The old “East vs West” debate has raged on for ages in Singapore, with Westies fussing over how inaccessible and “foreign” the east is, while Easties consistently blank-facing you when you mention any area that goes beyond Orchard Road. The Downtown Line is changing all that.
In this list of places you can consider heading to, we give a little more love and attention to many hidden gems along the line, in hopes of spicing up your weekend itinerary. Since you can now get from east to west (and vice versa — geez) in 45 minutes, there is really no reason not to go on a “tourist trip” via the DTL.
DT1 Bukit Panjang: Zhenghua Nature Park
This 17.3 hectare park links the Bukit Panjang Park Connector to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, forming a vital link between nature reserves and forested areas. A diverse species of plant species has been introduced to facilitate habitat enhancement for the surrounding fauna, so high biodiversity can be observed in the park. Visitors have spotted at least 37 different bird species including the olive-backed sunbird, the flameback woodpecker and the long-tailed parakeet. This hidden park in the northwest is ideal for both jogging and cycling. Green serenity awaits.
Address: 450 Bukit Panjang Ring Road
DT2 Cashew: The ART
Fine dining cooked by… trainee students? Don’t dismiss the idea. The Assumption Restaurant for Training (ART) is where students have been whipping up both local and western delights since April 2011. This casual dining restaurant provides an authentic working environment for students of Assumption Pathway School to put their F&B and hospitality skills to good use, with real-life interactions with customers. They’ve consistently received praise for the affordable prices and quality of the food. There’s even a special tea-time set with petit fours and hot beverages for two, at just $12.00.
Address: 30 Cashew Rd
DT3 Hillview: iO Italian Osteria
There’s a tasty little Italian secret in Hillview, and its residents have kept hush-hush about it for far too long. The osteria in a second-floor shoplot in the quiet and breezy HillV2 serves authentic Italian cuisine that’s won them the prestigious Ospitalita Italiana Gold Seal Award from the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. With a sleek open-kitchen concept, you’re able to see what the chefs (who mostly hail from Rome) are up to. Don’t miss the signature pork belly starter ($9 for a small portion), the wine collection (more than 15 varieties from Piedmont, Sicily and Tuscany), and baked treats and desserts like panna cotta and cannoli. Buon appetito!
Address: #02-01 HillV2, 4 Hillview Rise
DT5 Beauty World: Memories at Former Ford Factory
Relive a part of Singapore’s history here, where you’ll be brought back to the fall of Singapore in 1942 as the British soldiers surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army. The Former Ford Factory hosts a standing exhibition titled “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”, under the management of the National Archives of Singapore. The exhibition takes you through fascinating scenes of life in pre-war Singapore all the way to post-war reconstruction. Entry is free for all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, and there are free guided tours which are limited to only 20 places daily, so be sure to get there early.
Address: 351 Upper Bukit Timah Rd
DT6 King Albert Park: Royal Thai Boat Noodles and Bar
Thai boat noodles were originally served from boats that floated through Bangkok’s canals and there would usually be only one merchant handling the business, from the cooking to the washing. The bowls were small, helping to prevent any spills when handing the dish over to the customer on another boat. Save yourself from flying all the way to Bangkok and take the train to King Albert Park instead to savour these little bowls of pork or beef boat noodles that cost just $3.90 per bowl! The establishment serves other Thai delights too, such as all-time favourites like Phad Thai and mango sticky rice.
Address: #01-01/02, 9 King Albert Park
DT11 Newton: Nickeldime Drafthouse
Surely the first beer house in Singapore to offer 19 international craft beers on tap sounds enticing enough for you to make the 12-minute hike from Newton MRT. Expect seasonal and limited-edition brews, and there’ll always be a surprise as Nickeldime brings in new creations on a regular basis and even accepts suggestions from customers. Beers come from Denmark, Belgium, the US, and Japan. Bar food includes sourdough pizzas ($15 and up), Ale Snapper Fish and Chips ($16), Beer Beef Ragout ($16), and the ND Burger ($18), which comes with garlic fries. Look out for weekday specials like 1-for-1 pizzas on Mondays.
Address: #01-01 Novena Regency, 275 Thomson Road
DT12 Little India: House of Tan Teng Niah
This eye-catching, 118-year-old house once belonged to Tan Teng Niah, a Chinese towkay who owned several sweet-making factories along Serangoon Road. Many believe that he built this eight-room residence for his wife, and had it embellished with intricately-carved wooden doors and a calligraphic inscription which translates to “elegant pine”, hinting strongly at endurance and vast aspirations. It is the last surviving Chinese villa in Little India, the final remnant of Chinese businessmen who once thrived in the area. The psychedelic colours serve as a great backdrop for Instagram photos, and we’ve no doubt you’ll be heading straight for some Banana Leaf Apolo, just three minutes away, once you’re done snapping.
Address: 37 Kerbau Road
DT13 Rochor: DECK
Nineteen shipping containers make up this independent art concept that was launched in 2014. Established by the team who founded 2902 Gallery in 2008, DECK operates with the mission of supporting and nurturing the community of photography enthusiasts in Singapore and South-east Asia. Here, both amateurs and professionals are shown. These stacked containers feature three galleries, a resource library, an activity space, an artist studio, and even a new pub set to open in a month or so.
Address: 120A Prinsep Street
DT17 Downtown: The Pantree
A tasty childhood treat has taken a modern twist, and can be found in the heart of the Central Business District. This min jiang kueh has a superbly thin, crisp skin and a pillow-soft centre that has won the outlet a loyal following of customers, and a mention in the Michelin Guide online. Its extensive menu of pancakes ($2.50 and up) includes flavours from the traditional peanut, to sweet cookie butter (speculoos!) and savoury luncheon meat and cheese. Each pancake is made fresh to order. Hot beverage, anyone? Or do you need both hands to juggle your min jiang kueh?
Address: #B2-24 Marine One The Heart, 5 Straits View
DT20 Fort Canning: Nirai Kanai Okinawan Restaurant
Okinawan cuisine means no ramen, no tempura, no sashimi. Thanks to a long history as a port of trade, it incorporates Chinese and South-east Asian flavours (think spices like turmeric) into its cuisine, and also tends to feature lots of pork. For an authentic taste of this Okinawa, head to Liang Court. The traditional restaurant decor and slow-simmered dishes will transport you. Look for dishes like the slow-cooked pork belly ($9.80 for two pieces / $14.80 for four pieces), as well as Okinawan shochu ($9.60 for a glass).
Address: #B1-01/02 Liang Court Shopping Centre, 177 River Valley Road
DT22 Jalan Besar: Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake
Never underestimate each of these UFO-shaped dough treats. Oyster, pork, prawns, and chives make for a big flavour punch. Topped with savoury ikan bilis and roasted peanuts, this traditional Fuzhou snack is available in two sizes — $1.80 for a normal oyster cake and $2.30 for one with extra ingredients. Of course, they are best enjoyed when hot, or dipped in some chilli.
Address: #02-34 Berseh Food Centre, 166 Jalan Besar
DT23 Bendeemer: Petain Road Shophouses
Take a trip to Bendeemer to check out the 18 terrace shophouses that are a bright splash of colour on Petain Road. Designed by British architect E.V. Miller for businessman Mohamed Bin Haji Omar in 1930, these Chinese-Baroque styled Peranakan buildings simply sizzle on camera. Walk down the long corridor and admire the Spanish floral ceramic tiles and floral motifs that line the walls that are the perfect backdrop for an #OOTD pic.
Address: Petain Road
DT27 Ubi: Mr LorBak
Ubi is more than industrial parks and driving test centres. In this estate lies a hidden treasure that serves lorbak (Hokkien for “braised meat”). At Mr LorBak, the pork belly comes in huge chunks with a hint of Peranakan influence. Owner William Liou adapted his granny’s recipe, and prepares the pork with 20 herbs and spices that give it a wealth of flavour. Mr Liou has worked in the kitchens of Copthorne King’s Hotel and Swissôtel The Stamford, and has been smart enough to give the stall its own Instagram.
Address: #01-947 Block 350 Ubi Ave 1
DT31 Tampines West: Forest Adventure
Take the train to Tampines West, where you’ll find awesome aerial views of Bedok Reservoir at the first and only tree-top obstacle course in Singapore. There are three different courses — grand (for the fearless), junior (for the “Tarzan apprentice”), and one for the kids. The grand course promises 2.5 hours of monkeying around on the treetops, with 44 adrenaline-pumping obstacles, including three giant zip lines. The junior course prepares one for greater heights with 26 obstacles including a 300-m zip line over the waters. Little ones aged 5-9 should be kept busy on 22 crossings and two zip lines.
Address: Bedok Reservoir Rd
DT35 Tampines: Century Square
Easties are still celebrating Century Square’s recent re-opening in June 6 after being shut for a nine-month, $60 million makeover. Half the tenants of the upgraded mall are new, with much-loved additions like Hai Di Lao, Pizza Express, FatPapas, Nakhon Kitchen, Mahota Kitchen and Saveur. Boon Tong Kee’s first outlet in a shopping mall also opened there. Remember the fashion label M)phosis? It has made a comeback with an outlet here after abruptly shutting all its outlets in 2015. There are also new amenities like a roof deck, and even mobile charging stations.
Address: 2 Tampines Central 5