October 1, 2020

It’s Friday night. Judging by the crowds that have descended onto the bustling Keong Saik Road, all resounding memories of the pandemic’s death sentence on F&B outlets fade into oblivion. Mind you, this isn’t France, and I see patrons dining alfresco despite the smouldering humidity enveloping the neon-lit streets. After months of lockdown, it is clear that dining out is back in a big way in Singapore. 

Although some restaurants have closed due to the crisis, others are finding a new groove. These days, it’s harder to get a walk-in table if you do not have a reservation. You can try your luck, but don’t expect to warm your seat much—your dishes may arrive at the table faster than your cutlery. Hence, to get the most of out of your eating and drinking experience, focus on a district that has enough casual and feel-good establishments open from day to night. Here’s how you tackle the Keong Saik neighbourhood.

If it’s 1 p.m., and you’re riled.

Towards the end of Teck Lim Road, a one-way road linking Keong Saik Road to Neil Road, lies Frenchie Wine Bar—hidden from plain sight. But once you push past the doors, the energy is palpable. It’s a small space, but the boisterous laughter and the sound of clinking glasses from behind the curtains is a sign of conviviality. Inside, Loire Valley Pouilly Fumé and Beaujolais grace the tables, with a moreish snack list of charcuterie and cheese from duck rillettes to ‘Rosa di Norcia’ prosciutto. It’s enough to get a taste of France without actually leaving the country.

If you need a quick pick-me-up.

Rejuvenation juice comes in the form of No Sleep Club’s Espresso Martini. One tilt of the blue and brown-hued ceramic cup might trick you into thinking this is rather light. You are wrong; the wicked mix of caffeine and tequila is guaranteed to pack a punch and then some (a while later). To prevent you from bouncing off the walls, order the Korean fried cauliflower. It’s hearty more than healthy. 

If you could eat only one thing.

Everything in Bar Milano’s evening food menu is all kinds of glorious. But if I had to cherry-pick, the roasted king prawns would be it. The first bite illuminates the room; every snide comment or ill-mannered behaviour dissolves when the acidity of garlic herb butter and fermented chilli awakes your palate. The calorific chargrilled heads will have you loosening your belt, while the spritzes and pizza fritta are in charge of lifting your spirits.

If you can’t decide between a negroni or a wheat beer.

There is a time in every man’s life when a bartender asks, “What can I get you?” And you’re torn between a beer or a cocktail. Avoid having to choose when you are at The Guild. There’s always a long list of craft beers in various draft sizes, championed by playful names such as ‘72 Tenant’, ‘La Niña Fresa’ and backed by colourful stories of serendipitous collaborations with Young Master Ales based in Hong Kong. The Negroni is $16 all night on Wednesdays, and I think it might just be the city’s best.

If you’re part of the insurgence.

I’m referring to the natural wine movement in Singapore. However, instead of a hippie laboratory, a trip to Rebel Rebel is a nosedive into the movement’s intellectual roots. Staff are generally enthusiastic about your choices, grinning as you pick out a Domaine Les Bertrand Beaujolais and recline indolently into a lounge chair on the patio. Underdog grape varieties are made fashionable here again and the nosh put out by former Burnt Ends chef Deborah Yeo is crowd-pleasing. Think prawn and uni paste on brown butter toast and pig’s head tagliatelle that gives the Filipino sisig a good run for its money.