Dong Po Cafe: Kopi With Colonial Charm and Crispy Bostock
By Tris Marlis - Friday, Jul 26, 2013
Colonial bar, Colonial bistro or Colonial cafe – terms we inherited from our days of colonial rule, but just what exactly makes a café or bar ‘colonial’? If you have ever been to Ah Teng’s Bakery (whose name derived from a tearoom at Victoria St in the 50s) at Raffles Hotel, you would be charmed by the colonial-themed decor, a mix-match of marble tables, old coffeeshop memorabilia and crusty pastries. Its iconic location helps set the mood too. Or head down to Colonial Bar at Jalan Hang Jebat and dine at the house where British soldiers used to live, and bring your grandpa along for some nostalgic brunch. But just what makes it “colonial”. Is it the food, atmosphere or the attitude and heritage, known only to a generation that inherited this culture.
At four-month old Dong Po, a simple yet retro-chic coffee and cake shop, set in a location around the colonial district, you can sense(if you are in the know and of age) that it takes more than just that to be a colonial cafe. It has to have a “living heritage”. When the father and son, Albert and Kelvin Soh, put together bits of memories and antiques of that era plus their kitchen skills as experienced baker and designer respectively, their intention was to serve more than just beverage and cakes for a “spot of tea”.
The cafe is very much inspired by Kelvin’s great granduncle who was trained under a French baker at G.H. Cafe on Battery Rd, a renowned Western bakery back in the 50s. His uncle later opened his own bakery along Killiney Rd in the 60s, where Kelvin’s father worked. “My great granduncle was one of the first few to introduce European pastries for local palate,” says Kelvin and he continues, “it served as a way of mending the social gap between the colonialists and the local populace. ”
Kelvin’s uncle started offering these western style pastries and made it accessible and affordable for all. It’s the same philosophy that the cafe follows today, and that same philosophy is what makes Dong Po – ‘colonial.’ That is why all their pastries are priced around $1.80. A set of fresh baked scones with jam and a cup of kopi is $3.30. The philosophy of accessibility is also Kelvin’s strategy to attract customers in a hope to make old school colonial era pastries mainstream again.
Kelvin’s father took all the recipes that he could remember- almond macaroon tarts, lamingtons, bostock and long cup butter cakes, which are soulmates to a cup of coffee or tea. Besides reducing the amount of sugar and replacing margarine with butter (for the more health-conscious Singaporeans), everything else is kept rustic and traditional. “We want to preserve these traditional recipes,” quips Kelvin.
Not only the cafe has attracted a number of young retro aficionados, they have also received positive responses from the older citizens who found it nostalgic. “They read about us and came all the way here to check it out and they are quite fascinated,” says Kelvin. We also noted a group of “off-duty” taxi drivers on kopi break there.
Dunk their buttery long cup cake into a cup of kopi, bite into that crispy bostock that is made of toast, or the Australian lamington that comes with agar instead of chocolate – those little twists that reminiscent our pioneer generation’s adaptation to western pastries. If a $8 macaroon can attract queues, then Kelvin’s $1.80 almond macaroon tarts can certainly pull you over too.
Dong Po Colonial Cafe 56 Kandahar St Tel: 6298 1318 Hours: (Sun – Thu) 8am – 9pm, (Fri) 8am – 10pm, (Sat) 10am – 10pm.