The once-drab Tai Seng industrial area is seeing a second wave of food and beverage outlets opening there. These are in addition to a restaurant cluster in BreadTalk IHQ, which opened in 2013, and Hei Sushi in Sakae Building.
The first crop of cafes sprang up in 2015 in The Commerze @ Irving, a light industrial building in Irving Place. Now, another batch of eateries, housed in 18 Tai Seng, a nine-storey, mixed-use building, is opening.
There are three restaurants there by Michelin-starred establishments - Liao Fan Hawker Chan by one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre; ramen eatery Tsuta from the one-Michelin-starred Tokyo establishment of the same name; and the one-Michelin-starred Hong Kong dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan.
There are also new entrants to the market such as 18 Grill, which serves Tex-Mex food; and Japanese restaurant Kinzan-ya.
Others include vegan fast food joint nomVnom, Sunny Korean Cuisine and Huggs Coffee.
18 Tai Seng opened last month and has 45,000 sq ft of retail space over two levels. More than 40 per cent of its 35 tenants are food and beverage businesses.
Across the road from 18 Tai Seng, in Centro Bianco Building, is Flame Cafe, a Western cafe-cum-steamboat tower restaurant that has a more upmarket restaurant, Spark, tucked at the back.
And at The Commerze @ Irving nearby, at least four of the more than 14 eateries are new.
They include Koat Aroy Thai Restaurant, which will open on Friday.
Business owners are tapping on the large catchment of office workers in the up-and-coming commercial zone, where many home- grown and overseas companies have set up their headquarters.
The lunch crowd will certainly expand when office workers and other tenants start moving into 18 Tai Seng next week.
The mall also serves residents from the nearby Bartley and MacPherson estates with amenities such as a supermarket and a childcare centre that will open by the middle of this year. There is also the congregation at the nearby Trinity @Paya Lebar church on weekends.
An underpass linking Tai Seng MRT station to the mall will open by the middle of this year.
Ms Dewa Sriwati, 35, general manager of Green Croft salad bar in 18 Tai Seng, says the outlet has a continuous flow of customers.
She adds that sales are three times better than at its other outlets in Fusionopolis and Pasir Panjang, with 100 salad bowls sold every day.
Mr Shawn Lim, 30, co-owner of 18 Grill, says 70 per cent of sales come during lunchtime on weekdays because of the office crowd.
Mr Brian Chua, 35, a director at Hersing Culinary, which runs Liao Fan Hawker Chan, Tsuta and Tim Ho Wan, says business has been "above expectations".
Tsuta, for example, sells about 250 bowls of ramen daily.
A plus point for business owners in the area is the low rental. Rent ranges from $4 to $12 per sq ft, which is two to five times lower than in areas such as Raffles Place or Serangoon Central.
18 Grill's Mr Lim says lower rent makes it "easier to break even". He expects to recoup his about $250,000 investment within 11/2 years.
Likewise for Mr Charlie Sng, 45, of Koat Aroy Thai Restaurant, the low rent allows him to "test the market" as a first-time restaurant owner.
Eateries also host corporate events for offices in the vicinity.
Flame Cafe has hosted company meetings and retreats in its vast 4,000 sq ft space. It also carved out a fine-dining restaurant, Spark, earlier this month. The 60-seat eatery serves a five-course meal that starts at $55 a person.
The lack of watering holes in the area has now been plugged by Meats N Malts, an American diner and bar which opened in BreadTalk IHQ in January. It attracts executives who want to unwind with drinks and food after work.
Mr Bryan Ong, 27, director of The Colture Group, which runs Meats N Malts and other pubs such as Molly Roffrey's, says prices of the tipples at Meats N Malts are 20 per cent lower than at its other joints in the city, as its customers are "more price-sensitive".
Most diners give the thumbs-up to the increase in dining options.
Manicurist Valerie Koh, 29, who lives nearby, says: "It's good that the queue at Tsuta ramen in 18 Tai Seng is shorter than at its other outlet in Pacific Plaza."
New eateries in Tai Seng
18 TAI SENG, 18 TAI SENG STREET
What: This 30-seat casual restaurant serves Tex-Mex food such as burritos, quesadillas and tacos and pulled pork burger. Diners have a choice of pork, chicken, beef or cod for most of the dishes.
It is opened by Mr Tommy Lim, 63, who was a corporate chef with American diner Chili's and Italian eatery Spageddies for 30 years.
What: This salad bar offers salad bowls (from $7.50) with about 50 ingredients to choose from. Interesting ones include seafood sambal, smoked duck and tandoori chicken. It also serves sambal crabmeat pasta ($10.90), creme brulee ($3.50) and wraps.
What: This Tokyo-based Michelin- starred ramen restaurant has opened its second overseas outlet here. The 18-seater has an exclusive miso soba ($16), which is served in an umami-rich stock made with hatcho miso from Tokushima Prefecture in Japan. It comes with porcini mushroom oil, watercress and beansprouts.
What: This is the second outlet of a chain fronted by hawker Chan Hon Meng of the one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Popular dishes include soya sauce chicken rice ($3.80), char siew noodles ($5) and pork rib hor fun ($5).
Open: 11am to 9pm daily
THE COMMERZE @ IRVING, 1 IRVING PLACE
What: This cafe serves Liege waffles made with dough from well-established Belgian waffle dough supplier Belgaufra. The chewy waffles, which are made on the spot, come coated with caramelised sugar. Its small menu includes plain waffles ($5.80), waffles smeared with Nutella or Speculoos spread ($7.30) and Big Wafflous ($10.80) that is topped with fried egg, cheese, an avocado slice and bacon or ham.
Open: 10.30am to 6.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: Highlights from this Thai restaurant, which will open on Friday, include the charcoal barbecue set ($28) with prawn, squid, flower crab and crayfish; claypot glass noodles with prawn in tom yum broth ($15) and deep-fried fish with mango ($22).
What: This 28-seat cafe offers creative East-meets-West dishes. Popular picks include beer-infused mixed spice chicken ($13.90), pan-seared teriyaki chicken ($12.90) and gula melaka pancakes with walnuts ($10.90).
Open: 8.30am to 7.30pm (Mondays to Wednesdays); 8.30am to 9pm (Thursdays and Fridays); 9am to 1pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: This 4,000 sq ft space houses two eateries. Flame Cafe, which opened in August last year, offers cafe fare such as beef burger ($14.90) and chilli crab pasta ($13.90).
For dinner and supper, there is also a four-tier steamboat buffet (from $24.90+) with more than 40 ingredients. Diners cook them in a cooker with compartments for soup and cheese fondue and a grill and steam chamber.
A 60-seat space was carved out from the back earlier this month for a Western restaurant, Spark. It has a five-course menu ($55) with main courses such as furikake-crusted Chilean seabass; and Angus ribeye with truffle garlic mash. The menu, which can be paired with wines or champagne, changes every three to six months.
Where: 01-01 Centro Bianco, 73 Upper Paya Lebar Road
Open: 8am to 11pm (Mondays to Thursdays); 8 to 2am (Fridays and Saturdays); 9am to 11pm (Sundays)
What: This three-month-old American diner and bar serves hearty dishes such as Steak N' Egg ($17.80), a sirloin steak sizzling with garlic butter and topped with a sunny-side-up egg; and a Carnivore sharing plate ($24.80) of barbecued pork ribs, chicken wings, pork belly, tandoori chicken skewers and fries.
There is also an extensive list of tipples such as draught beer, wines, whiskies, vodka, gin, rum and tequila.
Looking for a place to eat in Middle Road is not a problem. The question is, what to eat? Finding an answer is now more difficult as a new crop of eateries has opened there recently.
These new restaurants include Hotel G's Ginett, a bistro-wine bar, and 25 Degrees Burgers & Liquor Bar, which opened last month. There is also Chinese restaurant Song Garden, which opened in Mercure Singapore Bugis last December.
Other newcomers include Sbam, a fusion vegetarian cafe in Fortune Centre; and Mellower Coffee, a Shanghai-based coffee chain. Both opened last month.
Despite the higher rental that the mature district commands - from $7 to $15 per sq ft - business owners are counting on the high human traffic from the nearby offices, tertiary institutions and tourist attractions bounded by Bras Basah and Bugis MRT stations.
For Sbam's Ms Yogeswari Preshant, 35, Fortune Centre was the top choice for her first food and beverage venture. In January, she jumped at the opportunity to take over the space vacated by a Chinese vegetarian eatery.
She says: "This area is guaranteed to have crowds during meal times. It shows in the low turnover rates of eateries in Fortune Centre, many of which have been around for decades."
Echoing this view is Ms Cindy Chan, 37, a manager at Italian restaurant, Follia, which re-located from Clover Way near Bishan to Waterloo Centre last November.
"Clover Way was difficult to find and parking was also an issue," she says. "Now, business has improved by 30 per cent as there are more walk-in customers."
She now pays 20 per cent more in rent.
Seafood tower restaurant Captain K opened its second outlet in Middle Road in January because of its proximity to Bugis MRT station, a five-minute walk away. Its first outlet in Prinsep Street is near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. Owner Kenneth Koh, 34, notes that the two-storey unit in Middle Road has a "very visible frontage".
With the number of established eateries already in the neighbourhood, these newcomers know they are in for intense competition.
At three-month-old Kappou Japanese Sushi Tapas Bar in Fortune Centre, chef-owner Aeron Choo, 23, sets her restaurant apart by focusing on sashimi such as otoro and hamachi that are aged on ice, and smoking ingredients over sakura wood.
She also imports rarely seen ingredients such as fugu (pufferfish), monkfish and shintamanegi (yellow onions) from Japan.
She says the 15-seat restaurant attracts Japanese chefs who work in the hotels nearby and come for supper after their work.
Follia restaurant's strategy is to waive GST and service charge, and offer lunch sets priced from $8.
Most diners The Sunday Times spoke to work in the area and enjoy the many dining options.
Civil servant Jean Ng, 31, who has lunched in Ginett, says: "Its bistro and wine bar concept is interesting. I plan to return for drinks."
New eateries in Middle Road
What: The name of this month-old vegetarian cafe stands for Spice, Brew And Masala. The cosy eatery serves fusion food - dishes from Chinese and Malay cuisines cooked with spices such as cardamom and saffron.
Popular rice bowl sets (from $6.90) include "prawns" coated in a fiery sambal; cashew chilli gong bao "chicken"; and nasi lemak that comes with soya-based "fish" and rice or belinjo crackers, made from gnemon tree nuts.
It also serves pasta such as spicy "tuna" pasta and snacks such as potato gyoza. Diners can help themselves to a free flow of beverages.
Where: 02-05 Fortune Centre, 190 Middle Road
Open: 11am to 8pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: This Japanese casual restaurant serves sushi, sashimi and Japanese small plates. Its omakase-style menu starts at $68 for five courses.
Chef-owner Aeron Choo, who has worked in Japanese restaurants for nine years, offers tapas-style dishes made with seasonal ingredients from Japan.
A highlight is onsen tamago, egg yolk and salmon roe topped with caviar and winter truffles. Seafood items include botan ebi and bluefin tuna. Complement the meal with rare Japanese tipples such as Junmai Ginjo Aiyu Dry sake and Nomura golden plum wine.
Where: 02-10A Fortune Centre, 190 Middle Road
Open: 6 to 11.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: Clink your glasses to one of the more wallet-friendly happy hour deals in town.
This chic bistro-cum-wine bar offers about 70 French wines, with prices starting at $6++ for a glass of 2014 Domaine des Hautes Ouches.
To go with the tipples are charcoal-grilled dishes such as Angus sirloin beef ($22) and pork belly ($16) cooked over apple wood. It also serves cheese and cold cuts, pasta and salad bowls. A two-course set lunch costs $18++.
What: This burger joint from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles is located in Hotel G.
The swanky 40-seat burger bar is named after the difference in temperature between a raw and a well-done burger patty. Burgers made with USA Angus beef are the main draw and there are five ($14 each) to choose from.
Number One is piled with creamy crescenza, gorgonzola cheese, caramelised onions and bacon, while Number Four has seared yellowfin tuna and fried onions on a bed of butter lettuce.
Diners can also customise their burgers with more than 30 sides and condiments (from $9.50 for a turkey-based burger). For drinks, there are milkshakes and spirits such as gin, vodka and rum. The lunch set ($18++) comprises a burger, fries and beer or soda.
Where: Level 1 Hotel G, 200 Middle Road
Open: 11am to 11pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 11 to 1am (Fridays and Saturdays), closed on Sundays
What: This 120-seat restaurant serves contemporary Cantonese cuisine. Signature dishes from executive chef Wong Shea Nung include roast chicken on a bed of beancurd skin (from $25++); and lamb rack stuffed with diced cod, served with honey-black pepper sauce ($22++ a person). Dim sum highlights include pan-seared otah siew mai ($6++ for four pieces) and steamed chee cheong fun with chunky prawn filling ($6++).
What: This Shanghai-based coffee house chain has opened a 4,000 sq ft flagship shop here that has a retail gallery and barista bar, where latte art and coffee-blending workshops will be held later this year.
Signature brews include Sweet Little Rain ($9.80), which has a cloud of candy floss hovering over a cup of coffee; and Ondeh x Latte ($9.80), which has coconut milk and pandan served with a shot of gula melaka coffee. Or for something stronger, go for its coffee cocktails such as Guinnespresso ($9.80) with whisky, espresso and lemon juice.
What: This restaurant offers seafood cooked in steamers stacked in three to nine tiers. The five-tier set ($128.90 for four people) contains scallops, prawns and shellfish. Juices from the steamed seafood drip into a pot of kombu dashi at the bottom tier, which can be used later as a steamboat broth.
Popular a la carte add-ons include Sri Lankan crabs ($9.80 for 100g). This 6,500 sq ft outlet can host events for up to 70 people.
Where: 01-00 Midland House, 112 Middle Road
Open: 5.30 to 10.30pm (Mondays); 11.30am to 3pm and 5.30 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays); 11.30am to 3pm and 5.30 to 11pm (Fridays and Saturdays)
What: This 45-seat restaurant serves hearty Italian fare. Popular dishes include thin-crust pizza with toppings such as burrata and Parma ham ($30). Other dishes include squid ink pasta ($26) and braised veal shank with risotto ($36).
Desserts include tiramisu ($12) made with seven types of alcohol.
It also offers a daily set lunch menu that starts at $8. The service charge and GST are waived.
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