Tras Street, the once dingy and slightly notorious street off Tanjong Pagar Road, has transformed into a thriving food and beverage neighbourhood.
Bustling restaurants and trendy cocktail bars are now located alongside advertising offices, yoga studios and fund management firms. Only a few KTV bars still remain on the conservation shophouse-lined street.
About 13 food and beverage outlets, excluding karaoke bars, now line the part of Tras Street between Cook and Wallich streets.
This is a far cry from the food offerings there three to four years ago.
Back then, the street was known mostly for popular late-night Korean fried chicken restaurant Kko Kko Nara, and the now-defunct European restaurant Table 66, which relocated in 2011 to Winstedt Road and relaunched itself as Skyve Wine Bistro.
Now, the street is home to two French restaurants - 2-1/2-year-old Brasserie Gavroche and eight-month-old Fleur De Sel; two cocktail bars - House Of Dandy and Jekyll & Hyde; cafe-bar Cafe Gavroche; year-old Japanese restaurant Sushi Mitsuya; and private dining and cooking studio My Private Chef.
More recent entrants include Spanish tapas and sake bar BAM!, which opened in December last year; and Sicilian seafood restaurant Gattopardo Ristorante Di Mare, which relocated there from Hotel Fort Canning in January.
The newest restaurant on the block opened three weeks ago. Buttero - which is headed and co-owned by Logan Campbell, 36, a New Zealand-born chef who used to head Lucio's, one of Sydney's best-known and established Italian restaurants - serves rustic Italian fare including pastas, as well as barbecued and grilled meats.
Restaurateurs and real-estate management companies say more food and beverage outlets are slated to open in this part of Tras Street soon.
The area is flanked by a myriad of other food and beverage offerings, from the Japanese eateries at Orchid Hotel, to the restaurants and bars at Icon Village, to others at 100AM mall and along Tanjong Pagar Road.
Restaurateurs and cocktail bar owners SundayLife! spoke to say they were drawn to the street for several reasons.
One is the area's proximity to the Central Business District, as well as to residential, commercial and hotel properties. For instance, the street is a stone's throw from Orchid Hotel, Amara Singapore and the recently opened Carlton City Hotel. Another hotel, Oasia, is also being developed.
The restaurants target mainly discerning diners from the corporate sector. So the location makes it more convenient for customers to dine there, restaurateurs say.
Also, many of the chefs who have set up restaurants in the street have their own following, having previously worked at top hotels and restaurants in Singapore.
Other pull factors include the reasonable rentals and the conservation area's charm.
The fact that it is also located away from the hustle and bustle of the main road also gives the street exclusivity, restaurateurs say.
Many also cite the potential they see in the area, given that it is the quietest and least developed of the trendy Chinatown triangle, which includes popular food and beverage enclaves such as Keong Saik Road, Duxton Hill and Road, and the Club Street and Ann Siang Hill areas.
Buttero's chef Campbell says: "I think there is room for everyone. And I like the fact that the street is a little bit gritty. I like being off the main area and being a dirty little secret."
Mr Jeff Ho, 37, co-owner of cocktail bar Jekyll & Hyde, says: "It was relatively under-developed and we saw an opportunity as we felt we could help improve the vibe of the area."
Rental rates, he adds, are also reasonable. When an area is too crowded and popular, rentals tend to be driven up, he says.
A SundayLife! check with restaurateurs, real-estate agents and property management companies found that rentals range from about $7 to $10 per square feet (psf), up from about $6 psf about two years ago.
In the Duxton Road and Hill, and in the Club Street and Ann Siang Hill areas, rentals can range between $10 and $15 psf.
Mr Simon Monteiro, 47, a conservation shophouse specialist who also deals in real estate, says he has seen the area blossom since he started dealing with properties in the historic neighbourhood 17 years ago.
He says: "It was only in the last two to three years that the street started to develop. It used to be littered with pubs, but that has changed."
Ms Krystal Khor, 41, of real estate and property management company Mondania, which manages about half of the properties in Tras Street, says her company has been "working for many years to bring up the standard of tenants in the street". She has been working with properties in the street since 2007.
She says: "We try our best to bring in a good profile of tenants. If all the units are rented out to food and beverage businesses that will not be a good thing either. We are selective as we do not want our tenants to cannibalise one another."
Indeed, ask restaurant and bar owners about the competition among them, and they will say otherwise.
In fact, it there is more camaraderie than competition among food and beverage business owners here.
Jekyll & Hyde's Mr Ho says he has lent chairs to BAM!, while House Of Dandy's owner Guy MacGregor says Cafe and Brasserie Gavroche have helped serve food when his bar has run out.
Owners are more than willing to send a bucket of ice across the street when one of their compatriots runs out.
Feel like having a different style of cocktail or a particular spirit? Head to the other cocktail bar down the road.
Mr Lino Sauro, 44, chef-owner of Gattopardo, says: "We (the chefs) all knew each other from before. All of us offer a different type of cuisine and we cannot be happier to create an amazing and unique gastronomic corner in an already super saturated dining scene in Singapore."
Brasserie Gavroche and Cafe Gavroche's chef-owner Frederic Colin, 40, adds: "We recommend diners to other restaurants and to have drinks at the cocktail bars, we complement one another with the quality and variety of restaurants in Tras Street."
Tras Street was named in 1898 after a Malaysian town, according to the National Library Board's Infopedia.
Located on the fringe of Chinatown and away from the main thoroughfare of Tanjong Pagar Road, it was lined with homes and businesses in the early days.
While other parts of the historic neighbourhood flourished, Tras Street mostly remained quiet. Still, it seems notoriety has plagued the street throughout the years.
Thugs with parangs smashed a coffee shop in 1961, while in the mid-noughties, KTV hostesses were nabbed on suspicion of consuming drugs.
A semi-retired clothing business owner who declined to be named and who has owned "a couple of shophouses" in Tras Street since the early 1990s, says the street was a "sleepy" one. It housed mostly trading and commodity businesses.
The sleazy KTV bars started moving in in the late 1990s but the street has "cleaned up" and most have moved out, he says.
These days, in fact, the street is often abuzz with diners and those after pre- or post-dinner tipples. In fact, it is not uncommon to see people walking in the middle of the one-way street, and hopping from a restaurant to a bar, or chatting outside the food and beverage establishments.
Buttero's chef Campbell says the street would be perfect for a "street party".
He says: "We could have a block party or a festival where each restaurant could serve its signature dish. Each of the restaurants has something different and interesting to offer."
But food and beverage operators here are quick to add that they may not be keen for the street to turn into the next Club Street, which is known for being lively and having a high volume of diners and drinkers.
They say the influx of too many food and beverage businesses would make the street too saturated, which could in turn take away the street's charm and exclusivity.
Alexandre Lozachmeur, 34, chef-owner of Fleur De Sel, says "people bring people", which has helped to improve the reputation of food and beverage outlets in the street.
He says: "The street has become a destination, and more people are beginning to talk about Tras Street but if the street becomes like Club Street, it might be a little too much."
Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan
GATTOPARDO RISTORANTE DI MARE
What: The Sicilian seafood restaurant relocated to Tras Street at the beginning of February after its lease at Hotel Fort Canning ended in December last year.
Dishes on its menu include the Calamari ($28), strips of squid and orange wedges in a red prawn sauce with barley and tarragon; Polipo ($34), a dish of charred octopus, Sicilian olives, sun dried tomatoes and celery root; and Bucatini Con Le Sarde ($30), classic Sicilian noodle with fresh sardines.
Where: 34 and 36 Tras Street
Open: Noon to 2.30pm (Monday to Friday), 6.30 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
HOUSE OF DANDY
What: The stylish Art Deco-inspired cocktail bar offers a range of cocktails. Some new ones to come include the Fruit Pastis cocktail ($20) with anise-flavoured liqueur, lemon juice, fresh grapes, dash of vanilla sugar syrup and elderflower liqueur; and the Milky Way cocktail ($22) with Black Cow Milk vodka, creme de cacao white and dash of creme de menthe white, served with a side of Black Cow cheese and in a martini glass. Most cocktails cost $18 and up.
Where: 74 Tras Street
Open: 5pm till late (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 8661-2340 or e-mail email@example.com
What: The three-week-old Buttero is the newest restaurant to open in Tras Street. The casual 42-seat eatery serves rustic Italian fare as well as wholesome meats done on a charcoal grill or rotisserie.
Dishes include paccheri with eggplant ragu and oregano with pine nuts and ricotta ($22); pappardelle with Spanner crab, garlic and tomato sauce ($25); porchetta or roast crackling pork from the rotisserie with braised beans ($32); and a salt-crusted whole barramundi with rosemary, garlic, and lemon marmellata ($34). Lunch specials include sandwiches and pasta.
Where: 54 Tras Street
Open: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6438-7737
FLEUR DE SEL
What: French chef Alexandre Lozachmeur serves up signature dishes at this restaurant specialising in classical French cuisine. Dishes include Le Canard, slow-cooked seared duck b r e a s t , braised f i g s , mashed potato and cherry jus ($39); La Lotte, braised monkfish with fennel, dried tomatoes, croutons and bouillabaisse jus ($38); and Le Boeuf, ovenroasted bone-in beef for two, served with house-made fries, salad, onions and Bordelaise sauce ($135).
A three-course set lunch starts at $38 a person, while a four-course set dinner starts at $88 a person.
Where: 64 Tras Street
Open: Noon to 2pm (Monday to Friday), 6.30 to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6222-6861 or go to www.fleurdesel.com.sg
JEKYLL & HYDE
What: The cocktail bar, which houses a nail salon in a separate section of its premises in the day, serves a list of unique speciality cocktails.
Bartenders can also create bespoke cocktails on request. Cocktails on its current menu include ones such as the Summer Shenanigans, made with almond liqueur, fresh lime and coriander ($23); Vineyard Rendezvous, three shots of Suntory Kakubin whisky and kyoho grape liqueur ($28); and The Gluttony cocktail ($23, left), which is better known as Mr Bean.
It is made with beancurd pudding, butterscotch, hazelnut liqueur vodka and kaya.
Where: 49 Tras Street
Open: 6pm to 1am (Monday to Thursday), 6pm to 2am (Friday and Saturday), closed on Sunday
What: Bam!, which serves Spanish tapas and sake, opened in December last year. Tuck into dishes such as kampong egg with baby sotong and chorizo ($16), 36-months-aged Joselito ham ($25); and charcoal-grilled Kurobuta pork belly with caviar. ($58).
Where: 38 Tras Street
Open: 6pm to midnight (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday.