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Off the eaten track
1 Park Road, People's Park Complex rooftop carpark
Opens Tue to Fri, 4pm-11pm;
Sat & Sun, 11am-11pm;
Closed on Mon Tel 9658 9938
GETTING to Lepark is a little like trying to get to Platform 9 3/4 to catch the Hogwarts Express. The only way you will find it is if you already know it's there. Although the eatery spans over 62,000 square feet, it is hidden away in plain sight on the previously deserted rooftop carpark of the People's Park Complex in Chinatown.
Last weekend, some 2,500 to 3,000 people managed to make their way there for Come Lepark With Us - a two-day event marking the new eatery's soft launch, featuring a pet adoption drive, a charity car wash, an outdoor movie screening, and a concert by local bands such as Cashew Chemists and Hubba Bubba.
Says Carmen Low, one of the people behind The Anglow Group which runs Lepark: "Our grand plan is to make use of this space to carry out a lot of content that will bring the youth back to Chinatown. A lot of young people don't come to Chinatown unless it's with their parents, and we think People's Park Complex is one of the oldest buildings in the area, so it has a lot of stories worth telling."
Although Come Lepark With Us wasn't the first time an event was held at that particular rooftop carpark, it was the first night that its new permanent tenant Lepark opened its kitchen to the public, serving a range of Asian tapas and about 80 different bottled beers and four craft beers on tap.
"You think about South-east Asian countries and their street food, and comfort food - that's what we'll be serving. So it's really a no brainer, what you see here is exactly what you will get," she says.
Some items on the menu last weekend were deep fried otah bombs (S$8), chicken rice sushi (S$8), wonton mee sliders (S$9), salted egg yolk soft shell crab sliders (S$12), and sambal butter slipper lobsters (S$18). The items rotate every week, so don't be surprised if you see a whole different menu the next time you pop by.
In fact, Lepark itself might be unrecognisable if you drop by in the following months, because according to Ms Low, they are currently only in phase one of renovations. Eventually, the entire rooftop will be covered in tables and chairs, plus some tentage and greenery for shelter, while the kitchen runs kiosk-style so people can buy their food and take it outside to grab a seat.
Says Ms Low: "We hope to change the whole urban experience. We don't really use our rooftops a lot so we hope this project will get people interested in finding uses for them, because right now it's a waste of prime area. Starting a conversation on how we can maximise usage of rooftops in Singapore - that's what we hope to achieve with this project."
A cafe with character
Blk 45 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks
Opens Tue to Fri, 10am - 5pm; Closed on Mon
Tel 6334 6734
THE arts enclave Gillman Barracks has so far gained a reputation for having low foot traffic, but while this poses a challenge for most potential F&B owners, Tham Wai Hon saw it as a blessing in disguise for his month-old cafe, Red Baron.
"I like this location because it's not a mall, it's like an anti-mall. Although malls are very crowded, Singaporeans are getting sick of malls because every one is kind of the same," says the 34-year-old, who also has a day job as a freelance designer, on top of running the cafe.
It's a similar mindset that he brings to both the design and food at Red Baron. He actively avoids the typical cafe decorations like sewing machine tables, typewriters and vintage bicycles, and the menu does not carry the usual eggs Benedict or waffles.
Instead, they serve a simple menu of breakfast items, salads, pastas and sandwiches, as well as home-made cakes and tarts (S$7) and some bottled beers (S$12). The two most popular items on the menu are actually dishes with a bit of a Middle Eastern influence (thanks to their half-Egyptian manager) - the RB breakfast (S$12) of two eggs, hummus, roasted vegetables and lamb sausage, and a vegetarian spiced avocado sandwich (S$12) with feta, radish, and Dukkah spice.
Red Baron is one of the newest eateries to open at the Gillman Barracks, as part of the Singapore Economic Development Board's attempt to add life to the area by injecting a stronger F&B presence.
According to Mr Tham, his partner Prashant Somosundram was approached to take on the space as he separately co-owns Artistry cafe at Kampong Glam, which is known for its art exhibitions, comedy nights, and live music. That's the plan for Red Baron as well - to help pull in crowds by supporting events such as the next Gillman Barracks-wide Art After Dark on May 29, and holding their own events such as a fair with pop-up stalls that's coming up in June.
Mr Tham also adds that they will also be taking over another smaller space within the Gillman Barracks - near the entrance where an official taxi drop-off point will be. "It could be like a satellite of this cafe, but I'm not sure yet," says Mr Tham. "I know it's kind of like an information centre and Gillman Barracks wants to set up a shop there, so it won't just be a cafe but also a retail space."
Personally though, Mr Tham is not too concerned about drawing large crowds that would probably visit once in a blue moon, but instead prefers to build a more stable group of regulars. He explains: "I don't want to be just another fad food place, I just want to serve the nearby community. We have some regulars already, which is very nice. That's the way a cafe gets character. Then it will become like a little community that's formed here."
An old building with a story to tell
119 Tyrwhitt Road
Opens Tue to Fri, 4pm-midnight; Sat, 2pm-midnight; Sun, 2pm to 11pm; Closed on Mon Tel 6341 5967
WHEN Corrine Chia first peeked into the window of 119 Tyrwhitt Road last year, she was merely a curious passer-by who wanted to find out what was going on behind the doors bearing the sign "Singapore Chinese Druggists Association". But looking into the shophouse space dimly lit by red light from a religious altar, she immediately recognised it as a perfect location for a new F&B establishment.
Some negotiation and a few months later, Druggists was born. It officially opened its doors in February this year, and is the first restaurant by The Drinking Partners - a nine-year-old craft beer distribution company co-founded by Ms Chia. They also run The Great Beer Experiment at PasarBella, and another small bottle shop in a cafe at Pasir Panjang.
Walking into Druggists, the first things you may notice are the old-fashioned floor tiles and dark wooden plaques hanging on the walls - all of which belong to the Singapore Chinese Druggists Association, which has owned the 80-year-old building for the last six decades, and still operates out of the second floor.
Says Ms Chia, 40: "We've left this place largely untouched, except for adding a bar counter and chalkboard. The floorings, wooden doors, and plaques, all these are very original as we left them as they were. There was no need to restore much except some aesthetic paintwork. What you see is what has been here for the last 60 years."
The food at Druggists fits well with the theme too, as they offer a simple menu of Asian dishes, such as sambal fish (S$10), coffee pork ribs (S$9), lotus chips with sweet chilli dressing (S$6) in place of the usual french fries, and a sharing platter of pork roll ngoh hiang, saba with grated daikon, radish cake, and chicken wontons (S$30).
"We designed the menu ourselves," says Ms Chia. "Because The Drinking Partners organises a lot of beer dinners, and we like to feature local food. So when this place came about, we already had a repertoire of pairings that we just refined for the menu. The key premise is that it's all food that can pair well with beer, and you would actually eat it at home and cook it for your family."
Not that opening a restaurant was something they had planned for, she adds. Instead, it only came about because the space resounded so well with them as an old building with a story to tell.
She explains: "We tend to see a lot of old buildings in Singapore, but not many of us actually get to enter them. This place is old, but it's actually still alive. The druggists are still here, and they come in and out every day - we interact with them every day. Nothing much about this place has changed in 80 years, so it's about showing places like this to a younger generation, otherwise they wouldn't know about it in the first place."