Cafe de Nicole's Flower
Pretty as a picture
Imagine a boudoir crossed with a quirky thrift store. The lair of a hoarder with flair. Vases of flowers real and fake. On every surface. Mirrors. Chandeliers. Tchotchkes galore. Bushels of dried flowers and plants hanging from the ceiling.
That is the wonderfully weird interior of Cafe de Nicole's Flower in Telok Kurau. Note the singular. Is the flower a metaphor, I wonder.
On a weekday afternoon at tea time, the place is packed. I am pummelled by prettiness everywhere I look and take photos of everything in sight, forgetting for a moment to order. This cafe is pure escape from the humdrum. The surefire cure for cabin fever.
If this were just a place for rabid Instagrammers, I would have ordered a drink, downed it while posting pictures, then walked out, never to return. Alas, I have fallen under its spell and am plotting to go back.
Those of us who eat for work have to pace ourselves and I have room for only two things.
One of them is Romeo & Juliet ($9.80). The matcha in the drink is properly powerful. There is a scoop of strawberry ice cream in it so it can qualify as a latte, and to my utter delight, two sticks of strawberry Glico Pocky poking out of the ice cream. Do they represent the doomed lovers? If the ice cream is not enough, I can pour milk into the concoction from a little jar. I do. For the 'gram, you understand.
The other thing I order is souffle pancakes. It is, after all, tea time and I have been told, reliably, that the ones here are the bomb. They are. I challenge all those Japanese brands to a souffle pancake cook-off. I'm fairly certain Nicole will crush them all.
My Strawberry ($19.90) pancakes arrive wobbling voluptuously, with a cloud of whipped cream on top, rivulets of strawberry sauce running down the stack, sliced strawberries strewn everywhere, and with a cup overflowing with strawberry ice cream. After I take photos and video, I dive in. If I had taken a physical dive, I would have bounced right back up, so airy are the pancakes.
Texture is everything, I think, as angels sing in my head.
How can I not go back? I must try Not Him But Coffee ($9.80), a curiously named drink; the Matcha souffle pancakes ($16.90); and the Savoury Waffle ($18.90).
I regret, deeply, eating only a quarter of the pancakes. Next time, I'm finishing everything. Watch me.
Where: Cafe de Nicole's Flower, 224 Telok Kurau Rd, 01-01
Open: 9am to 11pm daily
Ah Hood Kueh
Mr Richard Toh has been making ang ku kueh since 1980, using a recipe from his wife's family. But I'd wager he did not see himself still at it in his 80s, making the kueh by hand at home.
He is 81, and recently launched an online business called Ah Hood Kueh, named after Ah Hood Road in Balestier, where he sold his steamed, tortoise-shaped kueh for decades. He was persuaded to come out of retirement by a friend who was nostalgic for the kueh, and figured others might be as well.
To eat one of his ang ku kueh is to taste tradition unadulterated. He is known for the ones filled with mashed mung beans. It is good, with soft, stretchy skin and a filling that is not too sweet. But I am more partial to the coconut one, which has a lot more personality, and a filling with bite. This is not to say the kueh filled with peanuts is in any way inferior. The roasted nuts are not ground too fine, and there is plenty of crunch.
You can order boxes of 10 of any one kind of ang ku kueh for $10, but the smarter thing would be to get an assortment for $12. That box has five of the mung bean paste ones, three of the coconut and two of the peanut. I struggle to find logic in this assemblage (I would do 4-3-3), but you can quickly figure out which one you like best.
Delivery is free for orders $80 and up, or you can collect the kueh from a Korean store at Balestier Plaza.
Singapore is a city obsessed with new things. Food purveyors have found it lucrative to update relentlessly, in the interest of attracting young people. So it is admirable that Mr Toh has decided to stick with the tried and true.
Most times, eating an old school kueh with soft skin not coloured garishly, and well-made fillings, is more than enough.
Where: Ah Hood Kueh
Order online: Ah Hood Kueh's website
Marie's Lapis Cafe
Speaking of updating things, in Bedok North is a sunny cafe selling kueh lapis, the baked layer cake scented with spices such as cinnamon, star anise and cloves.
Ms Marie Yeo, 78, has been baking her lapis cake for 40 years, and would be busy baking at home to fill orders orders at Chinese New Year. But she had always dreamed of opening a cafe, and in November last year, her son Chris Lim, 55, made that come true with the 16-seat cafe.
She makes two versions of lapis, and both have their charms.
The Traditional one ($30 for a 14x14cm cake, $58 for a 20x20cm cake, or $60 for a set of four 10x10cm cakes) is aromatic with warm spices. She toasts and grinds them from scratch and it pays off. The aromatic cake is also tender and not oily, like some lapis can be.
But the one I like better is the Coffee ($35 for a 15x15cm cake, $68 for a 22x22cm cake, $72 for a set of four 10x10cm cakes). It has fewer layers than the Traditional version, mainly because the cake batter is more viscous. I have no problem with that. The cake has a more fluffy texture than the Traditional one and smells gloriously of coffee, which I love in every form.
The cafe offers burgers, sandwiches, rice bowls and such, although on the second weekend of each month, there is also a Peranakan food menu.
Ms Yeo also uses her lapis in desserts - the coffee version is used in Lapis Misu ($7), layered with mascarpone cheese like tiramisu. But it is Lapis In Wonderland ($10.90) that calls out to me. The Traditional lapis is served in a bowl with grapes and raisins poached in red wine and topped with vanilla bean ice cream.
I have no problems eating old school lapis and sometimes think people try too hard to tart up things that are perfectly fine as is. And I have to admit, I am drawn to this dessert precisely because red wine and lapis just sound wrong together.
I'm the one who's wrong. It takes some getting used to but I am reminded of pears poached in red wine and spices. But with cake. And juicy grapes.
Where: Marie's Lapis Cafe, Blk 537 Bedok North Street 3, 01-575
MRT: Bedok North OPEN: 4.30 to 10pm (Tuesday), 8.30am to 10pm (Wednesday to Sunday), closed Monday