Four coffeeshops within walking distance of the Tanjong Pagar MTR station
If you read my post about a few favorite cafes in and around Montmartre during our month in Paris, you’ll know I can imagine few better starts to a day than carrying Eliza on a morning walk while seeking out good coffee. While in Singapore, we spent our first couple of days around the Financial District, just below Chinatown, which meant uncovering a few favorite spots in the neighborhood.
I first traveled to Singapore a decade ago and returned quite a bit those next couple of years for work and stopovers on connecting flights, but remember the tea being better than the coffee. In fact, our office at the time was on Shenton Way, a stretch that struck me as blandly corporate. Seven years since my last visit, I enjoyed revisiting the area—now with a baby looking outward from her BabyBjorn carrier—reminiscing and exploring all that’s new near the Tanjong Pagar stop on the green East West MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) subway line.
One head barista told me he thought this neighborhood has the best coffee in all of Singapore, on account of more affordable rent and an influx of startups and tech jobs in the area. If you’re looking for a rundown of where to go when near the Financial District, my picks are Nylon, Alchemist, Five Oars, and Monument Lifestyle.
Since opening in 2012, Nylon seems to be at the tip of everybody’s tongue when asked where to go for coffee in Singapore. My sister emailed before my visit that she’d met an Australian on a flight from Indonesia who raved about this shop, so I felt smug to say it was already on my list.
On the ground level of the 4th building in the Everton Park housing complex, Nylon is tricky to find, even with the help of online maps. We made our way to what I thought was the correct location, only to find a restaurant counter serving a delicious array of noodles and curries for breakfast. Several of the patrons sat outside with strong black coffees as accompaniments.
As much as I was tempted to join them, Eliza was in a great mood and I wanted to make sure we found our intended destination first. (A block later, however, she dropped her rice cracker on the street, which I picked up immediately to avoid a littering fine of US$220 to US$730. We stopped shortly thereafter to share a roti prata at the Everton Food Place hawker centre.)
After a roundabout tour of the entirety of Everton Park, I was able to get enough phone service to verify we were in the correct vicinity. Nylon’s website helpfully noted that the shop overlooks a school and “quaint little park,” which ultimately guided us to the correct side of the complex.
The baristas were immensely kind, my flat white was delicate and flavorful, and another customer kindly set down her six-month-old for an impromptu playtime with Eliza. A single large countertop provides standing room for coffee-sipping and conversation, but I was early enough to claim one of the two seats and side tables.
I thought I might read a few pages of the magazine I brought with me, but Eliza was having a ball of a time exploring. She loved the clarity of the glass wall facing the courtyard and the cleanliness of the concrete floor, and I was briefly pulled away from my coffee to to stymie her attempt to break into the roastery in the back. By the time we left half an hour later, I had made my way through a single paragraph.
When we made our pilgrimage to experience the coffee magic of Alchemist, Eliza was getting a little tired and hungry, so we didn’t have too much time to spend. Lucky for us, Alchemist is a takeaway stand on the ground level of International Plaza, hardly a two-minute walk across from Exit C at the Tanjong Pagar MTR station.
There are dozens of food stalls both inside and outside this busy business center, so it might take a few minutes to seek out Alchemist, but it’ll be well worth your effort.
With two Ethiopian roasts available for the day, one more honeyed and one with heavier notes of citrus, we went with a pourover to go. The barista exerted such care to his craft at every step in the process: weighing the beans, putting them through the grinder, and making the coffee.
All the while, he carried on a thoughtful conversation about the influx of roasteries and experienced baristas in Singapore over the past few years. One particular highlight to note: I was surprised to see him test a sample of his work to approve its taste before pouring my cup, a chef-like touch I’ve rarely seen, and, my goodness, did the flavors burst.
A recent arrival on the coffee scene, opening only six weeks before our visit, Five Oars boasts a massive space and a decadent brunch menu as well as coffee with beans roasted offsite. I heard there’s often a wait to get a seat, mostly on account of the food, but if you can claim the open-air view looking at the colorful shophouses of Tanjong Pagar Road, you may not be eager to leave too soon.
But even if you don’t feel like joining the throngs inside just for a coffee, you can order a cup for takeaway at the left-hand side of the counter. Given the busyness of the restaurant itself, the coffee preparation took longer than we would have liked. Still, we enjoyed relaxing on a wooden bench while protected at least from the sun, if not from the afternoon heat. From there, we wandered over to the nearby Maxwell Food Centre for a far more affordable lunch.
A few hours before our flight out from Singapore, I made one final stop on my coffee tour—this time solo. For New Yorkers, Monument will be reminiscent of Saturdays NYC and the former Café Integral on Grand St.: a lovely espresso bar built into a distinct boutique. But if you’re looking for a taste of San Francisco, this gorgeous shop works with beans from Ritual Roasters and has palpable pride in its Bay Area roots.
Tiled flooring reads “Coffee Here” with an arrow at the front door of a shophouse directly across from Merchants wine store. At the front of the space, you’ll find a curated array of clothing, water bottles, surfboards, and a custom line of Duxton products, all of which are made in Los Angeles.
A glass ceiling keeps the cafe at the back bright, tinged with an atmospheric dusting of fallen leaves, a comfortable seating area, and a perfect setup for watching your coffee come to life. The baristas couldn’t be more knowledgeable or welcoming. In fact, I was so engrossed in our chat about the one-and-a-half year history of the shop, that only after we said goodbye, did I return to the counter having realized I never paid.
What other cafes did we overlook in the area? Are there any sit-down restaurants renowned for making an exceptional flat white? Or would you prefer to forego a cup of coffee to spend the same amount on two meals from the food stalls at a hawker centre?