December 6, 2019

It's an endless game where restaurants open and close in a blink of an eye. Yet, that hasn't diminished the appeal and fantasy of owning one. With a surfeit of dining establishments to choose from, how do you distinguish between real gold and fool's gold? Every month we reveal our top picks, after sifting out those that deserve your attention. After all, life's too short to waste money (and time) on mediocre food.

1. PS.Cafe by the Sea East Coast Park

The Lowdown: The vanguards of Singapore’s cafe culture have been steadily expanding since 1999. This year also marks a milestone for the brand, as evidenced by the proliferation of outlets not just in Singapore, but also in Shanghai and Seoul. Eighth in line, PS.Cafe by the Sea at East Coast Park departs from the stir of city life.

The Vibe: Beachside chic with just enough laid-back charm to enforce a drink in hand at whatever time of the day rule.

The Crowd: Urban dwellers and Easties decked out lackadaisically in shorts and t-shirts. Expect kids on the weekends to crank up the decibel level.

The Place: Standing out like a mirage against the barren landscape of undeveloped real estate, you’ll witness soft lighting and queues spilling out of the restaurant before you spot the signage. In typical PS.Cafe fashion, the interiors are quick to impress. Dramatic floor to ceiling windows, camel leather chairs, dark-stained teak flooring and dashes of azure complete the coastal touch.

Food and Drinks: The menu pays homage to its waterfront location with a greater emphasis on seafood. Dishes are created to share with rather sizeable portions suited for two to three small eaters. Get the chargrilled octopus with chili lime dip to nibble before moving on to something heavier like the Thai-inspired lemongrass mussel and clam spaghettini. When in doubt, their classic smokey margherita pizza with crunchy chili oil will rock your world.

1110 East Coast Parkway, Cyclist Park 01-05/06/07; 6708 9288. Daily 9:30am to 11pm.

2. No Sleep Club

The Lowdown: No Sleep Club is a bit of misfit in the gentrified Keong Saik precinct, but in a good way. Owners Juan Yi Jun (previously from Tippling Club and Operation Dagger) and Jessica Hutch (Alumni of 28 HKS) are banking on their artistic edge to merge a creative studio, cafe and cocktail bar into one.

The Vibe: There’s a casual-cool buzz and everyone’s welcome even if they don’t look the part.

The Crowd: Creatives and people who keep pace with the ever-evolving F&B scene and make it known that this is their new go-to.

The Place: A cross between Operation Dagger and Neon Pigeon. The cozy shophouse opens up to a sleek bar counter top and shelves of medicinal bottles that contain liquid magic. Up a tiny flight of stairs, a brightly lit kitchen evokes hunger. There are also a couple of tables above for those who prefer to be closer to the cooking action.

Food and Drinks: During the day, the bodacious ‘Crack-wiches’ make things easy for those looking for a quick fix. At night, three- or five-course menus are the way to go. Cocktails-wise, the peculiar sounding Hay & Apples ($22) and Tom Yum & Melon ($23) have their own legion of fans. Otherwise, the cautiously curated wine list has a bonus section of sake by the glass.

20 Keong Saik Rd; 8838 0188. Closed Monday; Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 12am; Sunday 10am to 6pm.

3. Violet Oon Singapore at ION Orchard

The Lowdown: With five branches to their name, Violet Oon Singapore has ambitious plans to put Singapore’s diverse culinary heritage on a global stage. Of late, the restaurant group is showing no signs of slowing down with the launch of two new lunch specials: Nyonya hay mee and Nyonya assam laksa, as well as a new line of sauces. If you’re into food gifting, their jams and cookies taste just as good as they look.

The Vibe: To see and be seen. Think of it as Singapore’s version of Café de Flore.

The Crowd: Sophisticates, well-heeled tai-tais who need to rest their legs after shopping, and out-of-towners looking for authentic Singapore cuisine in a more upscale environment without having to sweat it out at the hawker centre. 

The Place: The 2,700 sq ft restaurant houses a 100-seat brasserie, a long bar and a retail area to sell their merchandise. It’s breathtaking, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself having tea followed by dinner all in one seating. The decor is decked out in opulent shades of dark wood and gold accented by brass highlights, while the bar counter is dressed in jade green. Signature Peranakan tiles line the floor, symbolic of Violet Oon’s Nyonya roots.

Food and Drinks: There's a wide selection of Nyonya, Chinese, Eurasian and British Colonial dishes. Orchard Road, in its heyday, was home to a lot of ang moh restaurants run by Hainanese chefs. For that reason, Violet Oon Singapore at ION Orchard has an undeniably strong Hainanese influence. The oxtail stew is surprisingly good, while the nasi goreng is highly addictive. Other standouts include fish curry with roti jala thrumming with a potent infusion of spices in coconut milk, and of course, the famous shepherd’s pie. If you have room for dessert, the horlicks cake is a treat from heaven.

ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #03-22; 9834 9935. Open Monday to Sunday, 10am to 10pm.

4. VUE

The Lowdown: You don’t have to be French to understand that the star attraction at this venue is the ‘vue’ (French for view) and we’re not just referring to the stellar panorama as the sun slowly descends, but executive chef Sam Chin’s imaginative take—or “views” on the food served at this swanky joint. Seasonal and pedigree are the buzzwords here in the eclectic menu that interlaces Western and Asian influences.

The Vibe: A gentlemen’s club feel. Everything from the chairs to the fabric smell expensive, a clichéd definition of fancy-pants dining.

The Crowd: You’ll be rubbing shoulders with the business crowd looking to entertain their knucklehead bosses. There will be lots of wine at the table along with deal-making and gregarious laughter.

The Place: Nurse a drink at the al fresco Spritz Bar that sits on a gorgeous verandah overlooking the Marina Bay. After absorbing the last rays of sunlight, traverse past glass doors and you’ll be greeted by a stunning dining room with tall arched ceilings marked by warm ambient lighting.

Food and Drinks: You’ll be drawn to the binchotan smoked Kokuou wagyu beef that is on par with some of the best steakhouses in the city. VUE does a 4-course tasting menu for just $108, which is decent-ish, if you’re not adding on extras—though the 1000-bottle strong wine list curated by award-winning sommelier Joel Lim has the charms of Delilah.

OUE Bayfront, 50 Collyer Quay, Level 19; 8879 0923. Open Monday to Friday, 5:30pm to 10:30pm, closed Saturday and Sunday.

5. Farangse

The Lowdown: Tucked away in the Greenwood Avenue enclave is a neighbourhood bistro where you will find an unlikely marriage between Thai and French cuisine. A combination that packs heat, richness and balanced favour profiles. Chef Emma from Issan is responsible for the Thai provenance, while Malaysian-born chef Eric Tan, who used to be under the tutelage of Francois Mermilliod, takes the reins in the French department.

The Vibe: Homely and relaxed in a way where no one’s gonna blink twice if you’re in pyjamas.

The Crowd: The upper crust who live in the district will show up to dinner with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Mouton Rothschild in tow. Occasionally, you’ll stumble upon a millennial, who is probably in the inner circle.

The Place: Basic, no-frills, with artistic impressions of food on the wall like how grandma would furnish her kitchen. Be thankful for the powerful air conditioning when the chili padi hits.

Food and Drinks: Come ravenous. Farangse is the perfect joint to indulge in a ridiculously long meal. Start with the feisty Thai green mango salad upgraded with Iberico pork pluma and the charcuterie board comprising homemade pate en croute, duck rillettes, chicken liver mousse—the works. The tidy wine selection has a strong showing for French wines, and if we were to narrow it down, the 2018 Sancerre Domanie Reverdy from Loire Valley and 2016 Mercurey 1er Cru Clos du Roy from Burgundy would come out on top.

24 Greenwood Ave; 9630 4526. Closed Monday; Tuesday 6pm to 10pm; Wednesday to Saturday, 11:30am to 2pm and 6pm to 10pm.