The hip quotient of Middle Road in Singapore is getting a boost from the opening of the National Design Centre. Cool cafes and galleries can be found in a neighbourhood already known for its places of worship, art schools and museums. Expect the area to become more pedestrian friendly when road enhancement works at nearby Queen Street are completed in the middle of the year
1 NATIONAL DESIGN CENTRE
It will not be difficult to find something that catches your eye at lifestyle concept store kapok, which will officially open on Monday. The 2,300 sq ft boutique - previously just a pop-up - on the ground floor of the month-old National Design Centre stocks up to 100 brands of clothes, shoes, bags and accessories from all over the world.
Check out preppy Swedish watch label Daniel Wellington, soft leather clutches from American bags and accessories company Marie Turnor and the artfully distressed shells of Italian luggage brand Crash Baggage.
Also, look out for local labels, which constitute about 40 per cent of its merchandise, such as Saught jewellery, Mystic Vintage glasses and sunglasses and Code Deco perfume.
The shop is kapok's third in Singapore, after smaller outlets at Tangs Orchard and Robinsons Orchard, and is the biggest worldwide for the retailer, which started operations in Hong Kong. Prices range from $5.50 for an Andy Warhol notebook to $890 for a Seventy Eight Percent backpack.
You can also chill out at kapok's 80-seat cafe which opens early next month. It will serve caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, plus finger food such as sandwiches, pastries and desserts.
The design centre, which is run by the DesignSingapore Council, occupies a converted 120-year-old building, formerly St Anthony's Convent. It is now a hangout for the design-conscious, with an ongoing furniture design exhibition by Xtra featuring the works of Britain's Tom Dixon, America's Herman Miller and Singaporean industrial designer George Soo. The show is on till April 27.
Mr Jeffrey Ho, 47, the council's executive director, said the centre attracted more than 9,000 visitors when it hosted the inaugural Singapore Design Week from March 10 to 16, which exceeded his expectations.
Upcoming activities to look out for include monthly talks and film screenings on design-related topics, such as The Whiteboard Dialogues on April 25 and a screening of documentary film From Nothing, Something (2012) on April 26.
A pop-up weekend marketplace, The Designer's Dozen, organised by BooksActually, will also take place on May 3 and 4. There, 12 creative outfits will showcase design books, stationery, handmade ceramic ornaments, flower arrangements and jewellery.
Where: 111 Middle Road
Open: 9am to 9pm daily
Info: Go to www.designsingapore.org/ndc
Women-only Bobbi's Pole Studio allows female visitors to sit in on pole-dancing classes. Co-owner and instructor Jasmine Han, 36, has seen the number of students increase eightfold to 800 since the studio opened four years ago.
She chose to set up shop here because the converted 76-year-old building, formerly Catholic High School, possessed the high ceilings needed for the exercise.
The studio also offers striptease, lap dance, burlesque and flexibility classes.
Prices range from $180 for eight one-hour classes for flexibility to $260 for eight pole-dancing lessons (excluding GST).
Where: 222 Queen Street, 02-01
Open: 4 to 10.30pm (Mondays), 4 to 10pm (Fridays), 12.30 to 2pm, 4 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 11am to 5.30pm (Saturdays) and noon to 5.30pm (Sundays)
Info: Go to www.bobbispolestudio.com.sg or call 6333-4308
3 2902 GALLERY
View contemporary art photography at 2902 Gallery, which is currently hosting an exhibition by Thai photographer Miti Ruangkritya.
Titled Uncertain States, the show explores the concerns buried deep in the Thai social psyche through visual imagery. It will run till May 9.
The gallery, which opened in 2008 at Mount Sophia, relocated to Queen Street last April to be near people who love art, says its director Gwen Lee, 38.
There are many arts students around the area and that is good exposure for artists, plus her team is also keen to educate young adults.
She says that walk-in visitors at Queen Street have doubled to 15 to 20 on a weekday and 50 to 60 on a weekend, compared to the previous location.
Where: 222 Queen Street, 02-02
Open: Noon to 7pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 1 to 5pm (Sundays), closed on Mondays and public holidays
Info: Go to www.2902gallery.com or call 6339-8655
4 CAMPER'S CORNER
Stop by Camper's Corner to browse its selection of outdoor travel gear, including jackets, trekking boots and poles and camping and ski accessories. Even if you do not have an adventure holiday coming up, grab a cup of coffee and chat with the friendly staff at the cosy 42-seat cafe for ideas on where to go.
The shop, which launched in Selegie Centre in 1989, moved from Stamford Road to its present location five years ago. Owner Calvin Tay, 50, says he chose to set up shop at 51 Waterloo Street, the former campus of Catholic High School, because he was attracted to the "cool place with a nice corridor" and he liked the high ceilings.
The shop attracts 100 to 150 shoppers a day, double the number at its previous location. Mr Tay set up a cafe in the shop for customers to chill out in and share their travel adventures with one another.
At the shop, prices range from $10 for a pair of gloves to $800 for a jacket. A beverage at the cafe costs between $1.30 for a can of soft drink and $3.50 for a latte. Finger food, such as cookies ($2) and cheesecake ($6), is also served.
Where: 51 Waterloo Street
Open: 11am to 8pm daily
Info: Go to www.camperscorner.com.sg or call 6337-4743
5 CROSSINGS CAFE
Tuck into your favourite comfort food without guilt at Crossings Cafe, launched by a social enterprise to provide employment opportunities to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The 60-seat cafe, which opened last December, is the first project of Crossings Social Ventures. Eleven Catholic church members aged 26 to 60 pooled $500,000 in cash and services to start the company. It now has four beneficiaries working as part of its service and kitchen crew.
Serving an average of 200 people a day, "the cafe has been warmly received, which shows that Singaporeans have a big heart", says chairman Jenny Teng, in her 50s. The cafe carries a largely Western menu of ribs, burgers and fries, and also offers some local dishes such as chicken curry, laksa and bak kut teh. Prices for main courses range from $14 to $18.
Where: 55 Waterloo Street
Open: 10am to 10pm daily
Info: Go to www.crossingscafe.com.sg or call 6338-2669
6 LE BISTRO PARISIEN
"Unpretentious, home-cooked French cuisine that happens to be halal" is how owner and chef Jean Francois Nordin, 53, describes the food of his four-year-old restaurant, which moved to Bencoolen Street last September.
If a dish such as French onion soup requires alcohol, he adjusts by using non-alcoholic wine and balsamic vinegar and playing with the seasoning.
Mr Nordin trained in France and other parts of Europe for about 15 years before opening a restaurant at Haji Lane.
At 2,000 sq ft, the current space, located next to a boutique hotel and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts campus, is almost twice as big as his previous one.
He says that business is slower here than at hipster enclave Haji Lane. The number of walk-in customers has halved on weekday nights.
Fortunately, he still has a loyal following of about 2,000 to 3,000 patrons. He hopes that the impending completion of the Bencoolen MRT station will drive traffic to the area.
He also plans to add a bakery to his cafe in July to spice things up.
Mr Nordin's specialities include potato gratin, duck confit and beef stew. Prices range from $12 for a soup or salad to $98 for steak of the highest grade.
Where: 48 Bencoolen Street (next to V Hotel Bencoolen)
Open: 7am to 10pm daily, closed on Mondays after 10.30am
Info: Call 6333-1178
7 SPACE ASIA HUB
Space Furniture, a luxe furniture shop at Bencoolen Street, is housed in a 40,000 sq ft three-block complex with two conservation units. One of the conserved bungalows used to be a karaoke lounge. Sandwiched between the two bungalows is the contemporary Glass Block.
The 21/2-year-old, award-winning Space Asia Hub was designed by local architectural firm Woha Architects and at a cost of $50 million.
Guided tours can be arranged by writing in to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two working days in advance.
The shop carries premium design brands mainly from Europe and North America such as B&B Italia, Carl Hansen & Son, Emeco, Poliform, Giorgetti and Kartell.
Prices range from the hundreds for a Kartell chair to six-figure sums for a state-of-the-art modular kitchen system from Varenna by Poliform.
Where: 77 Bencoolen Street
Open: 10.30am to 8pm daily
Info: Go to www.spacefurniture.com.sg or call 6415-0000
8 TENG BESPOKE JAPANESE VEGETARIAN DINING
Grab a bite at this chic vegetarian Japanese restaurant. Meat is usually substituted with mushrooms and food is cooked with less oil and flour, says owner Roxannie Teo, 43. She recommends the bento sets that come with a main course, such as rice or noodles with tempura or "pork" fillet made of mushroom, miso soup, salad and dessert. No eggs are used. Prices for the bento sets range from $15.50 to $33.
Ms Teo became a vegetarian five years ago for health reasons and opened the restaurant in February last year, hoping to provide students around the area with a healthier option than fast food. So far, business has been brisk. Teng serves an average of 100 people on weekdays and 200 on weekends.
Where: Sunshine Plaza, 91 Bencoolen Street, 01-50
Open: 11.30am to 3pm, 5.30 to 10pm, daily
Info: Go to www.tengbespoke.com or call 6337-7050
9 MERELY ICE CREAM
Cool yourself down at this ice cream parlour serving homemade ice cream in interesting flavours such as Horlicks with Hello Panda biscuits, Earl Grey and root beer float. The two-year-old shop tries to roll out a new flavour every other month, says co-founder and owner Tham Ying Wai, 32.
He adds that his team get its inspiration from yummy desserts such as red velvet cake and Milo fudge cake, and often try to incorporate them into ice cream. Its ice cream also has a nice texture which comes from adding real coconut flesh to coconut ice cream and graham pie crust to salted butterscotch ice cream.
Prices go from $3.30 for one scoop to $7.90 for three. Alcohol- infused flavours cost 50 cents more. Options include cone ($0.50) and waffle ($2.80). The shop serves 200 to 300 people a day.
Where: Sunshine Plaza, 91 Bencoolen Street, 01-13
Open: Noon to 11pm daily, closed on Sundays
Info: Go to www.merely.com.sg or call 6238-0890
10 SCULPTURE SQUARE
Stop by Sculpture Square for a taste of art from ostensibly the happiest country on the planet.
The contemporary art space for three-dimensional art is hosting a Bhutanese art exhibition from tomorrow till Thursday.
Titled Impressions Of Happiness, it features the works of acclaimed Bhutanese artists such as Karma Wangdi and Rinchen Wangdi, and gives an insight into the notion of happiness in the tiny Himalayan nation.
The main exhibition hall at Sculpture Square, known as the chapel gallery, used to be a Methodist church that housed the Methodist Girls' School in the 1870s. It was later used as a church by the Peranakan community in the 1890s.
The church eventually moved to its present location in Kampong Kapor and ownership of the building changed hands many times before it became an arts venue in 1999.
Where: 155 Middle Road, Chapel Gallery
Open: 11am to 7pm daily, closed on Mondays
Info: Call 6333-1055
11 STUTTGART BLACKFOREST BOUTIQUE S-CAFE
Step into this German cafe and you will be greeted with a friendly "guten tag" (good day) by servers dressed in traditional Swabian costumes from south-western Germany.
The cafe, which opened about two years ago, specialises in the food from the Stuttgart and Blackforest regions such as maultaschen (pasta filled with meat), spaetzle and lentils (a type of pasta) and blackforest cake.
The cafe has a retail section selling produce such as sausages ($10), beer ($12 to $18) and wines (priced from $40) as well as an art gallery on the mezzanine floor which showcases contempory artwork from German and local artists.
The cafe's walls are decorated with artisanal wooden cuckoo clocks ($50 to $5,000) from Germany, which are for sale.
Main courses start from $10 for sausage with bread to $50 for pork knuckle which serves four.
Where: 141 Middle Road, 01-01
Open: 11am to 9.30pm (Mondays to Thursdays and Sundays), till 11pm (Fridays and Saturdays)
Info: Go to www.scafe.com.sg or call 6336-8675