With cafe culture catching on in Singapore, the challenge for owners is to stand out from the crowd.
A good number are opening halal- certified cafes, and it is proving to be quite the business advantage.
In the past six months, at least seven have opened, with two of them awaiting their halal certification.
Among the new choices are French- inspired bistro Royz et Vous in Bali Lane, Sarah's The Pancake Cafe in Upper Changi Road and Rouse in Dunlop Street.
These add to other popular ones such as Penny University in East Coast Road, I Am Cafe in North Bridge Road, Comestivel Desserts in Siglap Centre, La Marelle in Baghdad Street and Fluff Bakery in Jalan Pisang.
According to the Halal Certification Strategic Unit of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), 2,589 eating establishments were issued halal certificates last year. Over the last five years, an average of 934 restaurants have been certified halal annually.
Attaining halal certification involves establishing a system to ensure food preparation and handling are in compliance with Islamic requirements, going for a training programme and ensuring that all ingredients used are halal and have been approved by Muis.
The latest crop of business owners are branching out beyond Malay cuisine, offering instead a variety of Western- style menus and desserts.
Mrs Dewi Imelda Wadhwa, 35, of And All Things Delicious bakery in Crawford Lane urges more business owners to develop unique concepts.
She says: "There's a dearth of authentic and good quality continental cuisine in Singapore that is halal. Many Muslims are prepared to spend on quality and are very adventurous. Restaurateurs and cafe owners should explore beyond the typical concepts of cafe and family-style restaurants."
Even though her wares are meant for takeaway, she has limited seating for up to six people.
Fresh bakes, made with halal ingredients, include sticky toffee pudding, carrot cake and gula melaka scones.
Likewise, Cake Delights in North Bridge Road had to put in seating to accommodate 12 people a month ago because of customer demand.
Head baker Ruqoiyah Abdul Haleem, 20, says: "Customers kept asking. Soon, we will also have breakfast options and open for brunch on Sunday. The business is continuing to grow, and we also get many tourists who come by for cakes."
Ms Alina Aman, 41, owner of two-month-old Sarah's The Pancake Cafe, chose to run a pancake and crepe cafe to stand out from the competition. So far, the 30-seat cafe has been packed, especially on weekends.
She says: "You don't really get halal pancakes in Singapore. Our menu offers both savoury and sweet. So far, customers have been open to trying everything.
"The cafe scene is huge now, but those that are halal-certified or Muslim-owned are still quite limited. We need more, not just for the youngsters but for families too."
The team behind popular cafe Grub at Bishan Park opened its second cafe, called Fix, two months ago in Balestier, at the HomeTeamNS-JOM Clubhouse for National Servicemen from the police and Civil Defence forces, and their families. It is open to the public too.
Chef Mervyn Phan, one of the owners, says: "We wanted the cafe to be inclusive, for all races to dine at Fix, which is why we wanted to get halal certification to reassure diners that our ingredients and practices are certified.
"We were initially scheduled to open six months ago, and so many cafes have opened in this period. So it is also a good move to go halal as it opens up a completely different market for us."
Indeed, going halal opens up more options for groups of diners comprising Muslims and non-Muslims to share a meal.
Ms Rohayah Embong, 45, owner of Royz et Vous in Bali Lane, notes that since her cafe opened last month, business has been brisk with not only Malay diners, but also many who go with friends or colleagues from other races.
She says: "With the cafe trend, I hope to boost the profile of halal cafes that are not just serving traditional cuisine. Customers who return bring their Chinese friends. Tourists who are particular about eating halal cuisine, they come to us too.
"We also invested in doing freshly brewed coffee, something that is hot in the cafe scene now."
Looking to edge out the competition is Ms Atwell Lim, 20, who runs sandwich shop Toasties in Tampines. It is currently in the midst of getting its halal certification.
She says: "Unlike our competitors - Subway and Quiznos - we wanted to ensure that Toasties is halal-certified. It is this niche in the market which inspired us to open the shop."
Undergraduate Amirah Rahman, 21, hopes more of such cafes open in neighbourhoods nearer her home in Tampines.
She says: "Since Sarah's The Pancake Cafe opened, I go there with my friends and family for pancakes once a week.
"There aren't many halal cafes that sell pancakes, plus I don't have to travel all the way to Haji Lane even though the area has many halal cafes.
"It's great that more are starting to open in the neighbourhoods."
AND ALL THINGS DELICIOUS
What: Previously an online cake business, this six-month-old bakery showcases its best bakes using halal ingredients.
Highlights include carrot cake ($6.20), sticky toffee pudding ($5.50), orange cranberry scones ($3) and gula melaka scones.
Pair the cakes with drinks such as raspberry mint lassi (5.80), and lemongrass iced tea ($4.50). The takeaway bakery can seat about six people.
Seasonal cakes are also available for order - owner Dewi Imelda Wadhwa just launched her Christmas range last Friday.
Where: 462 Crawford Lane, 01-61, open: 11am to 7pm (weekday), 10am to 5pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 9382-4767 or go to andallthingsdelicious.com
What: Fix is by the team (Mr Kelvin Lim, Mr Dexter Junior Tai, Ms Amanda Phan and Mr Mervyn Phan) behind the popular Grub cafe in Bishan Park, and it is shaping up to be another hot spot for cafe- hunters.
Menu highlights include Brunch Fix ($12); beef and kimchi naanwich ($10), a play on the naan and a sandwich; and chicken tikka naanwich ($10).
Save space for desserts such as passionfruit, mango and coconut chiffon cake ($7); strawberry pistachio rose tart ($6) and butterscotch Arabica choux ($6).
The 80-seat cafe is currently in the midst of getting halal certification, and uses halalcertified ingredients.
Where: HomeTeamNS-JOM Clubhouse, 31 Ah Hood Road, open: 9.30am to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6256-1484 or go to www.facebook.com/FIXsg
What: Best-selling items at six-month- old casual bistro Rouse include beef- wrapped asparagus with pumpkin mash ($16.90), and Crabby Patty with mango salsa and a side salad ($17.90).
The newest menu item is the Krusty Kari Burger with soft shell crab and a side of sweet potato fries.
It is opened by local actress Fizah Nizam with her husband, Mr Helmindra J.A. Halim
Where: 36 Dunlop Street, open: Noon to 10pm (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), Noon to 11pm (Friday and Saturday), 11am to 7pm (Sunday), closed on Tuesday
Info: Call 6292-2642
ROYZ ET VOUS
What: This French-inspired bistro opened by Ms Rohayah Embong features dishes such as smoked duck breast with Thai coriander sauce ($24); lamb shank ($26); and chicken rendang with jasmine rice or Turkish bread ($14).
Or have coffee (from $3.50) with desserts such as creme brulee ($6.50) and a selection of cakes. Single origin coffee brewed with the V60 coffee dripper and Aeropress ($6.50 each) are also available.
Where: 17 Bali Lane, open: 8am to 9pm (Sunday to Thursday and public holiday), 8am to 11pm (Friday, Saturday and eve of public holiday)
Info: Call 6293-0270 or go to www.facebook.com/www.royzetvous.com.sg
SARAH’S THE PANCAKE CAFE
What: The menu makes it possible to have pancakes and crepes for both main course and dessert.
For a twist on chendol, try the Ala Dol ($12). Crepes spread with red bean paste are topped with sweet corn kernels, pandan chendol and drizzled with palm sugar.
Other sweet treats include The MJ ($14), which are white and dark chocolate chip pancakes served with caramelised bananas and whipped cream; and Fruitti D'Foresta ($14), blueberry pancakes with berry compote topped with caramel whipped cream.
Savoury options include The Benedict ($15), which is smoked salmon slices and poached eggs on pancakes served with housemade Hollandaise and mixed greens; Smoked Pepper Flapjacks ($13), which are pancakes spiced with smoked pepper and served with turkey bacon and sauteed mushrooms; Al Istanbul ($14), which are grated potato pancakes served with smoked turkey ham and mixed greens.
The 30-seat cafe opened by Ms Alina Aman and Mr Kamil Abu Samah also has a small selection of pastas and appetisers, as well as coffee, tea and smoothies.
Where: East Village, 430 Upper Changi Road, 01-62, open: 9am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 9am to 11.30pm (Friday and Saturday)
What: This sandwich shop - similar in style to the Subway chain - serves a variety of 6-inch or foot-long toasted sandwiches.
Options include chicken bacon ($6.90), smoked chicken breast ($5.90) and tuna mayo ($5.40).
Add $2.90 for clam chowder or mushroom soup. Nachos, soft drinks and coffee are also available.
The shop, run by Ms Atwell Lim, is in the midst of getting halal certification.
Where: Block 201D Tampines Street 21, 01-1171, open: 8am to 11.30pm daily
What: If pretty in pink is your thing, head to Cake Delights. Seating is limited to about 12 diners and was added only a month ago due to customer demand.
The menu features an affordable selection of cupcakes ($4 each) in flavours such as Milo, salted caramel and Nutella; sliced cakes ($6 to $7), tarts ($1 to $2), brownies ($2.80, $3.80 with ice cream) and waffles with ice cream ($6.90).
The team behind the shop - sisters Nur Himayah Abdul Haleem and Ruqoiyah Abdul Haleem, along with their mother and aunt - also take cake orders. Order two weeks in advance.
Next month, they have plans to open earlier to cater to the breakfast crowd, as well as open on Sundays for brunch.
Where: 664 North Bridge Road, open: 11am to 8pm (Tuesday to Thursday), 11am to 9.30pm (Friday and Saturday), closed on Sunday and Monday
Info: Call 6341-5059 or go to www.facebook.com/cake.delights.5