The Kallang-Lavender estate is playing catch-up in the food stakes with its more bustling and trendy neighbour, Jalan Besar.
Sitting on the city's fringe, the area is generally associated with industrial buildings and the Victoria Wholesale Centre in Kallang Avenue, which sells dried provisions and groceries.
Over the past 11/2 years, however, new buildings in Kallang Avenue, such as Aperia, a mixed-use development which includes two office towers and a retail plaza; and CT Hub, an 11-storey commercial building, have sprung up with food offerings galore.
At least 10 cafes and restaurants have opened in the area over the past seven months. Besides Hong Kong restaurant chain Tim Ho Wan's first 24-hour restaurant, new entrants in Aperia include Cantonese restaurant Dragon Bowl, Western cafe Olivo Bistro & Bakery and Italian restaurant Cucina.
Over at CT Hub, modern Asian restaurant The Snack Culture Company and burger place De Burg are adding to the food options in the area.
Most of the owners say they are drawn by a mix of customers in an accessible location, helped by the area's proximity to Lavender MRT station, which is a 10-minute walk from most of the new dining spots.
Mr Lee Jia Cun, 27, owner of brunch cafe Oberstrasse in Kitchener Complex, says: "The flow of human traffic here is constantly renewed with office workers, residents from the nearby condominiums, tourists from the backpacker district and the spillover from the cafe-hopping crowd in Jalan Besar."
While things are quieter on the other side of Lavender Street, other owners see it as an up-andcoming area with housing estates, office buildings and the Bendemeer MRT station which will be ready within the next two years.
Mr Andrew Sim, 40, owner of De Burg, notes that Lavender is no longer known as a "street of death", referring to Singapore Casket's location there.
He says: "This area has a long-term potential to bring crowds in. It is like being in the Central Business District without paying Electronic Road Pricing."
Reasonable rent is also a pull factor, with rates ranging from $5.50 to $11 per square foot.
Mr Eugene Lim, key executive officer of ERA Real Estate, notes that demand for food and beverage retail units in the area is strong, with some businesses looking to open 24 hours. "Besides the office crowd, the area is popular with the dinner and supper crowd. With limited spots, rental rates have risen by up to 10 per cent in the past year."
However, being located in an industrial area has its downsides - mainly, poor walk-in traffic after lunch time and office hours.
Mr Samuel Tai, 48, chef-owner of Olivo Bistro & Bakery in Aperia, thinks one reason is the lack of shopping options for diners to linger in the mall after meals. He says: "There are too many eateries fighting for such a small pie. Without a sustainable crowd, the mall is a dead area after lunch time."
His two-month-old cafe gets up to 70 customers in a day, half of them regulars.
One way of getting around this hurdle is to entice people to come at night.
Doctor-turned-restaurateur Chan Tat Hon, 47, owner of The Snack Culture Company, introduced a nine-course omakase degustation menu in January. The menu consists of modern Singaporean and international dishes including Nonya chap chye (vegetable stew) salad and Scotch egg served with vinegared pork sauce.
He says he has up to 30 customers for dinners. "After recognising a lack of a natural dinner crowd here, we decided to come up with interesting food concepts to become a dining destination."
Lavender residents and workers are taking advantage of the varied food choices at their doorstep.
Mr Ray Neo, 42, owner of an events firm, chose to rent an office in Lavender instead of Paya Lebar to have more diverse food options. "It is easier to go out for lunch and there're more places to meet clients over meals or to grab a quick coffee."
Retiree Dora Low, 64, who lives in Lavender and dines at Aperia up to three times a week, enjoys the convenience of dining in cafes there, without having to travel to Raffles City.
She says: "It is a pity that Lavender Food Square had to close, but now we have more variety of food here and we can dine in a nice ambience."
EATS IN THE AREA
APERIA, 12 KALLANG AVENUE
This 70-seat casual restaurant, which has another branch in Holland Village, serves about 80 Italian dishes. Signatures include sauteed mushroom pizza with arugula salad and truffle oil ($23.90) and crayfish seafood pasta ($29.90).
Where: 02-10, open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm, weekday; 11.30am to 10pm, weekend
Info: Call 6702-2629 or go to www.cucina.com.sg
The Cantonese restaurant has an extensive menu of more than 100 dishes whipped up by chefs who used to work at the Shangri-La and The RitzCarlton, Millenia Singapore hotels. Popular dishes include Peking Duck ($56) and pan-fried Kurobuta pork chop with honey sauce (from $18).
Where: 02-09, open: 11.30am to 10pm, weekday; 11am to 10pm, weekend
Info: Call 6702-1588 or go to www.facebook.com/dragonbowlrestaurant
Vegetarian food takes on myriad forms in this hip- looking cafe. The Stone Pot Beef "Steak" Rice ($6.50), which is inspired by Korean Bibimbap, consists of braised mushrooms, greens and rice. The Green Curry Kway Teow Soup ($5.50) has brinjal, long beans and cabbage served with curry.
Where: 01-28 , open: 10am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6702-3962 or go to naturecafe.com.sg
OLIVO BISTRO & BAKERY
Tuck into an eclectic range of cuisines which span Asian, European and American. Favourite dishes include the American Beef & Bacon Burger ($14.20), Singapore Chilli Crab Burger ($23.80) and hearty stews such as Pesto Chicken Stew ($12.80). It also serves diabeticfriendly cakes such as Strawberry Lightness and Triple Chocolate Indulgence (both $6.90 a slice).
Where: 02-13, open: 10.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6341-6933 or go to olivo.com.sg
CT HUB, 2 KALLANG AVENUE
The shop's name is a colloquial term for taking a tea break. Besides the usual coffee and toast combo, the shop serves dishes such as Kimchi Ramyun ($5.50), Luncheon And Egg Burgerwich ($3.50) and Japanese Curry Rice With Fried Chicken ($6.50). It also offers muffins, dim sum and finger food.
Where: 02-18, open: 7.30am to 5.30pm daily, except Saturday
Info: E-mail email@example.com
THE SNACK CULTURE COMPANY
The five-month-old restaurant is a cafe in the daytime, serving Singapore and international cuisine such as Beef Bulgogi Tofu Bowl and American Meatballs with Thai Green Curry (both $8). Come dinner time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it offers a nine-course omakase degustation menu ($49+), which also includes Cajun-style seafood cooked in parchment paper and light bites such as Ayam Buah Keluak Wanton and Beef Bulgogi in Vietnamese rice paper rolls.
Where: 02-18, open: 9am to 7pm, weekday; closed on Sunday. Degustation dinners are from 7 to 10pm from Thursday to Saturday, by reservation only
Info: Call 6443-2006 or go to www.snackculture.com
The cafe's name, which is the name of a street, is inspired by owner Lee Jia Cun's university exchange stint in Switzerland. However, it does not serve Swiss food. On the menu are breakfast platters such as the Big Breakfast ($15), which includes eggs, bacon and sausages; and Farmer's Rosti ($14.50), which is a crispy potato pancake topped with a sunny-side-up egg and pan-grilled veal bratwurst.
Where: 01-50, 809 French Road, open: 9am to 9pm daily
Info: Call 6291-3185 or go to www.facebook.com/oberstrasse