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Cafes in the Heartlands

In recent years, Singapore’s cafe culture has evolved and expanded to areas beyond the city centre. With the emergence of cafes in HDB estates, residents are presented with alternative dining and hangout options.

As cafes sprout all over the island, freshly brewed Arabica coffees and gourmet fare are no longer exclusive to the city areas. With more cafes conveniently located in the heartlands, adventurous foodies are now able to sample innovative nosh nearer their homes. There is also the pocket-friendly perk where many neighbourhood cafes do not impose a service charge and/or Goods and Services Tax (GST). Here’s a look at three joints that have imbued the heartland landscape with unique charm.

The Workbench Bistro

Blk 332 #01-1881 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1

Co-founded by Mr Edmund Yeo, 39, Ms How Wen Ya, 32, and head chef Mr Roger Yap, 39, The Workbench Bistro prides itself on serving “practical and honest” food. The one-year-old cafe has recently undergone renovations and a menu revamp. Besides signature dishes like Crabmeat Linguine, Beef Burger and Ice Cream Waffles, new offerings include Pulled Pork Burger and coolers.

Sporting an industrial look, The Workbench Bistro is a breath of fresh air amid a row of nondescript shophouses. As Mr Yeo and Ms How (a married couple) hold day jobs, they help out at the 40-seater cafe on weekday evenings and weekends. “We hope to give the neighbourhood a different vibe and the residents an alternative choice of food. We like to chill here after work, and we want our customers to feel the same way,” says Ms How.

From fashionable youngsters to young families, The Workbench Bistro receives patrons from different parts of the island. For Ms Sow Jeng Yi and Ms Fiona Tan, both 24, who live in Yishun and Sembawang respectively, the cafe is a pleasant respite from the crowds in town. Ms Sow says, “The ambience here is nice and we don’t feel rushed to leave. The truffle fries are very tasty and they come in a big plate. One portion costs only $9, so it’s really value for money!” Though tempted by the aroma of freshly baked waffles, the ladies had no room for dessert and made a mental note to return for some.

The Bakery Chef

Blk 161 #01-3711 Bukit Merah Central

The Bakery Chef has gained a loyal following since it opened two years ago. The shop serves customers who travel all the way from Jurong and Tampines for its pastries and baked goods.

Mr Dave Toh, owner of The Bakery Chef

Owner Mr Dave Toh, 36, attributes the shop’s popularity to word-of-mouth. Peak periods at the cafe include lunch and post-dinner hours.

Lower rental in HDB estates translates to competitive prices. The Bakery Chef’s best-selling Rainbow Cake costs $5.80 per slice, which is more affordable than those sold at boutique bakeries in town. Pretty cakes aside, the cafe’s newly introduced Lava Toast is so popular that it gets sold out by 4pm every day. “We live nearby. We saw a video of the toast on Facebook and decided to try it for ourselves!” says Mr Nicholas Tan, 20.

The Provision Shop

Blk 3 #01-79 Everton Park

Everyone loves a cafe that addresses your feedback and lets you customise your meal. At The Provision Shop, flexibility is a key attraction. “We try our best to satisfy our patrons’ needs and preferences. If they wish to change a part of their order or if they are vegetarians, we are happy to make improvisations for them,” says cafe manager Ms Yiyeksi Marhoulova, 36.

Cafe manager Yiyeksi Marhoulova shares an amicable relationship with her patrons

A member of the Unlisted Collection family, the cafe draws upon the group’s pool of resources and features products from sister restaurants such as The Study and Meatsmith, in a way that resembles a real provision shop. Items like Pierogi (Polish dumplings with potato or pork filling) and Eggs Benedict are fixtures on the menu which is regularly reviewed. All hot food, pastries and ice cream are freshly made in-house.

Located on the outskirts of the CBD, The Provision Shop is a regular spot for office workers and residents in the vicinity. On weekends, the space is filled with brunch lovers and those who seek gourmet fare in a nostalgic setting. Ms Vanessa Hurst is a freelance writer who visits The Provision Shop four times a week. “I live round the corner. A cafe in an HDB estate feels more intimate and it makes you feel like you are part of the community,” adds Ms Hurst.