By Lee Jian Xuan,
The Straits Times,
Friday, Oct 10, 2014
The hike up to home-grown actress Felicia Chin's new cafe at the squat, whitewashed former police barracks atop Pearl's Hill Terrace is paved with much history.
Outside, signages declare the significance of the 80-year-old building, called Upper Barracks: It once housed the police headquarters, where the first emergency calls of Hotel New World's collapse in 1986 were received.
Inside, terracotta warrior statues and Greek sculptures line the courtyard. Then there is a rack crammed with childhood goodies such as red-and-orange ramen packets and thin wafer biscuits in pastel yellow and green.
A chalkboard screams in pink print: "Mama Shop is open". Yup, that is the name of Chin's retro-themed cafe, which she runs with fellow actress Sora Ma, 30, and two other partners who are not in show business.
They spent a low five-figure sum to start the venture, reports The Straits Times. Chin, 30, said: "We feel that it's a catchy name that can evoke happy childhood memories."
The cafe is one of at least five hip eateries opened in Chinatown over the past year by young entrepreneurs drawn to the area's rich history and culture.
A spokesman for Arterial cafe across the road in Temple Street said its owners chose to open in Chinatown as "it is one of the most important heritage zones in Singapore, both culturally and in terms of food".
Opened in July, the 40-seat cafe serves Western fare such as salads and pastas. Located behind Sri Mariamman Temple, it sees both brunch-loving hipsters as well as tourists who duck in to grab a beer and escape the searing heat.
The Mama Shop opened to much fanfare last week, with a 200-strong crowd thronging the cafe that can seat only about 10.
Items on the menu are priced from $3.90 to $14.90 and include burgers and Malaysian-style drinks such as sparkling Limau, a lime juice drink which Chin fell in love with while filming in Ipoh and Penang.
"We experimented a lot with the recipes before coming up with them. It also helped that Sora is Malaysian, so she's familiar with these drinks," said Chin.
She returned to acting in June last year after taking a three-year break to pursue a business degree at the National University of Singapore.
The rustic feel and heritage of Pearl's Hill Terrace drew her and her partners to the place, despite its secluded location.
The three-storey building now houses mainly offices and start-ups and is accessible only by a staircase from the back exit of People's Park Complex or a winding road snaking up from Eu Tong Sen Street.
"Some friends ask why we chose this 'god-forsaken' place, as they call it, but we believe people will travel for the food and ambience," she said with a laugh. Her optimism has proved well-founded for now.
Despite having only six food items on its menu, the cafe was full when Life! visited during lunch hour on Wednesday. The new kid on the block has brought life to the building.
Mr Lim Chee Huat, 80, who helps his daughter run a vegan ice-cream business two doors down, noted: "I've never seen so many people in my five years here. It's usually so quiet."
The Mama Shop at 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace is open from noon to 10pm on weekday and noon till late on weekend.
Life! checks out the neighbourhood to see what other trendy cafes have sprouted in Chinatown.
ARTERIAL, 24 Temple Street
This cafe, which opened in July, serves beer to go with brunch. It is in the midst of revamping its menu, which will be launched next week.
It will also sell French decor knick-knacks and collectibles in partnership with local blogshop Au Lapin Noir.
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 10pm, closed on Monday
49 SEATS, 49 Kreta Ayer Road
Opened early last year, this Western fusion dinner joint has earned rave reviews for its creative dishes such as the Tom Yam Seafood Pasta ($14.90) and Golden Escargot ($9.90).
Open: Monday to Thursday, 6pm to 1am, Friday and Saturday, 6pm to 4.30am, closed on Sunday
BREAD & HEARTH ARTISANAL BAKERY CAFE, 18 Keong Saik Road
This four-month-old eatery specialises in pastries and rustic breads, such as sourdough and baguettes, baked in small batches to ensure quality. A hit with customers is the plain croissant ($2.80), made with unbleached flour from France.
Open: 8am to 9.30pm daily
WELL DRESSED SALAD BAR & CAFE,
282 South Bridge Road
This vegetarian cafe which opened in June last year offers a huge drinks selection, which includes coffees and smoothies ($2 to $8.50). Salads ($5.50 to $9.50) are also available.
Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily firstname.lastname@example.org