I love this part of town with its art deco housing (the first ever HDB blocks), wet market to beat all other markets and string of newly opened, seemingly flourishing independent shops: a French owned artisan bakery, a beautiful book shop, cafes, restaurants and boutiques.
Tiong Bahru is an up and coming area if ever there was one; you can almost smell its promise, mixed with the heady scent of freshly ground coffee spewing out from Forty Hands.
I spent a lovely morning yesterday wondering around here with my friend LT who has a proper and rather hardcore job she is charmingly nonchalant about and was missing in exchange for a morning’s exploration.
Our first stop was Tiong Bahru market for a bowl of tau fu fa from Teck Seng’s stall (#02-69). I’ve been taught to eat this warm soya bean curd in a complicated way, not how it comes, which always makes me feel like a tricky American when I’m ordering it: “creamed spinach please but without the cream and on the side.” (In case you’re wondering, my ta fu fa has to be floating in just the right amount of hot soya milk mixed with only the tiniest bit of sugar syrup.)
We did well.
Breakfast #2 was beautifully fresh bread from Tiong Bahru Bakery, run by French baker Gontran Cherrier – key word being Gontran Cherrier, the artisan boulanger who owns several bakeries in Paris as well as this one.
It turns out LT spent a few formative years in Paris and, as a result, knows more than a thing or two about what makes a decent loaf. Bread should be like a sort of honeycomb apparently, with a mass of interconnected pockets you can see physically separate when you tear it apart. It should also be incredibly fresh and springy and in a proper Parisian boulangerie, bread is chucked if it’s more than two hours old.
So with a renewed commitment to quality carbs I was relieved when TBB passed her test. They have a hugely impressive, exotic selection of breads to choose from. The most exciting being their 7 seed cereal loaf, which I liked so much I bought an extra one to freeze, and black squid ink baguette. But the brioche also delivered and was everything it should be (namely sweet, soft and a little bit salty).
After all that eating, it was time to think about somebody else. We placed an order for five beautiful handmade leather bound photo albums, all embossed with names and initials, from the Society for the Physically Disabled, whose headquarters is just around the corner and who have made binding albums and books in to an absolute art form, despite how unlikely that may sound.
Here are our photograph albums that we collected today. You only need a lead time of about one week. Each album is utterly bespoke and made to order on the premises. Craftsmanship really is immaculate. Each album costs around $70-$80.
I first found out about this place years ago when a friend who’d written a book for her godchildren hunted them down as the only place in Singapore who could bind it. Their photo albums have made great wedding presents over the years and I love it, not just because their creations are beautiful but because it’s so nice to be able to support a worthwhile local charity. It’s also a wonderfully unlikely place to pick up a bespoke photograph album from, which makes it all the more fun to go to.
The key to placing your order here is to go in person and to ask for Ruby, who can talk you through the various options and color choices. (Don’t forget to specify the font you want, and whether it’s in silver or gold, as they often forget to tell you what’s available.)
The last port of call was speciality and Fair Trade coffee joint Forty Hands, which I have been driving past now for about a year and which I’ve always been meaning to try. It’s a bit of a bugger to find a space here but we sat outside and my less-than-perfectly-parked motor remained unticketed. Cappuccinos were delicious and the coffee was proper.
The perfect end to our morning.
[The restaurant Open Door Policy (owned by the Tipping Club guys who in addition, co-own Tiong Bahru Bakery) also makes up this stable of new TB offerings. Read about it here].
All images are my own, with the exception of the tau fu fa which is courtesy of peppers-love.blogspot.sg