Brunch at Riders Cafe // A unique heritage black-and-white bungalow ft horses!
20 April 2020 // Singapore
One weekend late January, a friend drove me deep into the rolling hills of an unseen part of Bukit Timah for a meal in the historical black-and-white building of Bukit Timah Saddle Club.
The car turned. Traffic melted into quiet.
The sun burned across the undulating hills and the
vast green that flanked the road.
Like every hidden enclave I discover that is not Orchard Road, I repeated myself in a murmur: where on earth is this? Is this Singapore?
Not long after, we arrived at a lone building. Nestled amongst the verdant green of an almost untouched area of Bukit Timah, Riders Cafe was housed in the historical *black-and-white building of Bukit Timah Saddle Club. Despite its hidden location, the parking lot was full. I opened the car door to the smell of food, the sounds of chatter and the familiar clanking of cutlery. And ooh! Horses! With their heads held high and their tails swinging about in the stables beside the cafe.
Pro tip: Reserve before visiting because the place was PACKED.
*heritage b&w bungalows of Singapore that were most popular during World War 1. These bungalows were used to house British officials and military personnel.
- a m b i e n c e & a r c h i t e c t u r e -
The whole dining area was completely non air-conditioned.
But worry not!
Black-and-white bungalows, invented by British architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell, is an architectural hybrid of the English Tudor House and the traditional, elevated Malay kampong houses to cater to the tropical climate. Dark timber beams against whitewashed walls slow down the absorption of heat. The building is elevated by pillars and arches to facilitate further air circulation below the structure- cooling the space, which is further retained with the tiled floor. The steep roof (which also controls rainfall), acts as a chimney to channel hot air up, hence ventilating the whole space. This results in an airy, extremely well ventilated space: very comfortably cool even for a heat-phobic person like I am.
If you want a view of the generous greenery or the stables, to watch the horses... er... stand around and move their tails, then get a table on the balcony. But beware: the balcony had a VERY STRONG horsey/stable smell.
- f o o d -
Starters : Seafood Ceviche Salad / $19
Tomatoes, green papaya and seafood in a coconut broth. I've only had ceviche once in my life in Señor Ceviche, London, and I remember slices of fish almost completely covered in a sour, citrusy broth. In comparison to that only reference I have of what ceviche should taste like(?) this tasted more like Som Tum (Thai green papaya salad). I love both Som Tum and Ceviche, so I did enjoy this, but more as a good (but pricey) Som Tum.
Mains : Smashed Avo & Eggs / $16 (+ Miso Tahini / $2 + Smoked Salmon / $4)
Because weekend cafe vibes call for an avocado avalanche over two thick, generous slices of sourdough toast, topped with two poached eggs, a side of Miso Tahini and smoked salmon. I liked the tangy, citrusy element that cut through the creamy, abused mash of an avocado, but other than that I could barely taste the feta mentioned in the menu. It was okay, but quite the generic avocado toast in my opinion. Honestly, the one from the Lokal had much more depth of flavour. ( Read the full review here! )
Tea Scones / $9
It was the fragrance of the warmed scones that hinted at our waiter's reappearance. These scones were light and airy (like the house XD Jokes!) with more of a cake texture in comparison to the traditional, dense English scones. Taste-wise, it leaned towards savoury. I think I tasted a cheesy element to it. I had mixed feelings over the texture. It was not bad, but not my favourite. My fellow diner loved it though!
Iced Latte / $5.50
A lightly-flavoured latte that was slightly sour. The taste was fine, but I personally prefer a bolder, more robust flavour.
Still, that was one beautiful and memorable afternoon : of light chatter, a gentle breeze caressing our faces, of horses peacefully munching at the corner, as I stared into the vast green. For once, thinking of nothing. Simply living the moment.
o v e r v i e w
- Based on my opinions-
Ambience : 10/10
The ambience was great. It was cool and peaceful, with a therapeutic scenic view. Plus, you get to dine in a historical b&w building! Perfect place for families, hanging out with friends, and dates.
Coffee : 5/10
Lightly flavoured. I liked the taste but would personally prefer a stronger flavour and slightly lower acidity.
Food : 4/10
In all honesty, I found the food mediocre, and rather pricey for the quality. But it could also have been my food choice because the other tables had dishes that looked more promising.
Price Range : $$
The starters were oddly, more expensive than the mains.
You'll need a car to get here.
I loved the ambience, the architecture and the location. I'm always on the hunt for off-the-beaten-track cafes and this was definitely one of the most unique ones. Unfortunately, the food was pretty mediocre to me. But I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit this less seen part of Singapore.
51 Fairways Drive, Singapore 286965
Opening Hours :
Sunday – Thursday: 8am to 9pm
Friday & Saturday: 8am to 10pm
Closed on Mondays
Takeaway & island-wide delivery now available on their site!
Fun fact : Their website also hosts the owner's blog as a first-time restaurant owner, as well as the problems in the upkeep of a rustic black-and-white building. It is a pretty fun read! Plus, major respect for how far he's come despite having hailed from the web industry.
- More b&w bungalow moments : driving through Mount Pleasant -
ft my thoughts on culture & heritage
I admit. The first time I'd ever heard of these "black-and-white bungalows" was while reading Crazy Rich Asians (which is, by the way, a really humorous read and I highly recommend it! I preferred the book to the movie.) As of today, there are only 500 of such bungalows left in Singapore. While some are hidden amongst the green, some have become hip restaurant clusters, the most well known cluster being the chic Dempsey Hill. Some are even available for rent! More information about that here.
These photos however, were taken from the hidden b&w cluster along the heritage road of Mount Pleasant.
'Hey, have you ever read Crazy Rich Asians?
Do you think this is where the author imagined Nick's grandmother's estate to be?'
It was just another unassuming turn, but one that led into a narrow path, dimmed by the tall Saga trees flanking the road. It felt like I had just entered a different dimension that existed beyond modern-day Singapore. A place where time stood still, the air heavy with history, culture, stories. It was exactly how the author described the entrance to Nick's grandmother's estate: quiet, mysterious, completely hidden from the world. But I had no idea that such a place actually existed in Singapore.
Despite growing up in the rich, culturally hybrid nation of Malaysia, my avid interest for heritage and culture, as well as a newfound realisation and appreciation of my own culture, only started while I was abroad. I am very grateful to be given the privilege to travel. Because all the travelling, the design projects, were not just about me experiencing the varied cultures in Europe, but also opening my eyes to how unique each culture is, including my own. How very unique we are as a cultural hybrid, and how the varied beliefs and lifestyle of different ethnicities are manifested in across art and architecture. How all these have come together, somehow, to form a collective culture unique to ourselves.
This new perspective has completely changed the way I approach travelling. It used to be merely: 'yay! School holiday adventure!' to actually wanting to experience the local culture. I find it fascinating how our species has diversified into such a colourful and varied range of life.
Before this stint in Singapore, the only image that came to mind was Orchard Road
(where I frequent every holiday trip to Singapore since I was little), or Marina Bay Sands or childhood memories of Sentosa Island. Sure, my visit to Mount Pleasant was just a drive-through and we were there for barely 30 minutes, but I left feeling like I truly found something. I had seen something new. It was not flashy lights, or enticing shops. But elegant pre-war bungalows that served the British military personnel during Singapore's colonial era. All of which were mostly hidden amongst the trees, and gated. Plus, we did not leave the car in fear of monkey attack.
Last summer, a few good friends of mine from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, came for a weekend trip to my rural hometown in Kedah. I laughed at their request to search for kampung houses and live chickens (we found a goat in the end!!!), to see the mountains that I used to stare out to everyday from primary to secondary school, to enthusiastically photographing an old hawker centre that has been there since my father was a child (and I've only been there once my whole life). I guess I'm doing the same here, now.
The similarity of my actions really struck me : even now, I thought that I'd learned to appreciate my own culture, but the reality is I still take so much for granted. It is always the culture, the heritage that I grew up with that is easily dismissible. And is it really only travelling and experiencing foreign culture that is unique and amazing?
The way I see it now, (and am always trying to remember that) travelling is a great way to glean new inspiration, and to learn to see things from a different perspective. But new does not always mean better. Often times, in this world of rapid growth, I get blinded by new things, new developments- all of which lead to a globalised culture of very curated stories, mostly filtered through the lens of social media. And sometimes, I just need to remind myself to revisit the old. To revisit the stories of our ancestors, the pure narratives of a way of life of a community that simply lived every present moment for themselves. A time untainted by the influence of social media, or curated posts of how 'perfect' life should be. Because life shouldn't be perfect- it should be filled with ups and downs, mistakes and misadventures. That is what makes life worth living for.
What kind of cultural backgrounds do you come from? What do you think? Leave it in the comments below because I love reading about cultures!
Thank you for reading!
PS. I wrote another more humour intended piece on culture, but based on FOOOD. You can read it here if you're interested!