Punggol is shedding its sleepy town label with a bonanza of cafes and restaurants popping up.
The riverfront locale and meandering park trails are luring diners keen on tranquil views and a chill-out ambience, despite its out-of- the-way spot. Besides seafood restaurants, there are at least 10 eateries which have opened in the past nine months.
Punggol's nascent food scene boasts cuisines ranging from European to Malay to Thai.
In Tebing Lane, cafes such as Cravings and Whisk & Paddle are newcomers to the food and recreation cluster near Punggol Promenade Riverside Walk. Recent occupants of The Punggol Settlement, a food enclave in Punggol Point Road, include Horizon Bistronomy, which serves French food, and halal eatery Rilek 1 Korner.
For the owners, one of Punggol's main draws is the growing number of residents in the Build-To-Order Housing Board flats and condominiums nearby. Hoping to target young families is Ms Cynthia Tan, 29, owner of dessert cafe Cravings, which also rents out its kitchen.
She says: "I noticed more housewives in the area bake for events to earn extra income, but do not have proper equipment at home."
The 85 sq ft rental kitchen has a commercial oven, kitchen mixer and mixing bowls. To use the facilities, bakers need to obtain a Basic Food Hygiene Course certificate from the Workforce Development Agency. The cafe attracts about 80 customers on weekends, mainly night owls from the 24-hour prawning facility and a billiard hall nearby.
The scenery is also a draw. At bistro bar Fur Kicks in The Punggol Settlement, pink LED-lit glass tables jostle for attention with lights from Pasir Gudang port across the Strait of Johor. Co-owner George Lee, 43, says: "I want to provide an out-of-town alternative to rooftop bars so executives can chill out after work without the pressure of dressing up."
Ms Victoria Pan, 29, owner of brunch cafe Whisk & Paddle, says: "I like the close-to-nature location which faces the river and park connector.We attract cyclists on weekends and residents who stop by for coffee after strolls."
It helps that rents in Punggol are reasonable, cafe owners say. It can range from $8 to $17 a square foot a month, compared with from $20 a square foot in Orchard Road.
Mr Eugene Lim, 48, real estate agency ERA Realty's key executive officer, says: "Punggol's F&B scene is growing steadily as most households are young families who eat out more than they cook at home. A growing interest in the area has led to rental rates increasing by up to 15 per cent over the past two years."
However, having waterfront views comes at the price of being, in some people's minds, far away.
Businesses in Punggol depend on the weekend crowd. Mr Chris Fong, 27, coowner of Horizon Bistronomy, saw poor customer turnout at lunchtime when it opened last November, so he decided to open for dinner only on weekdays. The cafe also started serving brunch on Sundays two weeks ago to attract cafe- hoppers.
He also finds it difficult to hire part-time wait staff on weekends when the number of diners can swell to 200. This leads to up to a 30- minute wait for a main course. He says: "Not many workers are willing to travel to such an ulu place, so I depend on recommendations from friends."
Ulu means remote in Malay.
Another tenant, Ms Teresa Tay, 28, owner of Just The Place, a bistro, notes that finding a parking space can be tough on weekends.
She says: "Although there are about 200 parking spaces in The Punggol Settlement, they are not enough on weekends."
She hopes a shuttle bus service that ferries diners from neighbouring estates, such as Sengkang or Hougang, can be set up soon.
To lower the risks of operating in a sprawling 8,000 sq ft unit, Whisk & Paddle's Ms Pan split it into two spaces. Besides the cafe, she also runs Treasure Pot, a steamboat-buffet restaurant.
A more crowded Punggol food scene does not faze Mr Yap Woon Chong, 38, co-owner of Frienzie Bar and Bistro in Tebing Lane, which opened in 2011 and is one of the early birds.
He says: "Business has dipped about 5 per cent since The Punggol Settlement opened, but I believe there are enough customers to go around, with more residents in Punggol."
He adds that the cafe received brisk business from the get-go due to the lack of food options, despite the park construction works and stench from the river four years ago.
Punggol residents welcome more dining choices in their backyard.
Mr Nick Pan, 38, director of a digital marketing agency, likes that the new eating spots are located at the river fringe.
He says: "It feels like going to East Coast Park and not being in a housing estate. I can now hang out in Punggol and not eat in town before coming home."
Teacher Denise Lee, 28, believes the food options complement the leisure facilities.
She says: "I mostly visit these food places during the weekend with friends. You need a day out to visit them as they can be quite inaccessible for people who have to travel all the way to Punggol."
WHERE TO EAT
Those with a sweet tooth can customise their dessert platter with any three cakes, cupcakes and tarts (three for $8.90). Popular items include the choco crunch, Paddle-Pop and lychee cheesecakes. Wash them down with flavoured sodas ($7.90), such as Lycheetini and Yuzu Fizz served with a scoop of gelato. Baking enthusiasts can also rent its kitchen facilities, which are open around the clock. Creations from licensed bakers can also be showcased in the cafe. Rent is $100 for eight hours a month.
Where: 6 Tebing Lane, 01-05
Open: 4pm to 1am (Wednesday to Sunday), closed on Monday and Tuesday
Get tipple-happy with six types of Paulaner beers on tap, such as lagers and wheat beers (from $9 for a pint); beer cocktails, such as
Paulaner beer mixed with lime or lychee juice (from $23); and single malt whiskies (from $230 a bottle). Those feeling peckish can order starters such as tomato and mushroom ragout bruschetta ($6), fried chicken wings with barbecued sauce ($8) and mains such as spicy BBQ ribs ($28).
Where: The Punggol Settlement, 3 Punggol Point Road, 02-03
Open: 5pm to midnight (Monday to Thursday), 5pm to 1am (Friday to Sunday)
Info: Call 6702-6366
This French fusion restaurant offers more than 10 dishes. Signature items include Duo Of Pork Belly ($25, above), which comprises 24- hour slow-braised pork belly and grilled Kurobuta pork tenderloin served with cauliflower puree; and seared Kagoshima Wagyu Ribcap with mashed potato and greens ($48). End the meal with fig, pear and bacon sabayon ($10.90), which features candied bacon, a red wine-infused fig and pears.
Where: The Punggol Settlement, 02-04
Open: 6pm to midnight (Tuesday to Saturday), 11am to 2.30pm and 6pm to midnight (Sunday), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6702-2855 or go to www.fb.com/horizonbistronomy
JUST THE PLACE
This spacious 80-seat bistro offers appetisers, pastas, pizzas and mains. Save space for its pan-fried salmon steak with cream sauce and pilaf rice ($20.90, right) and lobster pasta ($22.90). Take in the sea view at its alfresco dining area with beers, ciders and wine spritzers (from $7.90).
Where: The Punggol Settlement, 02-07/08
Open: 5pm to midnight (Tuesday to Friday), 10am to midnight (weekend), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6702-7370 or go to www.fb.com/justdplace
RILEK 1 KORNER
Owner Zulkifli Bukari used to fish near Punggol Jetty three times a month and now, he has opened a casual Malay eatery in The Punggol Settlement. He offers "not-so-typical Malay food" such as fried sea bass with sweet and sour sauce ($25) and butter prawn fried rice ($9, above). Slurp creative mocktails such as Punggol Breeze ($8), a concoction of kiwi, passionfruit and orange- flavoured Blue Curacao syrups with 7 Up.
Where: The Punggol Settlement, 02-02
Open: 4 to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
Info: Call 8201-4212 or go to www.fb.com/rilek1korner
TRUNK AT BAY
This family-friendly restaurant serves Thai fare, such as prawn and fish cakes (both $11.90), fried chicken wings stuffed with minced chicken meat and tang hoon ($6) and green curry chicken ($11.90). Unconventional finds include deep-fried pork knuckle ($18.90, above), served with Thai chilli sauce; and salt-baked sea bass ($32). On weekends, the 100-seat restaurant also serves breakfast, such as egg omelette wrapped with minced pork, shredded coconut and prawns ($8.90).
Where: The Punggol Settlement, 02-06
Open: 5.30 to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Thursday), 5.30 to 11pm (Friday), 9.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 11pm (weekend), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6702-7072 or go to www.fb.com/pages/trunk-at-bay/ 136080366586458
Owner Wayne Ho helms this 40-seat cafe which offers 12 flavours of ice cream (above) such as chardonnay raspberry sorbet and cheesecake with berries (from $5 a scoop). The self-taught ice cream-maker makes about 30 tubs of ice cream a week. There are also four types of pizzas, such as smoked chicken and pineapple ($12.80) and lasagna ($12.80).
Where: The Punggol Settlement, 02-11
Open: 2 to 11pm (weekday), 11am to 11pm (weekend)
WHISK & PADDLE
Soak up the panoramic views of Sungei Serangoon and lush greenery at this 120-seat cafe's verandah. Popular brunch dishes include Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon ($13), crabmeat linguine ($17) and macaroni and cheese ($12.80). The cafe is a five-minute walk from Riviera LRT station and has a play area for kids.
Where: 10 Tebing Lane, 01-01
Open: 3.30 to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Friday), 9.30am to 10.30pm (weekend), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6242-4617 or go to whiskandpaddle.com.sg
This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.