New eateries open in former AIA building

Not to be confused with the new Capitol Piazza at Stamford Road, THE WORKING CAPITOL is a restored building on Keong Saik Road that’s a mixed-use F&B/office space. We check out a couple of nosh spots. 

The Working Capitol
The Working Capitol
21 Apr 2015

The Working Capitol

The former AIA Building — an elegant three-storey 1920s shophouse on Keong Saik Road — recently saw a hipster takeover in the form of The Working Capitol. The insurer has left the building; it is now transformed into a sprawling for-rent office space plus four restaurants and a cafe on its first floor.

Yes, it’s all work and all play here. Private work spaces and hot-desking zones for about 300 cubicle rats are tastefully decorated in pop art hues; all available for individual and company rental. Eateries are meanwhile rented and run by independent proprietors. The building's landlord is local boutique real estate development company The Bamboo Group — owned by brother-and-sister pair Benjamin and Saranta Gattie and a third partner.

The company also sublets the nearby Potato Head Folk shophouse. “We’ve always liked Keong Saik. It doesn’t have the corporate feel like the CBD district, but it’s still very convenient and has got lots of character,” Benjamin shares. And no, the building’s moniker is not inspired by The Hunger Games. Benjamin explains: “It’s a play on words. The Working Capitol revolves around work life, and we want it to be a place of influence like a capital city.”

1. Capitol Coffee
1. Capitol Coffee
21 Apr 2015

1. Capitol Coffee

#01-00, 1A KEONG SAIK RD. TEL: 6221-5108, OPEN DAILY EXCEPT SUN. WEEKDAYS 8.30AM-6.30PM; SAT 10.30AM-5.30PM. LAST ORDERS AT CLOSING.

Think of this cafe as the ‘face’ of The Working Capitol; you have to traipse through this month-old joint to access the office space in the building. While the Gattie siblings own this place, they do not run it. Instead, they’ve roped in F&B consultant, Aslam Zainal, 24 (far right in pic), to oversee daily operations. “The cafe is also for the office renters who’re looking for coffee and breakfast in the morning,” says Aslam. Curiously, the cafe will be revamped next month and sport a new name, though the Gatties decline to reveal more. 

1. Capitol Coffee
1. Capitol Coffee
21 Apr 2015

1. Capitol Coffee

While Aslam, who personally prepares the house’s cuppas, used to run the now defunct The Alley Cafe a few doors down, he confesses that he’s not a trained barista but “learnt from YouTube and hanging out in cafes”. That said, his Cappuccino ($5) — brewed with Guatemalan, Ethiopian and Colombian beans roasted by fellow local cafe One Shot Coffee — is robust.

1. Capitol Coffee
1. Capitol Coffee
21 Apr 2015

1. Capitol Coffee

THE LOOK: Chic and airy, if sparsely decorated (perhaps ’cos of its upcoming revamp?). The cafe has robin’s egg blue walls, Scandinavian-style chairs and marble tables. 

1. Capitol Coffee
1. Capitol Coffee
21 Apr 2015

1. Capitol Coffee

ORDER THIS: The menu is skimpy, comprising mostly grab-and-go standard cafe fare like sandwiches and a mournful selection of listless pastries and cakes displayed in a glass case. The Avocado Chicken Panini ($8) stood out: tender smoked chicken breast chunks nestling with avocado cubes and a yum blend of melty mozzarella, cheddar and wholegrain mustard on ciabatta assembled upon order in the open kitchen. We also like the refreshing Watermelon, Lime & Mint ($5) cold-pressed juice. The juice selection is customisable; you can add as many ingredients available, like beetroot and apple, as you want in a single order.

SKIP THIS: The Peanut Butter Nutella Sandwich ($6), a basic ensemble of supermarket ingredients. Rather dry. Also give the aforementioned sad pastries and cakes a miss.

BOTTOM LINE: A good place to fuel up and type furiously on your laptop when you’ve got a deadline to meet. There’s free Wi-Fi here. Decent coffee, though the food’s really more for desperately growling stomachs.

2. Lollapalooza
2. Lollapalooza
21 Apr 2015

2. Lollapalooza

1A KEONG SAIK RD. TEL: 6221-3538. OPEN DAILY EXCEPT SUN 6PM-11PM. LAST ORDERS AT 10.30PM. WWW.LOLLAPALOOZA.SG

“Lollapalooza’s the big sister to Lolla,” quips owner Thaddeus Yeo, 39 (far left in pic). He is of course referring to the über popular small plates joint Lolla on Ann Siang Hill. Where Lolla is an edgy meeting spot for hipster gourmands (it evolved from an exclusive supper club called Lolla’s Secret Suppers), Lollapalooza is its sophisticated older sibling serving “homely and borderless” grub, mostly cooked in a custom-built gas and wood-fired oven. Unlike Lolla’s bar counter-style dining, there are more banquette booths and a handsome communal table here for intimate gatherings.

Thaddeus explains that he and his two co-owners have been looking for a space to expand Lolla, and was charmed by Lollapalooza’s wide space as “most shophouses are long and narrow”. Joining Thaddeus, a trained sommelier, are co-owners Lee Chin Sin, 39, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained-chef-turned-restaurateur and Pang Hian Tee, 47, a champagne importer who also organised the original Lolla’s Secret Suppers. Naturally, there’s a formidable selection of wine, as well as beer and sake here.
 

2. Lollapalooza
2. Lollapalooza
21 Apr 2015

2. Lollapalooza

THE LOOK: Rows of sleek Schott Zwiesel stemware greet you when you enter the restaurant whose entrance doubles as a bar for a pre-dinner tipple. It opens into a cosy cave-like space boasting an open-concept kitchen. 

2. Lollapalooza
2. Lollapalooza
21 Apr 2015

2. Lollapalooza

ORDER THIS: The menu here changes daily according to seasonal ingredients and the chef’s whims, so go with an open mind. Also go with a friend or 10, since it focuses on communal-style dining. Its “borderless” cooking means a menu that spans across all types of cuisines. “We focus on produce and how to best present it instead,” says Thaddeus. Helming the kitchen is chef Issachar Lee, 39, whose Spanish restaurant Kaixo in Tanjong Pagar is now defunct. Sharing a name with the famous US music festival, this Lollapalooza actually means “particularly impressive or attractive”.

While it doesn’t quite live up to this description, the Radicchio with Crispy Pig’s Ear ($21, pictured above) is certainly not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill tapas dish. The bitter veggie is tamed by a tomato and onion dressing. Cartilage from Australian porkers are breaded and deep-fried to satisfying crunchiness. 

2. Lollapalooza
2. Lollapalooza
21 Apr 2015

2. Lollapalooza

ALSO GOOD: The braised, then oven-roasted Corned Veal Tongue ($45). Despite the wait staff advising us to remove the thick layer of skin as “it may be too rubbery”, it turns out crispy and goes well with the tender meat within. Never mind that the tongue is presented whole, like a dish from Hannibal Lecter’s repertoire. Yummy with tangy salsa verde.

2. Lollapalooza
2. Lollapalooza
21 Apr 2015

2. Lollapalooza

For those who balk at chomping on offal, there are conventional offerings like Roast Chicken ($25 for half) and a Crab and Avocado Flatbread ($18).)

For sweets, the Lemon Semolina Cake with Rosemary Cream ($18, pictured above) is a deceptively plain wedge luxuriating in lashings of fruity extra virgin olive oil and cream. Though pricey for its portion, it’s hearty comfort food at its best.

SKIP THIS: The Black Figs Stuffed with Merguez and Wrapped in Bacon ($15) sound promising. However, the fig and North African lamb sausage stuffing are sadly overcooked.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting repertoire of dishes in a lovely space — some pretty good, a couple meh. Go with a bigger group so you can try a bit of everything. 

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