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Foreign cafes invade Singapore

Some k-razy fun is to be had at four new foreign imports (falling ‘snow’ or juice jugglers, anyone?). And the food ain’t bad for the most part

1. Caffebene
1. Caffebene
19 Jan 2016

1. Caffebene

#02-150 VIVOCITY, 1 HARBOURFRONT WALK, S098585. TEL: 6635-1778.. Open daily 8am-10pm. Last orders at 9.30pm. www.caffebene.com.sg

WHY IT’S COOL: If you’re K-crazy, you’ve probably heard of this South Korean coffee chain, which, with almost 1,000 outlets back home, is kinda like the Starbucks of Korea, with a cuter, slightly kitschy quality. Its empire stretches across outlets in countries like America and Japan. Singapore’s first branch is this spacious 60-seater with a sea view at VivoCity. All the Caffebene signatures are here: a tacky indoor tree and a massive (fake) clock on the wall that apparently appears quite frequently in Korean dramas. Instagram away!

THE MENU: Apart from the décor, the edible hallmarks of the Caffe Bene experience are all here too: heaving bingsu, flavoured lattes and other sweet treats like waffles. Skip the bitter, not very well-made coffees, though.
 

Caffebene: What We Tried
Caffebene: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

Caffebene: What We Tried

Green Tea Bingsu ($15.90 single; $20.90 double)
These gelato and shaved-ice treats are available in two sizes, single and double. There’re five flavours in all. This green tea number comes with earthy and bittersweet matcha gelato and sweet red bean paste atop slightly crunchy, matcha-drizzled shaved ice (according to the PR reps, traditional bingsu is meant to have texture). Pretty good.
 

Caffebene: What We Tried
Caffebene: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

Caffebene: What We Tried

Garlic and Cheese Bread ($13.90)
Pillowy, chewy thick toast pre-loaded with butter and honey imported frozen from Korea. Topped with garlicky butter, cheese and, er, neon orange nacho cheese sauce, it’s a really strange combination of sweet and savoury that grows on you. We also recommend the nutty Caramel Banana Waffle.

Caffebene: What We Tried
Caffebene: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

Caffebene: What We Tried

Misugaru Latte ($6.50 regular; $6.90 large)
A multigrain drink of powdered barley, black soybean, unpolished rice and sesame, with steamed milk. A rather delish, malty “latte,” like a hot cereal drink. We prefer this to the artificial-tasting Sweet Potato Latte here.

BOTTOM LINE: A likeable coffee chain with ironically forgettable coffee but easy-to-love snacks. The bingsu, in particular, is quite lovely.
 

3. The Coffee Academics
3. The Coffee Academics
19 Jan 2016

3. The Coffee Academics

L2 SCOTTS SQUARE, 6 SCOTTS RD, S228209. TEL: 6538-1940. Open daily 9am-9.30pm. Last orders at 9pm. www.facebook.com/thecoffeeacademics

WHY IT’S COOL: This Hongkong coffee shop chain with five outlets combines serious coffee geekery with a fun, something-for-everyone atmosphere. Its first international outpost is in Singapore, located within swanky shoe emporium, Pedder On Scotts, that occupies the second floor at Scotts Square. The 70–seat cafe opened in December following its modest pop-up stint, and it’s your quintessential hipster cafe, with standard industrial decor and handsome wooden communal tables. Except unlike many all-style-no-substance coffee places, the coffee here is supposed to be super good. There’s a lot of hype about the seven different counters for specialised caffeine experiences. There’s an espresso bar, a hand brew bar, a tea bar, a roaster, a training area (for coffee cupping sessions, not unlike coffee appreciation classes), a “custom brew” coffee concierge bar and the open kitchen. Sounds like a lot (and a bit pretentious), but in reality it’s basically three main stations: the espresso bar, the brew bar and the kitchen. Only these three are operational at the moment, but when the “coffee concierge” becomes available, expect to be able to dream up your own java blends.

THE MENU: Cut the frills and all you really need to know is that coffee comes in two forms here: espresso drinks and hand brews. Sadly, we find the coffee made by a local team quite disappointing, unlike the delicious ones our editor had in the Hongkong branches recently.

The Coffee Academics: What We Tried
The Coffee Academics: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

The Coffee Academics: What We Tried

Flat White ($6.50)
The espresso-based drinks here are brewed from a house blend of medium-roast beans from Panama, Columbia and Ethiopia, and it’s a bad sign when the Solo ($4.50) shot we order comes to the table burnt. Pity, because the blend otherwise has a fruity tanginess and rich, creamy body. The milk coffees can’t mask the singed taste, even in this diluted Flat White.

Panama Baruffee Estate Hand Brewed Coffee ($8)
The single-origin beans from the brand’s very own coffee farm in Panama promises floral notes, honey and fruits in this cup of black hand-brewed kawfee. We opted to have it made with the 'clever cup' method, where grounds are steeped in the brewer before being filtered out of a valve. We find it watery and bland, as if it were under-brewed. It improves slightly when cooled, with a light tea-like aroma and juicy mango flavours.

The Coffee Academics: What We Tried
The Coffee Academics: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

The Coffee Academics: What We Tried

Soft Beef Taco ($19)
A fairly large, six-inch flour tortilla jam-packed with guacamole, sour cream, tender grilled beef, mozzarella and salsa. Makes for hearty, flavourful mouthfuls.

Pancake Tower ($19)
Happily the food here fares much better. Like this signature stack of three thick and fluffy hotcakes served with a berry sorbet, maple syrup and whipped cream. The cakes have a nice bouncy bite and are quite moreish. Good for sharing.

BOTTOM LINE: While the coffee in its Hongkong branches is good, the baristas in Singapore need more training to get the cuppas here up to scratch. But it’s early days, since the café is only in its soft-launch phase and will be fully operational by month’s end. For now, just go for the yummy food and chic ambience.

2. Ice Lab
2. Ice Lab
19 Jan 2016

2. Ice Lab

#01-01/02 Orchard Shopping Centre, 321 Orchard Rd S238866. Open daily 11.30am-midnight. Last orders at 11.30pm. www.instagram.com/icelabcafe

WHY IT’S COOL: This all-white space feels like a chilly winter wonderland. Or maybe a stylish Korean clinic, since the Korean staff rushes around in white lab coats. It started out as a ‘research lab’ in Seoul developing bingsu and dessert recipes for other cafes. The bingsu specialist now has one cafe and a lab in Korea.

It’s opened by Korean TV comedian Shin Jung-Hwan, now based in Singapore for his F&B business. You can spot the man himself togged out in his lab coat at the cafe. While he willingly obliges when fans ask for photos, he declined to be photographed for this feature as he wants the focus to be on his café (the Korean media reported that he doesn't perform anymore because of gambling woes). He does, however, um, allow us to snap him from the back. A giant screen plays videos of Shin's famous pals, including Running Man star and singer Kim Jong-Kook. The most interesting seats are around a circular table with a hole in the middle, where an ice machine hidden in the ceiling dispenses real ice bits. This is the closest you’ll get to winter in Singapore other than Snow City. Just look out for the tiny melted ice puddles on the table.
 

Ice Lab: The Menu
Ice Lab: The Menu
19 Jan 2016

Ice Lab: The Menu

Six flavours of bingsu to choose from. The most expensive is the Mango Bingsoo ($19.30 small; $23.30 big), while the most affordable is the Milk Bingsoo (see below). At press time, Churros ($1.20 each) with dips such as Honey and Cream Cheese are available, though we’re told it will be replaced with dishes like Pocheez Pocheez Fries, with cheese and bacon. 

Ice Lab: What We Tried
Ice Lab: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

Ice Lab: What We Tried

Milk Bingsoo ($15.30 small; $19.30 big)
This is not Korean ice kachang; the ice shavings are from pre-flavoured frozen milk or fruit puree blocks. Wonderfully melt-in-your-mouth with no crunch, with a creamy hint that could be stronger. Goes well with the accompanying sweet red beans and a chewy rice mochi stuffed with red bean paste.

BOTTOM LINE: A stylish space with decent, smoother-than-usual bingsu and real celeb sightings. The cafe is organising a fan meet for Korean singer Kim Jong-Kook, while actress Lee Yoon-Mi has dropped by to visit.
 

4. Joe & The Juice
4. Joe & The Juice
19 Jan 2016

4. Joe & The Juice

#01-35 CHEVRON HOUSE, 30 RAFFLES PLACE, S048622. Open daily, mon-fri 8am-8pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/joeandthejuicesg

WHY IT’S COOL: Hunks. Flirtation. Juice juggling. All hallmarks of this sexy Danish juice bar from Copenhagen that combines healthy juices with high-energy service. It even has branches in cool cities like New York and London. Call us the Grinch, but when we visit its first Singapore outpost, a chic but tiny 20-seater at Chevron House in the CBD, we find the shtick — friendly, trash-talking juice dudes willing themselves to have fun — a little try-hard. Guess it takes a certain Scandinavian poise to pull it off (it’s opened by a Danish “former elite karate fighter”). When one of the juice makers starts doodling on his face with a marker, we decide we’d rather skip the ‘fun’ and focus on just our juice and a sandwich. Thankfully, these turn out to be really good.

THE MENU: The 50-plus juices here are blitzed to order from fresh fruit with a high-speed juicer, and we’re told to drink them within 20 minutes before the nutrients fizzle off. We like the clean and pure flavours. Plus, the slightest drizzle of olive oil in the mix also makes them all very smooth and creamy. They’re mostly available in two sizes: 355ml (12oz) or 474ml (16oz).

Joe & The Juice: What We Tried
Joe & The Juice: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

Joe & The Juice: What We Tried

Spicy Tuna Sandwich ($10.50)
The thin rye-based bread here is imported from Denmark, and it’s grilled till slightly crispy and deliciously chewy. Filled with a soft mound of spicy, Tabasco-spiked tuna and mayo salad, this is a really tasty sarnie.

Joe & The Juice: What We Tried
Joe & The Juice: What We Tried
19 Jan 2016

Joe & The Juice: What We Tried

Ginger Latte ($7)
The punchy coffee here is made from organic beans sourced from Honduras, South America. This has a fresh shot of intense and pungent ginger juice that really complements the coffee and renders it pleasantly spicy.

Green Shield ($10.90, 16oz only)
Kale, broccoli, cucumber and spinach sound too healthy to be tasty, but this is surprisingly good. Complex, rich and refreshingly cucumber-forward, with a pleasant sweetness from the broccoli.

BOTTOM LINE: The lovely, clean-tasting juices — some of them with vegetables we’d never think to juice — edge out the juggling hunks by a long shot. They’re pricey, but the smooth texture, pure flavours and interesting combinations make them a notch above those from your typical juice chains.

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