We’ve never had a reason to linger at the dull, always crowded Tanjong Pagar MRT station — until the opening of Tanjong Pagar Centre above it. The 64-storey behemoth, currently the tallest building in Singapore at 290m, is owned by local property developer GuocoLand, and houses residential units, offices, the upcoming Sofitel Hotel and a six-storey mall with retail shops and restaurants.
There’s also an outdoor Urban Park that will soon be home to more restaurants offering al fresco dining. We can practically smell the fresh paint and hopefulness in this spanking new space. Thirty-four of the 41 eateries — mostly located in the basement and on street level — are currently open. The sheer variety of cuisines sold, from takeaway stalls to the more spacious restaurants at the periphery of the “Urban Park”, allows even the pickiest eaters to find something to eat. Unless, um, you are after the nibbles from Hongkong-based Korean snack shop Kelly’s Cape Bop, which earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand in its motherland for its fusion K-bites such as Spicy Squid Kimbap. It debuted a Singapore outlet here but shuttered it faster than we could say “budaejigae”. There’s still a chance of it reopening – the mall’s PR declines to reveal the reason for its closure but tells us that the stall is currently “in confidential negotiations” with its landlords. But we’ve got you covered. Here are the rest of the new-to-market eateries we’ve tried, all to help you ration your stomach space, of course.
1. SBCD Korean Tofu House
#B1-01/02. Tel: 6386-6441. Open daily 11.30am to 10pm. Last orders at 9.30pm. www.facebook.com/SBCDSingapore
This sleek, spacious 120-seat Korean restaurant, which specialises in soon tofu stew (soft beancurd soup), is one of the largest eateries in the newly-opened Tanjong Pagar Centre. BCD stands for Buk Chang Dong in Seoul, an area popular for soon tofu, while S simply refers to Singapore. The restaurant is opened by Mr Kevin Nam, 49, a Korean chef with almost three decades of experience in the F&B industry, including stints at hotels in Korea and America. He says: “My dream is to create a heart-warming, complete meal for the busy working professional in the CBD.” Incidentally, this restaurant is not related to the similar-sounding BCD Tofu House chain in Los Angeles.
Assorted Soon Tofu Stew (see main pic), $19.90, with hot stone rice and side dishes (8 DAYS PICK!)
There are 10 different tofu stews offered. This one brims with beef, clams, shrimp and squid. The house-made tofu is exceptional: smooth, bouncy and silky, unlike most of the coarser tofu we’ve tasted in typical Korean restaurants. It’s almost creamy and reminiscent of our local tau hway. We’re told it’s freshly made each morning, using the premium Paju soybean imported from Korea. All stews, served bubbling in a hot stone bowl, comprise the same soup base with a spice blend of chilli powder, Korean chilli paste, garlic, sugar and pork bones. The blend is “aged” for three days to develop a deeper flavour before it’s used. Choose from four spice levels, ranging from mild to “crazy hot”. We went for medium. It’s tangy, salty and delish, but plenty fiery, so we’ll choose “mild” next time. Each stew comes with a variety of side dishes, including a small deep-fried yellow croaker fish, very generous for the price. We like.
LA Galbi ($35.90; feeds two)
If stew isn’t your thing, order this tender, juicy barbecued beef short ribs marinated with soy sauce, sugar, honey, onion, ginseng and dates. Yum.
2. Azuma Sushi
#B1-04/05. Tel: 6702-7866. Open daily 11am-3pm; 5pm-10pm. Last orders at 9.30pm. www.facebook.com/pg/azumasushijapaneserestaurant
Affordable a la carte Japanese nosh, kinda like a more refined Ichiban Sushi. You wouldn’t have expected wallet-friendly prices at this 70-seat restaurant with a dramatic, expensive-looking main entrance decked out in blonde wood. It’s owned by the Malaysia-based Edo Ichi Group, which runs Japanese restaurant chains in its native country. The head chef here is a Malaysian who had previously worked at Keyaki Japanese Restaurant at Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore.
Aki Sashimi Moriawase $36.80 (feeds two pax)
This formidably-plated affair features two thick slices each of tuna belly, salmon belly and amberjack, as well as red shrimp and Japanese scallop. We find only the scallops and tuna belly fresh and moreish, the latter melt-in-your-mouth. The rest are passably tasty. The manager tells us that the salmon is flown in fresh from Japan daily and the other seafood, “every other day or once a week”.
Wagyu Beef Yakimeshi $10 (available 5pm-9pm weekdays; all day on weekends)
This is part of the restaurant’s ongoing wagyu promotion. The very thin slices of Aussie beef (you can hardly expect top-grade Japanese beef at this price) are reasonably tender and juicy, even if our friend found it overcooked and rather tough on another visit. Pretty tasty with the accompanying small bowl of garlicky fried rice.
3. Japan Rail Cafe
#01-20. Open daily 11am-9pm. Last orders at 8pm. www.japanrailcafe.com.sg
This cafe offering simple Japanese-Western fare is Japanese train operator East Japan Railway Company’s first cafe outside of its homeland. The kitchen is helmed by a Japanese F&B team manager who had previously worked at a food subsidiary under the JR East Group. The company also runs the famed bullet train Shinkansen. Which is why the space includes a counter selling rail passes for your Japan jaunts and an adjoining retail shop in the spirit of Japan’s ekinaka (shopping enclaves inside major train stations). The cafe menu and shop merchandise are refreshed every month. Tip: head here to buy your passes instead of chaotic JTB tour agencies. There’s no queue here on a weekday, probably ’cos the counter does not sell travel packages other than rail passes. Located within the Urban Park, the glass-clad cafe looks cheery and inviting. The 46-seater is a tad cramped, but our neighbours are mostly Japanese expats chatting at a civic-minded volume.
The Ultimate ABC Burger, $23.80 (8 DAYS PICK!)
Perfectly toasted, soft brioche buns from Japanese bakery Boulangerie Asanoya hug a juicy 160g slab of Japanese wagyu beef chuck patty. The sexily messy burger hits the spot with more ingredients like avocado, bacon and cheddar cheese (hence its initials). Comes with lightly salted, crunchy potato wedges and a salad tossed in a bracing vinaigrette dressing.
Kaisen Avocado Don, $16.80
You can’t go wrong with a crowd-pleasing donburi heaped with fresh salmon sashimi, briny Hokkaido scallops and avocado slices. But JR Cafe’s version includes a pot of delicately fragrant dashi broth (“Not made in-house, we get it from a supplier,” the earnest Japanese manager tells us). Pour the dashi onto any remaining rice to make a comforting bowl of ochazuke (tea or broth over rice).
4. The Little Island
#B2-29. Open daily Mon-Fri 9.30am-9pm; Sat & Sun 10.30am-3pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing.
This casual 40-seat diner offers homely Penang-style dishes. It has two outlets in Johor Bahru and, ironically, none in Penang. The restaurant is helmed by a Malaysian head chef and the recipes come from the restaurant’s Penang-based co-owners. The mostly deserted eatery is unfortunately tucked away in an oddly-located blind spot in the basement of the mall. It’s decked out to resemble a gritty roadside eatery you might find in Penang, with quaint haphazard signs advertising its house specials.
Fried Kuey Teow, $9.90
A modest heap of Penang-style char kway teow served on a hipster wooden paddle. We crunch our way through the fresh prawns and beansprouts sliding down sloppy strands of lard and light soy sauce-kissed kway teow. But it’s not shiok enough — it lacks crucial smoky wok hei.
Stewed Chicken with Tofu & Egg Rice Set, $6.90
Tender chicken stewed in a savoury gravy that includes star anise and cinnamon. Pork is traditionally used for this dish called ‘Tau Yu Bak’ (soy sauce pork) in Penang, but the owners modified it with chicken to “cater to Muslim customers”. We like that the dishes here are simple, and almost as comforting as home-cooked food. The chicken falls apart at the poke of a fork, and we savour the soulful gravy with spoonfuls of warm rice. Wash down the nosh with some Nutmeg Juice ($3). You either love or hate this pungent drink that’s popular in Penang, but we enjoy its subtle spiciness.
#B2-21. Open daily except Sun. Mon-Fri 11.30am-2pm; 5.30pm-7.30pm, Sat noon-3pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/pg/chalongsg
A takeaway food kiosk serving modern, slightly luxe Thai grilled meat rice bowls cooked in a fancy $27,000 Josper Charcoal Oven. It’s owned by couple Linus Loh and Elin Boh, both 26. The pair decided to open Chalong after trying some great charcoal-grilled pork in Phuket during a holiday. Linus says: “We went back to Phuket another four times to try the dish again, and did a lot of R&D before we got it right. The Thais are very secretive with their recipes!” Linus was in private banking prior to setting up Chalong, while Elin has a grand diploma for pastry and cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
18 Hour Sous Vide Iberico Jowl, $12
There are only three dishes on the menu, and we like this signature pork cheek rice bowl best. The Spanish pork is cooked sous vide for 18 hours daily before it’s flash-grilled with some apple wood chips in the super hot Josper oven. The meat is succulent, soft and perfumed with a tasty marinade of lemongrass, galangal and garlic, plus an intense smokiness. The chewy Japanese rice comes with an egg that’s also cooked sous vide. It’s not runny but nicely creamy. A super satisfying and good quality rice bowl if you’re looking for an affordable lunch fix.
6. Soup Living
#B2-22, Tel: 6386-8010. Open Mon-Fri 11am-8pm. Last orders at 7.30pm. www.facebook.com/soupliving
Healthy Cantonese-style soups cooked by first-time F&B boss Alastair Chan, 27, at this unfussy takeaway stall with three counter seats. Alistair, who used to be a customer relationship manager in a bank, invested $110,000 to set up shop. He had learnt cooking from his Cantonese mum, who runs a zi char stall in Chinatown and shared her soup recipes with him. “I grew up drinking soup, and thought that people working in the CBD might like something healthy,” he explains. Alastair does not use MSG, instead relying on house-made chicken stock and sea salt for the six flavours available. Each soup touts its own health benefits. Alastair starts boiling the soups “from 7.30am every day for at least three hours”.
Youth Elixir, from $7 for 355ml
Soup Living’s menu reads like a poster in a TCM clinic. If it’s anti-ageing food you’re after, this one is for you. The chicken stock used for the soup is made from scratch at the stall by Alastair, who chose “boney old hens” from Malaysia for extra flavour. It is cooked with astragalus root, a traditional Chinese herb which apparently promotes cell production to stave off ageing symptoms, and Chinese dates. We rather enjoy the sweet, light broth though we wish it were slightly more robust. Still, it’s more refined than the aggressively salted and MSG’ed soups usually served at food courts. Grab a bowl of rice and two fat, juicy house-made siew mais to make it a meal (add $3).
Other new-to-market eateries to check out in the building:
#B1-08. Tel: 6386-9313
At press time, this local takeaway poké bowl specialist wasn't open for business. Each bowl goes for a flat $9.90, and comes with four types of house-made raw fish toppings like Shoyu Salmon and Yuzu Ahi Tuna over a choice of either rice or a salad.
#01-04, Tel: 6386-8561.
A bluefin tuna specialist hawking fairly reasonably-priced rice bowls with sashimi-grade fish. Try the Toro Uni Meshi ($35.90), shiny rice with slices of semi-fatty tuna belly, Hokkaido sea urchin and pearls of briny salmon roe.
This bakery chain was founded 84 years ago in Mihara, Hiroshima, and it specialises in cream buns with five flavours. Our favourite one is the Whipped Cream ($2.50), which is silky and lush.
Soon-to-be-opened eateries to keep your eye on:
Pura Brasa, #01-16
Hailing from Barcelona, Spain, this casual restaurant’s name means ‘pure coal’ in Spanish. Interestingly, it is opened by the folks who manufacture the upmarket Spanish Josper Charcoal Oven. Naturally, it will serve charcoal-grilled Spanish dishes including a simply-named "Rice Au Charcoal". Opening in the second quarter of this year.
A mod Spanish tapas and wine bar located at the mall’s Urban Park, where it overlooks a terrace. Details are scant for now, but we're told it will feature an open kitchen where you can watch chefs prepare your grub, like a Black Garlic Tuna. Opening in the second half of 2017.