Monday, September 17, 2007

Hot spots to chill out

16 Sep 2007, ST

With so many lifestyle hubs popping up, people are spoilt for choice for hangout spots

By Mak Mun San

ANOTHER weekend, another lifestyle hub. So it seems these days, as rustic retreats pop up here, there and everywhere to lure winers and diners in search of the next must-go spot for a quiet drink in leafy surrounds.

They used to be content with bohemian Holland Village, but the quest for a leafy chillout zone has taken the alfresco crowd first to nearby Chip Bee Gardens, and then further afield.

Rochester Park beckoned, then Gillman Village and Greenwood Avenue, plus current hotspot Dempsey, reinvented as Tanglin Village.

Well, the Village People have a new destination to look forward to: Wessex Village Square.

At present it is a peaceful village with lush greenery and heritage architecture, in Wessex Estate, off Portsdown Road.

Not for much longer.

It looks set to become the next trendy hangout when a new restaurant and bar, Cicada, opens its doors next weekend.

Behind Cicada is entrepreneur Michel Lu, who also owns Hacienda wine bar in Tanglin Village.

There are much, much bigger plans, too, for this sleepy enclave: an arts village called Wessex Village Square where regular community events can be held.

Wessex Estate is within the 200 ha one-north research and innovation hub and its master developer JTC Corporation plans to develop a 7,000 sq ft multi-purpose space that caters to the needs of the arts community.

It will also have F&B and specialty retail outlets.

The 'It' crowd will say cheers, but not everyone is happy.

Long before the term 'lifestyle hub' became fashionable, artist Tan Choh Tee had already staked a place in the quaint, exclusive neighbourhood.

For the past 11 years, the Cultural Medallion winner has been painting in a rented studio there, a stone's throw away from the area's iconic eatery, Colbar.

Tan, 65, is concerned the estate's serenity will be destroyed.

'Wessex Estate has a 'countryside feel' and there aren't many such places in Singapore,' he says.

'It is good to introduce more people to this corner but I hope there won't be overdevelopment because it will then lose its unique flavour.'

But neighbour Lynette Foo, 36, who runs lifestyle cooking school Palate Sensations, is excited: 'Wessex Estate is up and coming, but I don't think it will become as frantic as Tanglin Village as it's still a little out of the way, which is good.'

Fad? Or not?

IT'S hard to believe that up until a few years ago, Holland Village and Chip Bee Gardens were the only hangouts for Singaporeans wanting to escape the bustle of the city.

But now, people are spoilt for choice as more enclaves sprout up on the fringes of town. Only two weeks ago, LifeStyle reported that Sunset Way is also touted as the next Holland V.

The flip side is that what is hot quickly goes off the boil.

Business at Rochester Park has slowed down since the frenzy of its opening months early last year, after Tanglin Village grabbed the spotlight.

'Singaporeans are mostly fickle, and they all want to go to the latest 'in' place,' notes Mr Robin Greatbatch, 59, one of the owners of Little Bali, a cluster of four restaurants and bars, at Gillman Village.

Mr Joseph Ong, 35, director of wine bar One Rochester, says turnover has dropped about 15 per cent compared to when they first opened in December 2005.

'A lot of people came because of the hype. Now, we have more regular customers,' he says.

But Rochester Park may soon see a revival. The enclave, which currently consists of five F&B outlets housed in colonial bungalows, will expand by early next year.

A spokesman for JTC, which is also the master developer for Rochester Park, says that six remaining bungalows will be refurbished and will feature a holistic lifestyle centre and other F&B-related outlets.

There are also plans to invite proposals for the development of another 20 black-and-white bungalows on a 4.3-ha site within Rochester Park.

The new bungalows will feature quality serviced villas and complementary F&B, spa and retail outlets.

Mr Greatbatch says that makeovers are good for business but reckons that some enclaves such as Tanglin Village 'have turned into a sort of Disneyland' as a result.

Insurance agent Chee Foong, 32, who dines at Tanglin Village every week, laments that it has become 'too commercialised' and that 'it is harder to find parking lots now'.

But Hacienda's Michel Lu notes that while entertainment hubs in Singapore 'come and go', he does not think such enclaves will see a drop in numbers soon.

'The growth in the number of such spots is a positive sign that Singapore's F&B market is maturing,' he says.


Haven for arts lovers


What it is:
A quaint, tranquil neighbourhood nestled among trees off Portsdown Road. The walk-up apartment blocks and black-and-white houses are home to painters, photographers, designers and writers.

There is also a cooking school and a yoga studio.

Why it's hot:
Time seems to have stood still here, but not for long, if exciting plans to turn it into an arts village materialise.

It has the potential to become the next hot spot - or even Singapore's answer to New York's Soho - provided more F&B outlets open soon to create a critical mass.

Why it's not so hot:
Only one bus, No. 191, serves the area. Then again, some would say inaccessibility is precisely what makes an enclave desirable.

Also, there aren't too many choices for diners at the moment.

Crowd it attracts:
Expatriates, artists and art lovers

Check out: Cicada (7, Portsdown Road), a 17,000 sq ft garden restaurant and bar opening next weekend. Serving casual French Californian bistro fare, it will also host regular art-related events like exhibitions and sculpture shows.

Colbar (9A, Whitchurch Road, tel: 6779-4859), the ramshackle hut which has achieved cult status among expat residents in the area.



Out of this world


What it is:
A sleepy cluster of bars, restaurants and furniture shops tucked away near St Andrew's Junior College.

Turn left into Malan Road from Alexandra Road, then take another left at Lock Road and you will be transported into a nostalgic corner consisting of former army barracks.

Why it's hot:
For those who crave the old-world charm of Singapore's colonial past without the makeover in the mould of Rochester Park and Tanglin Village, this is the place to go.

No parking woes or chi-chi crowds here, just a relaxed ambience missing from other revamped enclaves.

Why it's not so hot: Its biggest strength is also its biggest weakness.

The fact that it has remained under the radar means that it lacks the buzz that makes an enclave 'come alive'. Proper signage, due in the next few months, should help to draw more people in.

Crowd it attracts:
Nearby office workers, expatriates, businessmen and young couples.

Check out:
Villa Bali (9, Lock Road, tel: 6473-6763), a gorgeous, sprawling restaurant and bar set amid trees that makes you go 'Am I in Singapore?'.

Handle Bar (1, Lock Road, tel: 6475-9571), one of the oldest F&B outlets in the village, popular with bikers for its unpretentious atmosphere.

The Turquoise Room (7, Lock Road, tel: 6473-3655), a pretty Mediterranean-style restaurant perfect for that lazy Sunday brunch.



Familial feel to the place


What it is:
A stretch of shophouses tucked into a quiet suburb of terraced houses in Hillcrest Park, off Bukit Timah Road.

Lana Cake Shop has been at its location since 1975 but otherwise, the area has been transformed. Reservations-only Shiro Japanese restaurant opened in 2001 and the Les Amis group's Sebastien's bistro staked out a spot in 2002.

Despite the upmarket entries in the dining stakes, there is a distinct small-neighbourhood vibe. It's the kind of place where you can imagine everybody knows your name, from the pub owner to the butcher.

Why it's hot:
Diverse mix of shops and eateries offering everything from seafood to Japanese cuisine to gelato.

Why it's not:
The tranquil setting is a little too obscure for some folks - which is perfectly fine with others.

Crowd it attracts:
As diverse as the mix of shops - from casually dressed residents to families to couples to executives.

Check out:
Lana Cake Shop for Mrs Violet Kwan's famous chocolate sponge cakes (36 Greenwood Avenue, tel: 6466-5315, 6466-8940, advisable to order first); Swiss Butchery for premium meats and cheeses (30 Greenwood Avenue, tel: 6468-7588); and Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro for fresh seafood (34 Greenwood Avenue, tel: 6467-4950).

*** 1/2


Lush exclusivity is the draw


What it is:
Colonial area off North Buona Vista Road with five dining places. Wine bar One Rochester was the first to open in December 2005.

It exudes an air of elegance and exclusivity from its lush leafy surroundings to the restaurants themselves housed in handsome black-and-white colonial bungalows.

The music wafting through the cool evening air adds to the sense of anticipation as it mingles with the delicious smell of culinary concoctions.

Why it's hot:
The classy chic of the locale paired with the promise of fine dining either indoors or in a relaxed outdoor setting.

Private events are also popular because of the spacious grounds. One Rochester has handled about 40 weddings and 100 events in the space of a year.

Why it's not:
The narrow road and the ongoing construction. A relative lack of choice, for now.

The five establishments include North Border for American south-west servings; Da Paolo Bistro Bar for Italian offerings and Graze for barbecued meats.

Crowd it attracts:
Yuppies and expatriates form most of the clientele.

Check out:
One Rochester for wine and finger food (1 Rochester Park, tel: 6773-0070) and Min Jiang At One-North for modern Chinese cuisine (5 Rochester Park, tel: 6774-0122).



Former British barracks gone hip


What it is:
British barracks during the colonial days. Between 1972 and 1989, used by the Central Manpower Base as the site where young men went to enlist.

Later became home to Samy's Curry Restaurant and several furniture shops. Things took off in 2003 when two wine bars - Wine Network and The Wine Company - opened. Now, there's a whole slew of eateries, bars and rustic hangout spots.

Why it's hot:
Sits at the edge of town but is an oasis of calm with its sprawling grounds and elegant old buildings.

Why it's not:
Located off Holland Road, but quite a way inside, if you don't drive it's a hassle to get to and from.

Getting from one outlet to another requires some walking. In the evening, it can get eerie in some of the unlit places.

Crowd it attracts:
A mostly English-speaking and trendy crowd of executives, expats and young folk

Check out:
Angel's Share (01-23, Block 10 Dempsey Road, tel: 6471-9595). Newly opened, this little gem of a bar tucked at the end of a single-storey building is a great place for some peace and quiet, with your favourite wine.

Hacienda (13 Dempsey Road, tel: 6476-2922). It looks like someone's backyard garden, but while this chill-out bar appears cosy and casual, the tempo can go up quite a bit on nights when it features DJs on its decks.

House (8D Dempsey Road, tel: 6479-0070). A spa, restaurant and bar rolled into one, all housed in a stunning three-storey building.



Mish mash of old and new


What it is:
Between the late 1930s and 1945, it was a military village. In the 1950s, farmers set up makeshift roadside stalls to serve locals staying in the nearby wooded areas.

Today, it is a bustling mix of banks, places where you can get traditional Chinese therapy, specialist ice cream or where you can wine and dine at sleek, modern eateries.

Why it's hot:
Everything's in one place: Cold Storage for groceries; health and beauty stores like Watsons; hair salons such as Toni & Guys and Color Bar; and a dizzying array of food choices from the humble Ipoh hor fun to sashimi to Lebanese delights.

Plus Holland V has always had a trendy yet relaxed ambience.

Why it's not:
Parking is a headache. In 2002, 32 carpark lots were removed; then, in 2004, a further 116 lots went. The authorities have put in another 157 lots since then, but this has not eased the problem.

MRT works are also a nuisance, bringing with it noise, dust and traffic flow interruptions.

Crowd it attracts:
From Japanese housewives with kids in tow to local university students to students from nearby foreign schools to folks from nearby HDB estates.

Check out:
211 Roof Terrace Cafe (04-01 Holland Road Shopping Centre, tel: 6462-6194).

If you think Holland V lacks rustic spots, visit this charming rooftop cafe where trees and plants soften the skyline.

Eski Bar (46, Lorong Mambong, tel: 6469-6180). The freezing cold Eski Bar is ideal for downing vodka or tequila shots while staying cool, in both senses of the word.

Fosters - An English Rose Cafe (277 Holland Ave, tel: 6466-8939). Fosters serves nice English meals but its appeal lies in its quiet and romantic alfresco area with tiki torches and a little fountain with goldfishes.

*** 1/2

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