keong saik road when i visited in 2013 just after tong ah eatery closed down in its original location
The southern part of Singapore’s lively Chinatown district has come a long way from its dilapidated and red light past. I remember passing by only two years ago and the place was still filled with karaoke bars. What were ones seedy brothels have become hotbeds for a fairly unrelated and somewhat juxtaposing bunch. On one hand, you have all these speakeasies and fine dining restaurants catering to the business and society set, and at the other end you have these fiercely independent establishments- some of which can only be entered with a password – that are more attuned to hipsters and creative types.
keong saik road when i visited again this year
No doubt, part of the appeal of this street is the iconic Tong Ah building lying at the crossroads of Keong Saik and Teck Lim Road. If anything, this art-deco structure on a triangular island block is Singapore’s low-rise answer to New York City’s Flatiron building. The three storey structure is now occupied by bar / restaurant Potato Head Folk, from the same well-known beach club in Bali. The iconic “Tong Ah” sign in Chinese characters is still a prominent hallmark of the street but the eatery which it was named after has since moved a couple of steps – thankfully still in the same street – to a less prominent spot. Nevertheless, Tong Ah remains to be a reliable choice for tze char or heartwarming local food, complete with its old-style non-ambiance that serves to give the street character.
signature dishes at tong ah – claypot chicken and beancurd toppd with minced pork
Another worthy tze char eatery not far away is Kok Sen, which is well-known for dishing out unique interpretations of standard tze char dishes. Together, Tong Ah and Kok Sen are probably the last two traditional eateries found in the street. Aside from Potato Head Folk, there have been many other new dining options as of late. These include hipster-vegan restaurant Afterglow and Bread and Hearth, an independent bakery that whips up great croissants.
And of course, what would Keong Saik Road be without Ember, the long time fusion restaurant which until today remains to be my favorite restaurant in Singapore? The set lunches here are some of the best value one can get for a fine dining restaurant in Singapore. The 12 hour slow-cooked roast pork belly here is just succulent and makes my mouth water the moment I think about them. The boutique lodging that houses the restaurant, Hotel 1929 is probably the one institution that deserves the most credit in the revitalization of the street as well as being one of the pioneer boutique hotels in the country. Across the road, the good value Naumi Liora, set on a row of orange-colored, elaborately-decorated shophouses, is probably the best place to stay in the entire thoroughfare.
naumi liora hotel at night
The hotel – as well as the bistro beside it called The Study – also provides the weekly password for the password-only bar called The Library. This speakeasy is probably one of the most unique places to grab a drink in Singapore. For some reason, their zero marketing plan works and on any given Friday or Saturday night, it’s a challenge to find a place to sit here.
Location of Keong Saik Road in Singapore: