Old and New Worlds: L’etoile Cafe + Tiong Bahru Bakery, Singapore

Forget the dichotomous phrase “do you want to hear the good news or bad news?” as today, good news has presented itself twice.

  1. The fate of my holiday snapshots and the rest of my photo collection i.e. life is looking quite promising.  ‘Computer Doctor’ is doing his best and the drive is currently recovering, so I have my fingers crossed that I will soon be able to share a piece of Singaporean culture with you all through my ‘foodography’.
  2. While I don’t have a large proportion of my holiday photos, I found the remaining snapshots on my camera memory card

While waiting for the final recovery of my photographs, I thought I would make full use of the photographs that I have now!  Funnily enough, the photos I found were of a number of my favourite and more interesting experiences in Singapore.

From the age of diapers through to awkward braces, I have never known Singapore for its ‘Western’ cuisine or its Café/Coffee scene.  Over the last two years or so I have started to pay more attention to the development and change in this wonderful city and its food scene has undoubtedly ‘reshaped’ itself.  Gone are the days of hawker meal followed by hawker meal and the inherently local cuisine!  Older suburbs of cultural heritage, which were once forgotten or taken for granted have been regentrified and thus we see the rise of modernity infused with traditional undertones.

A trip past my Ah Ma’s previous home, which holds many childhood memories for my brother and I was the perfect example of the arising change in the ‘Rangoon Rd’ vicinity – the old and worn walk up flat had been replaced with a modern condominium.  One can see these spurts of development surrounded by old shop houses that have also been given a ‘face-lift’ with repainted facades and new interiors.

The wonderful and informative dimension of Instagram, led me to remember a photograph I had scrolled past of ‘Letoile Café’ when we drove past Owens Rd, discussing and laughing about the ‘big change’ that we had missed over the last year away from Singapore.

“Letoile!” I exclaimed and pointed.
“You want coffee?” Pappa translated.

No response was required as I think the family knew that in my mind I was already sitting by the window sipping on a coffee!

The beautiful white façade of the shop-house converted into a café was a wonderful reminder of the past while the interior welcomed us into a new aspect of Singaporean culture.  Divided into two levels, the café had an old-school charm with mismatched furniture that echoed a different history and story for each piece.  I felt like the eclectic historical cultures of Singapore had been united in this humble shop house.

Mumma and I were immediately drawn to the hand-written and drawn menu, which was very sweet, adding personality to what could have been the standard café menu.

Being a family of coffee-drinkers, we were interested to see how the coffee would fair.  Pappa ordered his usual Latte, while Mumma and I decided to share an Iced Latte to cool down in the heat of the afternoon.  With the votes in, the verdict was very positive.  Pappa seemed to enjoy his Latte, which I did not bother trying as I was completely taken by the Ice Latte.  The coffee itself was extremely smooth with just enough kick that it struck a perfect balance with the milk.  Mumma commented that it wasn’t overly sweet, which we both appreciated as customers had the option to adjust sweetness to their preferred level, however we enjoyed the taste of the coffee so much that it was perfect without any additions!

With both a menu and dessert cabinet, I was given the difficult task of choosing something for us all to share.  Every option looked too good to resist, but the friendly lady behind the counter suggested something a little different – different is good!!  The Matcha Chiffon with Azuki Cream Cheese Icing was indescribable!  It still amazes me as to how the typical Asian dessert flavours can be incorporated into cake, a generally Western dessert.  This dessert is the definition of the cafe, with its Western (French) name L’etoile and Asian location –pure genius!  A perfect balance was struck between the flavours of Matcha and Azuki, which coexisted harmoniously.  Both Mumma and Pappa gave me the big thumbs up on my choice as we savoured each light and airy mouthful of chiffon coupled with the smooth texture of a subtle Azuki icing.  One word to describe this dessert??  ‘Bliss.’

Having a more ‘Western’ palate, Lil’ Bro opted for ‘Nutella Crepes’.  Since I can remember, his ‘go to’ breakfast has been “Nutella Bread”, so it was no surprise that this dessert was the lucky one!  I managed to convince Lil’ Bro to give us a sample and I could see why he grudgingly did so.  The crepes were wonderfully thin and light without the overpowering sweetness that is sometimes characteristic of this dessert.  The comforting taste of Nutella coupled with Banana only added to our enjoyment of this sporadic coffee break!

While it is not as hyped as other cafes around the island of Singapore, Letoile possesses understated beauty.  Its location in an area quite sentimental to my family and retained traditional and original façade parallels the continuous development of Singapore into its contemporary identity, which will always be underscored by its unique old-time charm.

Right now, all the focus is on “Tiong Bahru Bakery” by Gontran Cherrier –  a gourmet patisserie located in one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore.  It is surrounded by a cluster of lowrise homes and shop houses and the famous Tiong Bahru Food Market.  With more of these modern cafes popping up, Tiong Bahru, with the likes of the Rangoon Rd vicinity is undergoing rapid regentrification.  After hearing so much about this ‘hotspot’ this place was on my ‘must-go’ list.

Upon entering, the young professionals crowd was making full use of their weekend and a strong aroma of coffee infused with buttered pastry was in the air.  The canteen-like style of ordering resulted in rash decisions being made on which munchables we would order.  We decided upon the Almond Croissant, Vanilla Puff and a Chocolate Tart.  While the pastries were enjoyable, with nice flaky exteriors and unique flavours, I just wasn’t blown away – perhaps maybe because it had been overly hyped?  I much preferred the calmer ambience at Letoile, but nevertheless, it was a must-try this trip – I just had to see what all the fuss was about!!

Wow – Singapore has undergone quite a facelift, especially in its café scene.  The most remarkable part of this change is how the cafes still manage to maintain the local charm and tradition, which I have grown to love!


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