A day trip to the residential neighborhood of Tiong Bahru reveals the area’s well-curated shops founded by Singaporean proprietors
These days in Singapore it’s rare to find a building with less than 20 stories, which explains the marked difference between Tiong Bahru and the rest of its urban surroundings. Built in the 1930s, Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest housing projects in the city-state with low-rise Art Deco walk-ups and quaint green patches spaced by swaying trees. The area has undergone a gentrification of sorts in recent years, with pop-up restaurants and boutiques rubbing elbows with the neighborhood’s traditional Hokkien vendors and melodic song bird aviaries. Property value has skyrocketed and those willing to part with their storied flats can earn a fair sum. What’s surprising is that this sleepy enclave is just 15 minutes drive from the congested Orchard Road, making its mellow shops and cafés a destination for even the busiest townie. Most of the businesses lining Yong Siak Street and surrounding areas are owned and operated by independent entrepreneurs bucking the hospitality trend of having as many investors as a small village. The firm grasp these vendors have on their business allows their primary passion for their product to shine: from fantastical cocktails to carefully curated jewelry selections, the offerings are as varied as the stories behind the shops. Best of all, it only takes a single Saturday traversing Tiong Bahru to soak up the area’s best offerings.
From first step onto the cool cement floors of Flock Café, it’s clear that this isn’t your typical coffee shop. Wholly owned and managed by the four Lee siblings, Flock has become a pet project where each family member lends their talent. Edith holds down the fort as the shop’s owner, after ditching her stuffy investment banking job to pursue her dream concept café. Her sister, Elaine, fortuitously came back from a stint in Bali in time for Flock’s launch in October 2013 and now manages the kitchen and baristas. Their brother, Paul, panders to the business side of operations and their other sister, Elizabeth, lends her skills as a daytime creative executive. Single-origin coffees are sourced by the Singaporean husband-and-wife team behind Liberty Coffee on Rangoon Road, bringing Ethiopian, Brazilian, and Javanese beans to the table. Their signature runny eggs contrast the city’s traditional brunch fare and are served with a portion of fresh smoked salmon and bread baked daily. Their pork cheek sandwich has also gained notoriety for its tender texture and perfect pairing with melted Gruyère cheese. It’s easy to see why customers quickly transition to regulars after visiting Flock Café: smiling Polaroids of patrons adorn the walls along with the family’s personal mantra, “initiate conversation / build a relationship / share a thought / begin a journey.”
78 Moh Guan Terrace #01-25; 65/65363938; flock.sg