For years it was referred to as Mei Ren Wu (Mei Ren Wo) or “den of beauties” in Chinese, as many rich men housed their mistresses in this rather stylish 1930’s estate.
This is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. It was the first project undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust and is made up of about 30 apartment blocks containing 900 or so flats of various sizes; but it’s the architecture that is noteworthy.
The buildings have Streamline Moderne curves and local Straits Settlements shop-house characteristics. The overall effect is attractive, iconic and in harmony with the tropics. The construction was very much in keeping with the favoured Deco design of those pre-war years.
Tiong Bahru Market, built in 1955, was the first modern market for hawkers built in a housing area. The neighbourhood has retained its close-knit village or Kampung (in Malay) ambiance and has become celebrated for its food sellers: it is rumoured to have some of the finest hawker stalls in Singapore. The competition is fierce, and to be so well respected is an achievement.
Ex-pats and monied locals have been rediscovering this unique neighbourhood which is now revitalised with smart boutiques and the very French Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier, which maintains that eclectic thread.
Gontran Cherrier is himself French and looks every inch the part, with designer-ruffled hair and Gallic good looks. His pastries are equally as tempting and cover the whole spectrum of baked goods that one would expect to find on the streets of Paris, but with a few Asian twists to remind us where we are.
The window display looks authentically French and the selection of coffees on offer would do credit to even the most popular tax-avoiding Western coffee-shop chain. One can sip a refreshing tea and nibble a flaky fruit tart or linger over a latte partnered by a Pandan Croissant. This is Singapore, so take advantage of some sweet Asian innovation.
There is seating both inside and out but this is a popular spot so be prepared to wait. Take your time and seek out a little something different. Join the sophisticated regulars and enjoy what is bound to become a Tiong Bahru institution.
Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier
56 Eng Hoon Street
Phone: +65 6220 3430
8am – 8pm
Closed on Tues
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018