5 reasons to return to Duxton Hill

5 reasons to return to Duxton Hill

The Duxton area has shrugged off its cloak of sleaze: Step forward Singapore's latest throbbing hotbed for original food and drink concepts

Until a year ago, Duxton was, in most restaurateurs' books, marked as a black hole.

Despite its central setting and charming shophouse-cum-cobbled streets surroundings, the area’s deep-seated reputation as a concentration of sleazy, rowdy pubs with a crowd to match was too big a mental hoop to jump through.

It took a Parisian to see and grow the potential of Duxton Hill.

Olivier Bendel, a successful restaurateur backed by 20 years of experience, “fell immediately in love” with the area.

Eight months ago, he set up L'Entrecôte (36 Duxton Hill, +65 62385700) -- a restaurant that only serves steak -- to the chagrin of many Singaporeans.

“They said the area was wrong, and Singaporeans wanted choice in the menu,” says Bendel.

But within a few weeks, business took off, and since then, Bendel has been joined by other restaurateurs and bar owners, and others are due to open in the coming months.

So the Duxton suburb has transformed itself into a community, and for the moment, has become Singapore's hippest spot.

Reason 1: Drink Russian champagne

Fine wine, bubbly and caviar dreams at Buyan. The sparkling wine house of Abrau-Durso near the Black Sea in Russia was set up using French expertise more than a century ago, and still sticks to the same formula.

The Russian bubbly's poured exclusively at Buyan, the multi-concept restaurant and a treasure trove of discoveries, where they serve a Buyan bespoke beer from a Swiss brewery, more than 50 different vodkas all chilled to  minus 20 C, and refuse to handle the Coca-Cola we all know but offer organic cola (made from real cola nuts) from New Zealand instead.

To top it all off, the prices are fairly reasonable -- S$110 for a bottle of bubbly -- which is slightly ironic since the owners just won the bid for the purchase of a 1841 Veuve Clicquot for S$49,145.

“The owners are wine collectors and wine lovers," says Indra Kumar, the sommelier at Buyan, "We are all just working towards sharing these experiences with our customers.”

Buyan Russian Haute Cuisine & Caviar Bar, 10 Duxton Hill, +65 6223 7008.

Reason 2: License to steal

Oh my, oh my, that is a leg of jamon to drool over. No one's going to throw you in Changi Prison for lifting a few coasters at Sabio -- in fact, the owner prefers that you do.

For his second project in Duxton Hill -- a buzzy tapas bar -- Olivier Bendel introduced a collection of eight Sabio coasters that will be launched over the months, with the message "Stolen from Sabio" on its underside.

At Sabio, the menu changes daily based on what’s available (which could include stuffed squid, sardines, bacalao or patatas) but it would be almost sacrilegious if you don’t have at least a bite and a sip of the jamon and Sangria.

Best experienced on Fridays and Saturday nights when the bar is at its buzziest.

Go early and stake your spot as they don't accept reservations.

Sabio, 5 Duxton Hill, +65 6223 4645.

Reason 3: Tuck into some blood pudding

The Jackson Plan's pigs' tails, white pudding and homemade baked beans. For his efforts to transplant a slice of authentic gastro-pub culture to Singapore, restaurateur Beppe de Vito deserves more than a pat on the back for his latest project, The Jackson Plan.

The ambience may not appeal immediately but the cocktails -- such as the classic Pimm’s No.1 Cup -- and the extensive list of vintage ales and ciders, are a huge draw.

And Scottish chef Christopher Dougan has taken pains to laboriously produce authentic British gastro-pub fare from his kitchen, making blood pudding in-house, coating it in batter and then deep-frying it into addictive chunks.

For something closer to home, the mixed scratchings -– a motley of deep-fried fats (think: lard for Asian cuisine) -- are the perfect bar snack.

What really shines, though, is the flavor-packed home-made baked beans served with the pig's tail and white pudding. Be warned: this is not the best place to go to when on a diet, but these calories could be worth busting for.

The Jackson Plan, 40 Duxton Hill, +65 98554290

Reason 4: Soul food

With all this talk about food, what about food for the brain? Pigeonhole bills itself as a book café and an arts space that's a blank canvas for all sorts of events; book launches, supper club for designers, talks about domestic workers.

A collection of rare and second-hand books from around Asia is the heart of the café. But it’s not all literary chic; there’s decent coffee served here, sourced from Highlander, and a splendid range of whiskys, ciders, beers and wine.

The Pigeonhole, 52/53 Duxton Road, +65 9627 2586

Reason 5: Coming soon ... Duxton rides again

The Duxton suburb is only just waking from its slumber and its clear this is the next hip enclave.

Bendel has already planned a cooking school, slated to open later this year. There's talk of a high-end Japanese restaurant opening soon, and stalwarts such as Broth (21 Duxton Hill, +65 63233353) and The Toucan (15 Duxton Hill, +65 62235950) are still packing in the crowds.

Watch this space.