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An Insider Guide To Singapore
By Jaime Ee
HEAP SENG LEONG COFFEESHOP
This old school coffee shop has been a favourite of F&B professionals including chef Willin Low and chef-writer David Yip, who love the frozen-in-time ambience captured by the elderly chap in pyjamas who dispenses cups of thick, Chinese coffee with a slab of butter in it. The premises are as close to 1970s Singapore as you can get, with its grimy surroundings of plastic chairs and ageing marble tables that hipsters like to replicate in their own designer-ish nostalgia-themed homes. Heap Seng Leong is frequented by old-timer regulars who know each other by name, making themselves comfortable with their kaya toast and boiled eggs, sipping their kopi from saucers. It's also attracting a younger crowd, fascinated by how history repeats itself here. And incidentally, there's a curry puff stall inside the coffee shop that sells good epok-epok.
AN OX BOX
For a little over a year, beef fanatics in the know have been getting their fix not at Morton's, Cut, Wolfgang's or any other steakhouse, but at the home of Jeff Zhen, quite possibly the only Singaporean who dry-ages his own meat.
Like most millennials, the 33-year-old first found out about dry-aged beef from a YouTube video "which was talking about how it was the best beef ever" and it struck him that if it was so good, why were none of his food-crazy friends - or Singaporeans in general - talking about it?
"I did some digging around and found out that while a handful of restaurants serve it, there was a lack of awareness." So, like most millennials, he taught himself how to dry-age meat from videos, research and even enrolling in a butchery course to learn more about deboning meat. Once he became more confident, he started organising private dinners for four to 10 people at a time. It became so popular that he now does it practically full-time and is fully booked until mid-February.
Not bad for one who isn't even a chef by training. His training is in film production and he was recently co-founder of a company offering virtual reality services. But he became so obsessed with perfecting his beef that he switched to freelance video production so he could focus on his meaty venture, quirkily named An Ox Box.
He dry-ages US prime beef, Australian Angus and both Australian and Japanese wagyu and is constantly refining the cuts of beef. He dry-ages beef for an average of 30 days, which he feels is the optimum for most palates although he has gone as long as 48 to 60 days, although that is purely for the hardcore palates.
Instead of using dry-ageing cabinets which most steakhouses do, he uses a dry-ageing bag from the Danish high-tech food plastic maker Tublin that is designed to protect food from any kind of contamination. "Once we vacuum seal the meat in the bag, the bag forms a bond on the surface of the beef, allowing moisture to evaporate and oxygen to go in, allowing dry-ageing to take place at a controlled rate, while preventing bacteria and mould from forming."
He charges a flat rate of S$80 a head, which includes soup, salad and a sharing platter of beef that works out to around 300 gm each. He now does it for both lunch and dinner but "demand has outstripped supply and we've currently run out of beef", so he can't take any new customers until mid-February, when his next batch of beef will be ready.
It isn't often that a food geek takes his passion for eating to this extreme, but Mr Zhen's efforts are a boon to meat-lovers who want to have their dry-aged steak and learn more about it too.
For more details and bookings at An Ox Box, please call 9478-8828 or check out: https://www.facebook.com/getanoxbox
THE NAKED FINN
Ever been to a Japanese restaurant or steakhouse and enjoyed a particularly delicious high grade uni or steak and wish the restaurant would sell you some of it to have at home? Few if any restaurants will do that since the idea is for you to keep coming back to eat.
Tan Ken Loon, owner of The Naked Finn and obsessive seafood (and now artisanal beef) hunter, used to sell the same produce he serves at the restaurant only to friends and regulars, but is finally offering it to the public as well. It's not cheap, but you're paying top dollar for top quality. Some examples include cryogenically-frozen, wild-caught Coho salmon from Alaska at S$77 per kg; frozen on-board wild-caught Spanish carabinero prawns at S$140 per kg (five to seven prawns per kg); block-frozen wild Alaskan scallops at S$90 per kg (20 to 30 per box).
"We also help regular customers order fresh, wild-caught fish from Hokkaido, Tsukiji and New Zealand," says Mr Tan. One of his most memorable orders was an entire Highland cow for a regular customer. "It was just the meat, without bones or innards. We portioned and vacuum-packed the primary cuts and minced the rest into 200 gm burger patties (more than 700 patties!)
But don't be intimidated - you can walk in and buy the restaurant's very good home-made fish stock at S$10 per 250gm pack and have fish noodles at home anytime you want.
39 Malan Road. Tel: 6694-0807
By Helmi Yusof
HARRIS BIN POTTER & THE STONED PHILOSOPHER
Self-published in 2015, Harris Bin Potter is an all-Singaporean parody of Harry Potter that is slowly catching on among book lovers here. Fans of the boy wizard have been sharing the news among themselves, while literary critic Gwee Li Sui called it the "most impressive self-publication in recent memory".
Penned by "Potterhead" Suffian Hakim, the book is published on modest 60gsm paper - the standard paper you find at your photocopier machine. But that hasn't stopped it from selling more than 1,000 copies, with a significant number going to overseas fans. Indeed, many Singaporean readers complained about not being able to find a copy at first, until local bookstores got wind of it and started stocking it under their "Humour" section last year.
Suffian cheekily touts it as "the hottest read in the void deck", which gives readers a taste of the kind of 'mat-style' humour central to the book. (A "mat" is a Singlish term to describe an uncouth, potty-mouthed Malay male - the Malay equivalent of a Chinese "ah beng".)
Harris Bin Potter & The Stoned Philosopher reimagines the famous boy wizard as an orphan whose parents were killed by - get this - not Voldemort, but Oldermat. The evil wizard had tried to kill Harris too. But "like a mat trying to do Advanced Mathematics, he failed", goes the book.
Suffian cannily twists dozens of Potter references: Muggles (people with no magical ability) are "kosongs". Satay sticks are substitutes for wands. Hogwarts School is Hog-Tak-Halal-What School. To get to school, Harris takes - what else? - the Magic MRT from - where else? - Tampines MRT Station.
For all its celebration of mat culture, though, Suffian doesn't consider himself a mat at all. He describes himself as "a fantasy fiction geek who reads Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman. I was something of an outsider at school - in fact, that's the reason why Harry Potter appealed to me so much."
Suffian, 31, discovered his knack for satire during his school days when he casually wrote Little Red Riding Tudung on his blog, about a little girl named Siti who's waylaid by a wolf whilst sending ketupats to her grandmother. That made him instantly popular in Ngee Ann Polytechnic and beyond, as hundreds of students shared the story online.
This was followed by Three Shades of Brown, a send-up of erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey. Why three shades instead of 50? "Oh, that's because Malays are stereotypically bad at Math and can only count to three," he jests.
He then posted three chapters of Harris Bin Potter on his blog. With the enthusiastic online response, those three chapters expanded into a full 238-page novel, which has now undergone three print runs. A sequel awaits, perhaps?
Harris Bin Potter and The Stoned Philosopher is available at good bookstores such as Kinokuniya and BooksActually. To read the first three original chapters, go to https://suffianhakim.com/2013/02/01/harris-bin-potter-chapter-1/
If you're looking for an artwork that combines Edward Scissorshand, Bruce Lee and King Kong all on one canvas, your best bet is Kult Gallery. Located on a blink-and-you'll-miss-it corner of Mount Emily, this isn't the kind of gallery you'll find in art fairs such as Art Stage. It prides itself in championing street artists and illustrators who draw inspiration from cult movies, pulp novels, vintage records, forgotten fashion and the general detritus of pop culture.
Past exhibitions include a tribute to Wong Kar Wai cinema and an earnest celebration of food packaging. You'll find not just paintings and prints, but also repurposed objects and elaborately designed curios. Its current show titled Games & Politics invited underground artists to use computer games to create artworks that comment on topical issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights and human trafficking. Powerful stuff, but also very fun.
Kult Gallery is located on 11 Upper Wilkie Road Blk C2-5, Emily Hill Singapore 228120. Tel: +65 63381066
By Tay Suan Chiang
A GENTLEMAN'S TALE
Need a suit but can't find the time to go to a tailor? Give Kenneth Chia a call, and he will come to you in his customised van that features a mobile showroom. Mr Chia is the co-founder of A Gentleman's Tale, a mobile business wear service, for both men and women.
The van "showroom" comes complete with a full-length mirror, a rack for clothing samples, a pull-out tray and cabinet filled with fabric swatches and samples, and even a pop-up changing room.
To ensure a perfect fit, he uses a thorough 18-point measurement system, taking care not to miss each body's unique characteristics such as the slope of the shoulders, the arch of the back, and the overall body frame when fitting a client. Using such measurements and his notes, he creates a pattern from scratch.
Besides the mobile van, he also has a showroom in a container that is parked in a private car park.
Regular shirts and trousers are turned around in about a week. Jackets require two or three fittings, and their entire tailoring process takes about three weeks, from the initial measurement to the finished garment.Prices depend on the quality of the fabrics used, but start from S$106 for a shirt. Trousers are S$126 and up, while jackets start at S$496. A two-piece suit starts from S$596.
A Gentleman's Tale is at 299 River Valley Road. Tel: 8742 1282.
HOCK SIONG & CO.
One man's junk is another man's treasure, and this could not be more true at Hock Siong & Co. The local company started as a karung guni (rag and bone) business more than a decade ago, but since 1999, owner Toh Chin Siong has been buying items from hotels and reselling them.
His latest finds are from the Raffles Hotel, which is currently undergoing renovations.
Hock Siong takes up three units in an industrial building, housing both furniture and kitchen ware. Even on a weekday afternoon, the place is packed with savvy shoppers hunting for a good bargain.
Since most items, especially the solid wood cabinets, come from hotels, they're usually of good quality and can look almost as good as new after some cleaning.
Other good deals include table lamps, armchairs, and there are even odd items such as a baby grand piano, and two larger than life-sized warriors that would make a talking point at the entrance of a home.
Over at the kitchen section, there are countless plain white plates to choose from, and more cutlery than anyone can use in a lifetime.
Many items go for a bargain, such as armchairs for S$80, an old Singer sewing machine for S$280, and teapots for S$8.
Besides hotels, Mr Toh also buys from homeowners who no longer want their old furniture when they move. He is particular about what he buys. "Only pieces that are harder to find and of quality," he says.
Mr Toh says that he is not only contributing to the sustainability movement by selling pre-loved items, but also keeping alive a part of history. "Some owners are reluctant to part with their pieces as they've had them in the family for a long time, but I help them find a new home for these items."
Hock Siong & Co. is at 153 Kampong Ampat, Junjie Industrial Building, #01-03. Tel: 6281 8338
By Dylan Tan
In a rat race society like ours, few would dream of living a rock and roll life. But meet Famie Suliman (second from left), diehard rocker and frontman of local indie band The Pinholes.
A fortnight ago, he suddenly took ill on the eve of playing a concert and was hopitalised. The next morning, he requested to be discharged early and by evening, he was playing his heart out on stage. "I didn't want to miss the gig because it was The Pinholes' first show of the year!" he quips.
Formed 16 years ago, the band has gone through numerous personnel changes ("Enough to make up a football team!") and Mr Suliman is (pleasantly) surprised the group still exists to this day. "I had any expectations whatsoever I put together The Pinholes and the last thing I thought was for me to turn into a career," he admits, "I wasn't even the singer then - I was just the songwriter with a couple of leftover tunes from my previous group."
The Pinholes has released various English EPs and singles but it was only last year they released their first-ever Malay recording, D'Antara Kita. "We initially wanted to do it after playing at (influential music conference in Austin, Texas) South by Southwest in 2010 and when we came back, I actually wrote a Hari Raya song (Besok Oh Yeah) which was used in a Suria tele-movie," Mr Suliman shares.
It was also during that period that his confidence grew after realising The Pinholes was steadily building an overseas fanbase. "At home, sometimes it is hard to tell friends from fans at a show but when we started touring outside Singapore, I was surprised people had heard of us and were even doing covers of our songs," he adds.
But The Pinholes' catchy brand of retro garage-pop is not the only thing attracting attention; their Fab-Four-inspired vintage costumes also make heads turn wherever they go. (The band members sometimes cheekily refer to themselves as The Brown Beatles.)
Suliman even dresses like he's walked out of the 1960s or 1970s off-stage and is not shy about drawing stares from the public when he takes the bus or train. "Singaporeans are now quite fashionable compared to say, the 1990s, so it's quite normal for people to dress up when they are going out," he says, "And the other day when I boarded a cab, the driver said I reminded him of himself back then - the fact that it made him reminisce about the good old days made my day too!"
Listen and buy The Pinholes' music from http://thepinholes.com/
Before The Projector started operating, the Society for Cult and Underground Movies (SCUM) have been giving local cinephiles their fix of indie films. Comprising two movie nuts, Anthony Chiam and Herman Ho, SCUM started with bi-monthly screenings in 2013 but the programming soon evolved into a mini festival christened Singapore Cult and Underground Film Festival (SCUFF) in 2016.
The event returns for its third edition in February and will open with Have A Nice Day, which won Best Animation Feature award at the 54th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival recently. The Mandarin adult-themed cartoon revolves around a bag of cash which changes the life of the people who get their hands on it.
Also screening are Super Dark Times, a coming-of-age drama and thriller mash-up; and Killing Ground, a graphic slasher flick with a difference. This year's old school pick is the cult 1972 Japanese gangster flick Wandering Ginza Butterfly, starring Meiko Kaji who has appeared in about 100 films and is best known for her femme fatale roles.
GOLDEN X THE GREAT ESCAPE
Rooftop bars in Singapore generally "chi chi" places and charge an arm and leg for the view; not Golden x The Great Escape though. Located in Golden Mile Tower, you won't find it in the mall itself because it's actually located on the top floor of the car park.
The vibe is casual, the music is cool (mainly Britpop though there are theme nights), and the view is to-die-for. It's a great no-frills place to chill after catching a film at The Projector and the very reasonably-priced menu of craft beers, ciders, and oven-baked pub grub will keep you there till closing time.
Check @GreatEsc on Facebook for upcoming events. 6001 Beach Road, Golden Mile Tower, #05-00. Thu to Sun from 6pm till late.