Vintage vibes and old-school charm are pouring out at these heritage restaurants.
In the ever-evolving F&B landscape of Singapore, restaurants and food trends come and go at the speed of lightning. While it is exciting that there are always new spots on our ‘must try’ list, there are certain restaurants that have weathered time, trends and diners’ changing tastes. Some of these have reinvented itself into a ‘retro cool’ avatar, while others remain painstakingly old school with menus stuck in a time-warp.
Here are our pick of 11 heritage eateries — restaurants with timeless food that is still prepared the way it was decades ago when they first opened.
Photo: The Capitol Kempinksi Hotel, Singapore
The Magnolia Snack Bar at Capitol Theatre was once the go-to spot for ice-cream, milkshakes and cakes for those watching a movie at Capitol Theatre, and many movie-goers have tons of fond and delicious memories of the old-school, family-friendly diner. The snack bar closed in the 1980s, but its modern-day avatar is the newly minted Capitol Milk Bar at The Capitol Kempinski’s Arcade. Retro-styled furniture and decor will transport you to the 1960s and the Milk Bar’s menu is deliciously old-school with sundaes such as the The Capitol Milk Bar Banana Split ($15) of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream with caramelised bananas banana vanilla espuma, freeze dried banana and banana rum glaze. There are also milkshakes ($14) served in flavours such as Milo Dinosaur, Chendol and Nutella. There are also diner staples such as burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and curly or sweet potato fries.
At The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore, 15 Stamford Road, 178906, tel: 6368 8888. Visit: www.kempinski.com/en/singapore/the-capitol-singapore
Several Singaporeans have childhood memories of being treated to a special meal at this restaurant atop the Prima Tower. It revolves to treat every diner to a 360 degree view of Singapore from Keppel Bay to Harbourfront, Sentosa and more. The old-school decor, vintage elevator and traditional dishes are still a top draw. Among its nostalgia-inducing dishes are the Shredded Scallops with Fish and White Egg, the Peking Duck and an advance-order-needed dessert called the Three Non-Stick which is a chewy, non-sticky paste-like concoction of 25 egg yolks, flour, sugar and the chefs’ deft wok skills.
At 201 Keppel Road, 099419, tel: 6272 8822/8988. Visit: http://primatower.com.sg/home
Cafe Colbar has been open since the 1950s, and has been serving colonial-style brunch plates way before brunch became the coolest meal of the day. It’s Kopitiam-like decor, distant Wessex Estate location and greasy-good menu are reasons why regulars are still flocking to the cosy spot. It once served as a canteen for the British army, and even now serves up English fry-ups such as Bacon, Eggs, Chips and Beans ($13), Cheese Omelette and Chips ($11) and local nosh like the Fried Hor Fun in Gravy ($7). The decor, menu and vibe are clearly unchanged from a bygone era, and the throwback vibes are second-to-none.
At 9A Whitchurch Rd, 138839, tel: 6779 4859.
Photo: Muthu’s Curry
Muthu’s has been in existence since 1969, and is still a top spot for diners hankering for the iconic dish — Fish Head Curry. The South Indian style of cooking the whole head of ang go li (sea bream) fish in a spicy, tamarind-laced curry, is one that was invented by the founders of Muthu’s. The recipe remains unchanged, even though its flagship Race Course Road outlet now boasts spiffier interiors and a more varied tourist-friendly menu. Its version of the Fish Head Curry uses market-fresh fish heads, a secret blend of aromatics and spices, tamarind pulp, coconut milk, tomatoes and okra. Excellent with a side of rice, and a dollop of childhood nostalgia. Priced at $22 per portion.
At 138 Race Course Road, 21859, tel: 63921722. Visit: https://www.muthuscurry.com/
Ask anyone who was a kid in Singapore in the 70s, and they will tell you that a meal at The Ship was a great family treat. Open since 1977, this nautical-themed restaurant’s decor is designed to make one feel as though they’re dining on a ship’s deck. The Shaw Centre outlet was revamped in 2014, however the theme and menu remain rooted in nostalgia and regulars continue to head back for familiar favourites. The Ship Steak ($36) which was a treat-yourself meal of brandy flambéed U.S Striploin served with black and white mushroom sauce and a baked potato, or the childhood favourite Chicken Maryland ($16.90) where chicken filets are fried southern style and served with bacon, fried banana and a corn fritter.
At 1 Scotts Rd, #03 – 16-18, 228208, tel: 6235 2235. Visit: http://theship.com.sg
Every seafood restaurant in town serves a version of the famous Singapore Chili Crab. However, the inventors of this dish can be traced to the family that owns Roland Restaurant at Marine Parade Central. What used to be a seaside stall, is now a standalone restaurant where one can go to sample the original recipe crab with its chilli, tomato and egg gravy. The restaurant’s second-generation owner Roland Lim claims the recipe has remained unchanged since the 1950s, and is a closely guarded secret. Always packed with regulars and tourists, other dishes worth sampling at Roland’s are the Black Sauce Prawns, Baby Squid and Chilli Cockles — all of which are Roland’s mother Mdm Cher Yam Tim’s original recipes that have been made famous since the eateries heydays as a seafood stall along the Kallang River.
89 Marine Parade Central, #06-750, 440089. +65 6440 8205. Visit: www.rolandrestaurant.com.sg
This is Singapore’s oldest Peranakan restaurant, and has been in a shophouse in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood since the 1950s. Guan Hoe Soon is still regarded as the first and obvious choice for classic Nyonya dishes. Before settling down to eat, you can browse the museum-like display of vintage tableware. Must-orders here include the Peranakan-staple the Ayam Buah Keluak ($16.80) of chicken and minced pork cooked in a spicy rempah laced with the kernels of the keluak nuts. Other memorable dishes include the Babi Pongtay (a braised pork dish) and Nyonya Chap Chye (mixed vegetable stew).
At 40 Joo Chiat Pl, 427764, tel: 6344 2761. Visit: www.guanhoesoon.com
Proudly calling itself Singapore’s oldest Chinese restaurant, Spring Court has been in existence since 1929 and is still run by its founding family. It describes its cuisine as Singaporean-Chinese and must-orders include old-school dishes such as the Deep-fried Yam Ring, plump rolls of Popiah, Claypot Chilli Crab and the Chicken Stuffed with Minced Prawn. Currently located in a four-storey Chinatown shophouse, the restaurant was at the former Great World Amusement Park when it first opened. The current decor is nostalgic elegance with old-framed photographs adorning the walls and staff who have been serving there for several years.
At 52-56 Upper Cross St, 058348, tel: 6449 5030. Visit: www.springcourt.com.sg
Once situated within Chinatown’s most iconic art deco, shophouse-style buildings, Tong Ah Eating House has relocated only a few doors down along Keong Saik Road, relinquishing its former digs to the uber-trendy Potato Head Folk. It has been around since 1939, serving up traditional Nanyang-style kopi and teh, and possibly the crispiest kaya toast to be found on the island. The decor is basic at best, but regulars here flock for the old-school kaya toast sets, steamed bread and kopi with a dollop of butter. Prices for these begin at a humble $1.20. It has a back kitchen that dishes out a variety of tze char dishes too, noteworthy amongst which are the Coffee Pork Ribs ($10 onwards).
At 35 Keong Saik Rd, 089142, tel: 6223 5083. Visit: www.facebook.com/TongAhEatingHouse
One of Singapore’s original beachfront restaurants, this seafood spot still occupies the same Upper East Coast Road premises (a white, sprawling colonial-style bungalow) that it did when it opened in the 1920s. Old-timers who visit today reminisce about the days gone by when the beach was only a few metres away from the restaurant’s steps. There’s no deliberately retro decor here, the furniture is classic functional and the decor (down to the wait staff’s uniforms) are all old-school. Seafood dishes are still the top orders here, and many regulars swear by its Chilli Crab (in a thick and unctuous gravy) and the Clam and Prawn He Fen ($16 onwards), which is crispy and soft hor fun in a thick and luscious seafood gravy.
At 462 Upper East Coast Rd, 466508, tel: 65 6442 9312. Visit: www.facebook.com/huayuweeseafoodrestaurant
Photo: Raffles Hotel Singapore
Tiffin room has been a part of the Raffles Hotel’s heritage since 1892, when it was called the Raffles Tiffin Rooms and was located at Commercial Square (present day Raffles Place) before moving into the hotel’s premises. The restaurant has always served luxurious, North Indian fare and is today famous for its curry buffet. The entire property has undergone a revamp and Tiffin Room today boasts reinstated wooden floorboards and features from the early 1900s based on research by Raffles’ heritage consultants. Tiffin Room reopened its revamped avatar in August 2019, with a menu that features a new North Indian buffet lineup, an Indian Thali Experience and a new a la carte menu. The luxurious old-world charm however, remains the same.
At Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Road, 189673, +65 6337 1886, Visit: raffles.com/Singapore
By Priyanka C. Agarwal, August 2019 / Updated by Muneerah Bee, September 2019