Welcome to Secret Spaces: The inside word on Singapore’s best food haunts, as recommended by five local chefs and food personalities. Play around with our interactive map to explore Singapore’s culinary heritage.

Welcome to Secret Spaces: The inside word on Singapore’s best food haunts, as recommended by Violet Oon, Anthony Yeoh, Loh Lik Peng, Andrei Soen and Willin Low.

Play around with our interactive map to explore Singapore’s culinary heritage.


Hotelier and restaurateur, Loh Lik Peng, is a major name in our local scene. With his hospitality group, Unlisted Collection, he has hotels and award-winning restaurants scattered across Singapore, London, Shanghai, Sydney, and Dublin.

Why did you decide to start Esquina in Chinatown?

Chinatown was still a red-light area when we decided to open Esquina, but I do love the authenticity of this place. For me, it just had a lot of character. It was one of those places that I liked hanging out in.

What does food mean to you?

Family, comfort, friends. All my social activities tend to revolve around food. It’s very much a central part of my life and something I find endlessly enjoyable. I always look forward to meals.

You have recommended three other local eateries; what’s special for you about each place?

Foong Kee has been here for way longer than I’ve been here. I’ll always order a huge plate of mixed meats. It’s very affordable, very consistent, and full of regulars — you don’t see many tourists in there. Kok Sen has been recognised with a Michelin Bib with their delicious Cantonese zi char. I always order the hor fun with prawns when I’m there. As for Yanti, it has really authentic nasi padang with dishes like beef lung and mutton ribs (which you don’t see in most places). It reminds me of my childhood as my father used to bring me to nasi padang stalls.


Andrei Soen, owner of hip sandwich shack, Park Bench Deli, is responsible for some of the most indulgent and extraordinary sammies on our shores. Of course, he doesn’t just stop there — you might have seen PBD’s numerous creative collaborations with fellow F&B players like Candlenut and Native, echoing Soen’s vision of cultivating a buzzing community for the local food scene.

What do you think of the food scene in Telok Ayer?

I love the food scene in Telok Ayer. You’ve got a lot of local food in the hawker centres and on the streets itself. There’s Ocean Fish Curry, Meat Smith, The Market Grill, and the like. We had Cheek by Jowl come in with the first Michelin star on the block, Employees Only, Burger Joint, Ding Dong, Nouri, and the list goes on. It’s so good to have this street be the food scene that keeps coming up.

Do you think local hawker foods in Singapore is a dying trade?

I do think so. It’s a huge trade that I think I’m going to miss, maybe in a decade or so. I work next to a hawker centre and for the past two years, I see hawkers being the older generation that’s doing it. Barely anyone my generation are seen running the stalls. The ones that do it don’t do the same stuff — they try to do something different, so you lose out on all the old-school flavours that you grew up eating and liking. Having said that, restaurants like The Coconut Club and Candlenut do a great job at preserving and retaining the authentic flavours.

What are your favourite dishes from some of the places that you recommended?

At Good Day Beef Hor Fun, I always order the beef fried rice with two fried eggs. I also love the dry fish hor fun at Swee Kee, and the Mortadella at PBD, which is the most deli-like sandwich we have in our shop. The latter is filled with cold cuts that no one ever orders.


When he’s not busy cooking at his Mod-Sin restaurant, Wild Rocket, Chef Willin Low consults and manages various other establishments like French bistro, Lerouy, and Po, a chic Singaporean outfit at The Warehouse Hotel. Recently, he founded the &Will brand, which sells ready-to-eat meals including curry puffs, laksa, and mee siam.

Tell us about your relationship with Tiong Bahru.

When I worked as a lawyer, my office was in Tiong Bahru. This was before it was cool. But I’ve always loved the architecture, the apartments, the post-war HDB flats. Coming to Tiong Bahru, you just feel like that time has sort of slowed down. Over the years, it became gentrified… you get trendy restaurants in, you get bookshops in and it attracts a different crowd. There’s old neighbourhoods here, a great hawker centre, and an illegal pork satay seller on his bicycle. It’s these little charms that you don’t get anywhere else.

Do you think hawker centres and old-school food is a dying trade?

When we opened Po, newspapers were saying that it was so expensive. One popiah works out to be about $7 when you can get it for $1.50 elsewhere. I think that’s really irresponsible, because it’s a different product. If we keep thinking that local food should be cheap, then the young ones will not take up this trade. Why will I want to learn how to make popiah? It takes so much effort to do it and people are only willing to pay $1.50 for it. In time to come, no one will know how to make food the authentic way.

Tell us more about the story between these places, and what you like about them.

There’s a celebratory element to Por Kee — for me at least, it’s where you go in groups of seven to 10 just so that you can order a whole array of dishes. Tian Tian is another zi char restaurant but it’s more of supper place because it opens late. I love their bamboo clams. As for Galicier, the lady works with her grandfather’s recipes while reinventing some of it. For instance, to make the kueh dadar, she omits brown sugar to let the sweetness of the coconut come through while using a pancake recipe for the crepe skin. Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice is representative of Singapore — a mix of different things which taste really good. Po is how we want to celebrate Singapore’s cuisine; little gestures like wrapping your own popiah and interacting like a family.


Violet Oon is a name familiar to many. With three eponymous restaurants under her name, she remains one of Singapore’s most prominent food connoisseurs and often acts as our little island’s food ambassador whenever she is abroad. Oon has also written three cookbooks: Peranakan Cooking, Violet Oon Cooks, and A Singapore Family Cookbook, with a fourth in the works.

Why should people spend time exploring the food scene in Katong?

There’s still a lot of past in Katong, which is beautiful. If you visit this neighbourhood, you should enjoy all those things that herald from decades ago, which are still there today — such as Chin Mee Chin and Mei Yuen. When they’re gone, they’re gone. We can create things at any time, but once the old is gone, it’s never coming back, especially in Singapore. It’s so different from Spain, for example, where you get the most innovative chefs but the tapas bars are like how it was 300 years ago. It’s very important that as the culture changes, the past shouldn’t die with it.

What do you love most about the places that you’ve recommended?

At Katong Antique House, which only opens on Sunday mornings till it sells out, the popiah, durian salat, nasi kunyit, and pineapple tarts are very famous. You can’t get it cooked this way anywhere else in Singapore — it’s old-fashioned and very authentic. As for Chin Mee Chin, it’s always full of queues but I’ve been going there since I was a child. It’s known for its kaya, cream puffs, and butter cakes. It’s been like that for forever. I also love the duck rice at Mei Yuen, and how the laksa at Roxy Square took their version of home cooking and elevated the dish. Finally, at Glory Catering, even though what they sell might be similar to Katong Antique House, every chef cooks differently and that’s the beauty of it. You get various recipes and interpretations of the same thing.

What does starting the Violet Oon business mean to you?

For my children (Su-Lyn and Yiming) and myself, it’s slightly romantic because it involves the food they grew up with. We make our own spices and don’t buy any sauces or use any MSG. On a restaurant front, we try and make it as home-style as possible — the difference is that you elevate the ingredients.


Anthony Yeoh is no stranger to the French community in Singapore. Previously at the helm of the reputed Cocotte and ex-consultant at Artichoke, Yeoh opened French bistro, Summer Hill, in Clementi in March this year.

Why do you love Jalan Besar?

It’s an area I’ve worked in for so many years, so I became very familiar with it. As a natural byproduct of that, you’ll go around searching where to eat good food and it becomes a regular part of your life.

Have you had this passion for food since you were a child?

My family were always adventurous eaters and exposed me to a lot of different cuisines.

I remember one of my earliest food memories was my grandfather actually letting me try pig organ soup. I had no idea what it was. I was six years old and happened to be snacking on a bowl of it. He didn’t tell me it was intestines, but I liked it. It was that kind of upbringing which I had, and one that wasn’t limited to steak and chicken breast.

Tell us more about each place you recommended, and what you love about it.

The popiah at Ping Ji Bo Bia (at Berseh Food Centre) has these crispy little bits of fried batter that they put in, which adds a nice crunch to the dish. Not many places do that anymore. Side note: Beware of the chilli, as it’s really spicy and the type that just sinks into you — but you need it to bring it all together. Located in the same food centre is this amazing oyster cake that is made fresh to order. You can have it packed with minced meat, chives, peanuts, and ikan bilis. Eat it there, because once you put it in a bag, it starts to steam and you lose its crispiness. If you’re headed for Sungei Road laksa, go during off-peak hours or be prepared to queue up. Each bowl is small, but nice and comforting. The teochew noodles are exceptionally al dente — never too soft or hard. They also do their fish dumplings from scratch. As for the pig organ soup at Foch Road, I love how grimy the coffee shop it and how it’s retained an old-world charm. The soup is delicious, peppery, and the best thing about a rainy day.