming openings in the area include a dual concept in Stanley Street by pastry chef Gwen Lim of Patisserie G in Millenia Walk. Crack & Press will sell eggs and sandwiches in the day and transform into a sake bar, Copper on Stanley, at night. It will open by the third quarter of this year.
Ms Heidi Yong, director and head of retail services at Knight Frank Singapore, weighs in on the draw of the area, which has "quaint surroundings coupled with affordable rentals and flexible operating hours".
She says: "By and large, non-chain F&B operators are looking at locations that provide them the ease of managing tight resources, unlike shopping malls which demand its tenants stay open throughout the day, 365 days a year. This area has a ready CBD catchment to support their business."
Mr Desmond Sim, head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at property services firm CBRE, sees the evolution of the Telok Ayer Street area as an extension of the vibrant scene at neighbouring Club Street and Ann Siang Hill.
He says: "The area has evolved from typical Korean restaurants. You have traditional eateries such as Ka Soh, or Swee Kee Fishhead Noodle House, next to high-end restaurants such as Zott's, which serves Alpine cuisine, in Amoy Street.
"With the opening of the Telok Ayer MRT station, accessibility has also improved and I've seen people from the Marina Bay area take the train to dine in the F&B enclave."
Mr Gong Lei, 30, a bank relationship manager, hopes that more restaurants in the area will offer dining deals. He has lunched at Korean, Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the area, as well as at Lau Pa Sat nearby.
He says: "I eat lunch out daily, so I would consider dining at the new restaurants that offer value-for- money set meals."
SUM YI TAI
What: Walking into this place is like stepping onto the set of a Hong Kong gangster movie from the 1980s, with the black Chinese dragon hanging from the ceiling to a mahjong-tiled wall to bartenders dressed in dragon-print T-shirts.
Sum Yi Tai (third wife in Cantonese) features a Chinese tapas bar on the ground floor, a dining area on the second floor (which opens next month) and a private rooftop bar (reservation required or by invite only).
The lunch menu features roast meats served with rice or noodles. Prices start at $12 and includes a complimentary soup of the day.
Other highlights include claypot rice ($25 for two) and vermicelli with jumbo head king prawn ($32 for two). Signature Chinese tapas dishes include luncheon meat chips ($9), XO carrot cake ($12), Australian lamb short ribs with five spices ($21) and crispy salmon skin with salted egg yolk ($9). The drinks menu features whisky, sake and cocktails (from $19).
Where: 25 Boon Tat Street, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm (weekday lunch), 5pm to 1am (dinner, Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6221-3665 or e-mail email@example.com
What: Three-week-old restaurant FYR (say fire) serves steaks and lobsters. South-east Asian flavours also feature in the dishes, including spiced deboned red snapper ($25) with sambal belacan; five-spice half chicken, striploin and spiced tiger prawns ($55); and seafood linguine ($18) with laksa leaves and Thai basil. Complete the meal with a baked pistachio lava cake and pandan ice cream ($10) dessert. Drinks ($4.50 each) include apple rosemary; lime and mint; and ginger lemongrass. Lunch promotions start at $25++ for two courses.
Where: 19 Boon Tat Street, open: 11am to 11pm (Monday to Friday), 5 to 11pm (Saturday). Closed on Sunday. Brunch from 9am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday (starting April 25)
Info: Call 6221-3703 or go to www.facebook.com/FYRBTS
What: Another of restaurateur Loh Lik Peng's food ventures and sister outlet to Burnt Ends in Teck Lim Road is the two-month-old smokehouse Meat Smith. American head chef Andrew Baldus has come up with a concise menu featuring starters such as pig ear lettuce wrap with banh mi pickles ($5 each), fried green tomatoes ($6) and chicken wings ($12).
Carnivores can head straight for dishes including the half chicken ($20); vinegar-brined pork belly ($14 for 100g); and 365-day grain-fed Angus brisket ($16 for 100g). Sandwiches include pulled pork ($9) with som tum slaw (green papaya salad) and Nashville fried chicken ($8) with pickles, lettuce and mayo.
The restaurant takes walk-ins only but entertains reservations for eight or more guests.
Where: 167 to 169 Telok Ayer Street, open: 11.45am to 2pm (lunch on Thursday and Friday), 5.30pm till late (dinner from Tuesday to Saturday), closed on Sunday and Monday
Info: Call 6221-2262
What: The four-month-old restaurant is headed by 24-year-old executive chef Johnston Teo, who has worked at Tippling Club and Jaan. There is no a la carte menu at the 40-seat restaurant, just a three- ($45) or five-course ($88) menu for lunch, and a five- ($88) or seven-course ($118) menu for dinner. Dishes include confit octopus with cauliflower, algae and potato; roasted baby chicken with maitake mushrooms, onion puree and a chicken consomme reduction; and sous vide wagyu shortrib with smoked beef bone marrow, leek and seaweed.
Where: 21 Boon Tat Street, open: noon to 2pm (weekday lunch), 7 to 10pm (dinner from Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6221-1911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
What: Bartini Kitchen & Bar was revamped in November and is now called Den. It is a bistro by day and a tapas and wine bar by night. Lunch items include pasta dishes such as pork belly carbonara ($13), truffle mac and cheese ($12), grilled veggies pesto ($10) and Den burger ($14) with caramelised onions and fries.
The tapas menu for dinner includes kingfish tartare ($12); beef brisket croquettes ($12) with water chestnut confit and pomegranate reduction; 48-hour slow- cooked pork belly ($18) with apple kimchi; and pizzas (from $15 for a Margherita pizza).
Den is owned by restaurant and lifestyle group WWW Concepts, which also owns Bartini in Club Street and Mariko's bar in Jiak Chuan Road.
Where: 29 Boon Tat Street, open: 11am to 11pm (Monday and Tuesday), 11am to midnight (Wednesday to Friday), 11am to 3pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6220-0629 or go to www.facebook.com/den.singapore
CRACK & PRESS/COPPER ON STANLEY
What: By day, it is an egg and sandwich cafe called Crack & Press. By night, the space transforms into a sake and cocktail bar with snacks called Copper on Stanley. While the businesses, to open in the third quarter of this year, are independent of each other, pastry chef Gwen Lim of the popular cafe Patisserie G in Millenia Walk is involved in both of them with different partners.
Where: 3 Stanley Street
This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.