A blog about special neighbourhoods, local atmosphere and stellar coffee.

Singapore - a plethora of cafes and eateries around Keong Saik Road

The Keong Saik Road area is a hive of energy and diversity in Singapore’s blooming food scene and cityscape. Beautiful heritage buildings host a plethora of eateries, bars and co-working spaces that offer a great mixture; old and new, east meets west, locals and expats, upscale and bargain.

Keong Saik Road and the immediate neighbouring streets are some of the most contemporary and sought-after in Singapore at the moment. This energetic central area, located just a few minute walk from Chinatown, is a top spot for eclectic food, stellar coffee, co-working spaces, beautiful restored local architecture and urban atmosphere. It’s a small but interesting area of juxtapositions; old and new, east meets west, locals and expats, upscale and bargain.

Keong Saik Road is a great example of the high speed modernisation in Singapore; it is crazy to think that back in the 60s it used to be a shady red light district. Today the streets around the area are well restored and notable for their beautiful architecture. That mainly consists of rows of colourful colonial two- or three-storey shophouses that are very iconic to Singapore. While architecturally these may look rather uniform, they all have unique features, painted in various vibrant colours. I loved walking through the continuous roofed walkways in front of the shophouses, called five-foot-ways, that were ornamented with detailed Peranakan tiles. You can also expect to find other fascinating buildings that mix Art Deco, modernism and factory style. Keep your eyes peeled for a conserved former Eng Aun Tong factory building (89 Neil Road) and for an iconic heritage building that now houses a popular Potato Head restaurant (36 Keong Saik Rd). These eclectic historic houses offer a huge contrast to the avant-garde highrise buildings looming in the background.

This area became my frequent hangout due to its central location as well as its abundance of comfortable cafes and restaurants. If you lodge around Keong Saik Rd, or venture there early, you can find some fantastic breakfast spots. I really liked the chilled atmosphere that many of these offered; I could start the day calm and unhurried, reading my book and watching the world go by over excellent coffees. You can indulge in great gastronomy from dusk till dawn, and during the late hours Keong Saik Road gets buzzing. Here are a few of my favourite corners around the area to get caffeinated or grab some easy grub.

The Lokal

I found The Lokal (136 Neil Road) when I was scouting out articles about the best brunch places in Singapore. And this Australian eatery clearly has established that status based on the amount of the patrons that morning. There’s a nice laid-back atmosphere, accentuated by youthful décor of colourful wall decorations reminiscent of shipping containers, metal fixtures and blue tiles. I started with a velvety, meticulously made coffee; as in any stellar brunch place there is a big emphasis on coffee. The Lokal dishes up stable Aussie breakfast plates - think toasted banana bread or pancakes - but you can also design your own breakfast from a multitude of individually priced items. These include all the usual avocados, bacons and eggs but also novelties such as wilted spinach, mackerel and homemade ricotta. I am a sucker for breakfast and could have had it all but went for a bit unadventurous yet always a winning combo of bread, homemade butter, mashed avocado and beetroot cured salmon. As it is ‘design your own’, all the items came separately on the plate so aesthetically it was not as pleasing as some chef’s creations on the menu with their pretty final touches. It was a bit unfortunate as I like eating with my eyes too, but what really matters is that the food at The Lokal tasted fresh and house-made.


It is difficult to walk past Loloku (1 Keong Saik Rd) without noticing its flamingo decorations or big wall mural on the side of a beautiful all-white heritage shophouse. Inside the whimsical, tropical theme continues with jungle wallpaper, colourful floral cushions and pink flamingos, mixed with elegant touches of marble tables, simple glass pendant lights and blush sofas. Although it can feel they try to be a bit too chic and contemporary, it actually works well and the place is surprisingly relaxing and cosy. To be precise, Loloku is a counter bar dishing out a selected few nourishing, colourful plates at lunch time, and shares the place with Don Ho Social Kitchen & Bar that in turn serves cocktails and dinner in the evening. I enjoyed Loloku’s poke bowls for lunch a handful of times; so many times actually that the lovely staff started to remember my order. Although a casual lunch, there was a big emphasis on presentation which I always appreciate. The fresh fish and all the pungent, aromatic trimmings such as seaweed, fish roe, kimchi, ginger, and edamame were full of flavour and complemented each other, scoring high on my poke list. Loloku’s coffee is provided by Sarnies, an independent local roaster, and I always treated myself with an excellent, rich coffee afterwards. I wish I had a relaxed lunch place like Loloku near me; it would definitely become my frequent haunt for nourishing breaks and caffeine refills. *Loloku has officially merged with Don Ho Social Kitchen


Populus (146 Neil Rd) can feel like an enigmatic secret club from outside; located in a row of dark, old shophouses, there are no big windows facing the street but there were always a handful of people hanging out outside. One day my curiosity took over and I had to take a peek myself; and I am happy I did as this contemporary eatery offered a memorable experience. Inside Populus has an industrial feel; exposed pipes, metal fixtures, tawny lighting. The space is dark and narrow, but wood panelled walls and rust coloured glasses add touches of warmness. As I was admiring the decor, one of the waiters came to talk to me about the place, and even showed me their closed upstairs section that was even sleeker and more up-to-date. This place pleases the eye on multiple levels; the plates that left the kitchen looked delicious and detailed. Populus’ menu is a fusion, including both local as well as international dishes. I had teriyaki salmon donburi rice bowl with fish roe, poached egg, fermented veggies and ginger. It was so tasty, healthy and all the flavours perfectly blended together. Although Populus is famous for its food, its coffee ranks high on Singaporean specialty coffee scene. The owners originate from a coffee business, so you can expect equally good coffee here while waiting for your plate.


Surprisingly I lost most of my sweet tooth in Singapore, perhaps because of the humid weather, but I could not resist Apiary, a local ice creamery. Located just off Keong Saik Road (84 Neil Rd), it is pretty hidden and probably I would have not found it had I not been interested in their enigmatic black stand outside. Inside the calm, understated decor continues with a calm, clutter-free atmosphere, dominated by simple white walls and herringbone wooden panels. The name ‘apiary’ signifies the place where beehives of honey bees are kept, and similarly Apiary’s ice cream resonates with natural and fresh. All the ice cream is homemade at the premises. The 19 different flavours on display were simple without many add-ons, and so the flavours stood out in their simplicity and natural pastel colours. Most of the solid safe options like strawberry and pistachio are on the menu, but you can expect to find some original flavours such as blue milk, Japanese green tea and black sesame seed. If these sound too daredevil, the friendly staff were happy to give samples. I opted for my ultimate favourite chocolate simply because they used 69% dark chocolate. It was rich, creamy, with a hint of bitterness, but also sweet and gooey. Apiary also offers third wave coffee, so this is a great spot to get that sugar- and caffeine rush.


Although Keong Saik Road has a vibrant gastronomic atmosphere, it also feels very diligent, productive, and studious. The eclectic coffee shops seemed to be a source of inspiration, keeping the laptop-tapping customers caffeinated. It also boasts an admired co-working space Working Capitol, hosted in a beautifully designed heritage building. Luxe Sydney (1 Keong Saik Rd), located next to Working Capitol, is essentially a bar/restaurant, but it also worked perfectly as a hybrid, sophisticated coffee stop, where notebooks were spread on tables and ideas were exchanged. They do have a small area with sofas, perfect for a coffee catch up, and a bigger communal table for brainstorming. Originating from Bondi in Sydney, the laid-back Down Under vibe can be sensed here. The open concept interiors are Scandi-minimalist with simple lines, wood and whites. The menu has lots of healthy, mouth-watering, tried-and-true Aussie classics. Their coffee was excellent, sourcing the beans from Toby’s Estate, another Australian brand that has expanded to Singapore. I remember Luxe for its great service too; the waiter came to talk to me about my day and we ended up having a lengthy conversation about my book which is always a nice little touch.

Those living near Keong Saik Road have fantastic spots to start and end their days. The momentum is going and I am sure there are many new places to explore. If you can recommend any good local spots, let me know - I am desperate to get back!