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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Good eats pop up in Haji Lane

New food offerings in the Kampong Glam area run the gamut, from tapas to Korean fried chicken
The Straits Times - June 15, 2014
By: Rebecca Lynne Tan, Food Correspondent
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Good eats pop up in Haji Lane New eateries in the area include I Am cafe (above) at the junction of North Bridge Road and Haji Lane. -- ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO

Haji Lane, a narrow stretch of pre-war shophouses between Beach and North Bridge roads, is known for being the go-to place for indie and quirky fashions. However, it is also fast becoming a hip food enclave.

More eateries have also opened in parallel street Bali Lane.

In the last year, no fewer than 10 new food and beverage outlets have been added to the mix of restaurants, cafes and bars in the two lanes, joining popular ones such as Mexican restaurant Piedra Negra, Bar Stories and live-music venue BluJaz Cafe.

These range from cafes such as The Pantry and Elffin & Elffin, which offer cakes and savoury items such as pies; to bistros such as CAD Cafe in Haji Lane, I Am, at the junction of North Bridge Road and Haji Lane, and Stateland Cafe in Bali Lane.

Openings in the last month include week-old biscuit shop Al'Frank Cookies and two-week-old Eisky Fabulous, which sells made-to-order ice-blended drinks. Both are located in Haji Lane.

Four-month-old Stateland Cafe has just expanded, opening a second unit last week two doors down from its first.

Along Bali Lane, Pita Bakery, a shop which specialises in making fresh pita bread from scratch, opened two months ago; while Choo Choo Chicken, a Korean fried chicken eatery, opened in January.

A halal cupcake shop, Cake Delights Bakery, along North Bridge Road between Haji and Bali lanes, opened two months ago.

Beyond these two streets, other eateries have also been sprouting up in Kampong Glam and the surrounding streets.

There is a halal Vietnamese restaurant, Pho 4 All, in Jalan Pisang and an Italian pizza bar called Don Antonio in Jalan Klapa.

Keen on other types of cuisine? Tuck into Western- and Asian-inspired tapas at two-month-old 26 Tapas Bar in Kandahar Street or Creole flavours at South American bar-restaurant The Beast in Jalan Klapa, which opened seven months ago.

And the list of food offerings does not stop there.

In the coming months, eateries slated to open include Koi Bangers + Izakaya in Haji Lane, an izakaya bar offering its take on bangers and mash, and I Am's second outlet, a New York-inspired bakery-cafe in Bali Lane.

New food-and-beverage operators say they moved into the area because of its charm, eclectic vibe and unique mix of tenants. These include shops selling vintage clothing and niche fashion labels as well as interior and homeware. There is a bicycle shop, hair salons and a men's grooming parlour.

New entrants say they hope to complement existing offerings by adding experiential offerings in which both food and ambience take centrestage.

For instance, each cafe has a unique concept. Some double up as art spaces, while others showcase their cakes amid quaint furniture and whimsical decor. F&B operators say there is no direct competition as each of them has something different to offer.

Mr Jamuri Busori, 42, co-owner of I Am, a bistro-cafe inspired by the city of Amsterdam, says: "One thing I like about this area is that it has a very Bohemian feel and vibe. The narrowness of the street and the pre-war shophouses remind me of the small alleys in Europe.

"We're not here to compete with others. It is a very communal and carefree space that we share."

For example, he says when his restaurant is full, he recommends diners to the nearby Stateland Cafe.

Ms Melissa Wang, 34, owner of Shop Wonderland, the retail arm of her events company, and its newly-opened cafe, The Pantry, says: "People who come to this area usually have to make plans to do so because it is not as centrally located as, say, Orchard Road. In the past, there were fewer places where people could just spend time.

"More F&B outlets in the area are good because they draw a crowd and people will naturally be inclined to spend more time here, which benefits all retailers."

First-time F&B entrepreneurs Wilson Lee, 48, and his wife Gina Kwok, 42, of Eisky Fabulous say they saw an opportunity to offer cold beverages in the area.

The couple, who run an investment company and own the shophouse they operate from, say that given the dynamics of the street, where people have to walk from shop to shop and sometimes in the midday heat, it made sense to provide cold drinks.

Mr Lee adds: "We like that there is a very kampung vibe to the street, which is missing in a lot of other areas in Singapore. People are always laughing and talking and are also very friendly."

On why more F&B operators are moving into Haji and Bali lanes, Mr Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy and research at property consultancy SLP International, says the area offers them a niche location where similar businesses can gather to create a clustering effect.

He adds: "When there is a critical mass of interesting F&B outlets in that area, the place will start to have a positive theme or reputation which could draw customers and be etched in the minds of some food lovers."

Rental in Haji Lane has tripled in the last 10 years, owners of some shophouse units there say.

At present, depending on the condition of the shophouse, and whether the tenant leases just the ground floor and/or its upstairs unit, rental can range between $8 and $12 per sq ft.

I Am's owner, Mr Jamuri, a former IT professional who used to run a music production company in Haji Lane, recalls how some 10 years ago, a ground-floor shophouse unit in the middle of the street used to cost him just $850 a month.

These days, the tenants SundayLife! spoke to say their rent ranges from about $4,500 to more than $6,000 for a ground-floor unit.

Since May last year, the street has been closed to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday from afternoon till late in the night.

Tenants in the area say they hope for it to become fully pedestrianised in time.

Their sentiments are echoed by those who frequent the area.

University student Julia Ong, 22, says: "I love that there are now so many places to eat in this area. There is no shortage of cafes for coffee and cakes or heavier foods such as pastas or waffles.

"When I walk along Haji Lane, I tend to forget it is open to vehicles because it is so narrow and everyone walks in the middle of the road. It would be a lot safer if it became a pedestrian mall, and I think this would add to the uniqueness and carefree spirit of the area."

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