THE COFFEE DAILY | Occupying an old shophouse in the Serangoon Gardens estate, The Coffee Daily turns on its old-school charm with little throwbacks to the past. Think mosaic tiles peeking out of the white-washed floors and traditional iron door and window grills weaved into its decor. The cafe’s retro vibes are boosted by the mismatched bits of furniture and equipment, many of which are vintage pieces that have been refurbished with care. The cosy feel and the more-than-decent coffee are what keep the regulars going back. The must-try item at this place? Undoubtedly the rainbow cake, a massive slice ($10) of soft moist cake that comes in cheerful layers of colours.
THE DISPENSARY | Reflecting the gentrification of the traditional housing estate Tiong Bahru, The Dispensary is a year-old cafe that blends old and new, east and west. Having come across the old vacated Chinese medicine hall, the current cafe owners saw an opportunity to preserve heritage and revive the abandoned space. They kept key pieces in there such as the imposing Chinese medicine cabinets and used minimalist-style touches such as white-washed walls, wooden staircases and flooring, and simple furniture to accentuate the remnants of the space’s traditional Chinese charm. Cakes and bakes using 60-year-old recipes passed down9 from a partner’s mother form the core of the cafe’s offerings. There serve cakes like the black velvet ($7 a slice) and cupcakes ($3.50), but for some local flavour, try the kueh lapis (steam layered butter cake, $1.80 a slice) and wash it down with a refreshing sour plum soda ($4.50).
DONG PO COLONIAL CAFE | Started by a fourth-generation baker, Dong Po Colonial Cafe is owner Kelvin Soh’s way of keeping the decades-old family recipes alive. From a Hainanese great-granduncle baker who first learned the art of making French pastry, to his father who studied at Le Cordon Bleu and worked as a pastry chef around the world, the treasure trove of traditional recipes include those for the cylindrical butter sponge cakes (shaped to be dunked into kopi, $1.50), the bostock (a French almond toast that uses homebaked local bread instead of brioche, $2.40), a local vintage version of the Australian lamington (covered with coconut and strawberry jelly, $1.70), and macaroon tarts ($1.70 each). Other yummy pastries baked in-house include buttery scones which go well with the homemade lemon curd ($2.40). While the place also whips up the quintessential kaya toasts, do yourself a favour and order one of the traditional bakes and you’ll realise that there is so much more that goes well with your cup of kopi.
MY AWESOME CAFE | Unless you stop your car and take a walk, many people would drive past the old rustic facade of the Chung Haw Free Clinic on Telok Ayer Street not knowing that there is a cool cafe in its space. Having fallen in love with the time-weathered vibe of the place, the owner decided to keep the 60-year-old facade and integrate the space’s heritage with the cafe’s concept. The original staircase has also been retained and polished, while the previous hospital hall reference is used in the cafe’s logo as its Chinese name. There is even a quaint corner where an old Chinese medicine cabinet is used to store cutlery, and an old medical tea warmer is used as a water dispenser. Coffee here is a robust blend of three different coffee beans from Sumatra, Brazil and Colombia, while the food menu is dominated by homemade bakes such as croissants (46.50), pain aux raisins (raisin bread, $3.50) and delicious quiches ($6-$12).
OLD SCHOOL DELIGHTS | Miss those carefree days when it seemed like going to school meant playing with friends more than learning your math formula and memorising Chinese idioms? Relive those moments of fun and laughter at Old School Delights, a quaint cafe modelled in the theme of a classroom. The brother-and-sister team behind this cafe in Upper Thomson have thrown in toys and memorabilia from the 1970s and '80s. Shelves contain paraphernalia from the 1960s as well, such as thermo flasks, soft-drink bottles and a suitcase that holds books for customers to read. But what takes the cake is the toy box on each dining table, which consists of toys and games such as "five stones", card games such as 'Old Maid', 'Happy Family' or 'Donkey', and snakes-and-ladders boardgame. Who needs an iPad? Dishes here are the family’s signatures, comforting favourites such as mee siam ($5.80) laksa ($7.40) and mee rebus ($5.80). The pulot (glutinous rice) wrapped in banana leaf ($4.80), kueh pie tee (crispy savoury snacks with radish fillings, ($6.50) and Penang-style chendol ($4.50) come highly recommended.
SINPOPO BRAND | Named after a notorious nightclub and located in the heritage Katong/Joo chiat area, Sinpopo Brand represents a updated take on the traditional kopitam, selling local traditional food and desserts with a touch of modernity to them. But don’t worry as there’s nary a hint of seediness from its namesake. Instead, what you get at the brightly lit cafe is a nostalgic throwback. Resembled to look like an authentic 1960s coffeeshop, Sinpopo Brand’s entrance greets one with metal biscuit tins, assorted vintage paraphernalia and crockery, and even a retro TV set. To top it off, there’s even Chinese oldies playing off the sound system - the perfect accompaniment to treats like ais bor (ice ball, $3.90), durian pengat ($4.90) and gula melaka soft jelly ($4.90). For more substantial bites, try the lo gai yik (stewed chicken wings, $8.90) or curry chicken rice ($8.90).
TIAN KEE & CO | Residents around the Dakota Crescent estate will remember Tian Kee & Co as one of the oldest provision shops in Singapore, having opened back in 1958. Earlier this year, the rusty spring-loaded metal gates of the shop were shut for the last time, but then reopened again in the middle of June as a quaint cafe. To retain the feel of the original shop, the new owners kept the iconic blue signboard, an old Milo tin used to collect money in the earlier days, as well as a still-cheerful 20-cent-operated kiddy ride. While the cafe is still finding its niche on the food front, diners may tuck into the chicken pepper pie and homemade muffins. Special drinks include a rich cunsumable tiramisu called TianKee IMisYou ($7), a rose-syrup-flavoured tipple with frothy steam fresh milk called Pink Lady (that calls to mind the local rose-syrup drink bandung; hot $5, iced $6) and everybody’s favourite root-beer float.
CHYE SENG HUAT HARDWARE | Opened by the people behind the now-closed Papa Palheta, who arguably started the whole gourmet coffee cafe culture in Singapore, Chye Seng Huat Hardware can be said to be its flagship shop now. The art deco shophouse retained its original hardware-store decor and the name to pay homage to the many hardware stores that used to line the Jalan Besar area. Inside, there is a central roastery, a beautiful oval-shaped island coffee bar, and a private coffee-tasting room. It’s at this private annex where customers may order from a specially curated coffee-tasting menu. At the main cafe, the bottled cold brew ($7) is refreshing and flavour-packed, served with milk and syrup on the side.