Two Face Café
56 Eng Hoon Street, #01-43, Singapore 160056
Tuesday to Thursday: 5pm – 11pm
Friday & Saturday: 5pm – 12am
Sunday: 2.30pm – 10pm
By Jovita Ang - Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014
It’s really just a fancier kopitiam serving up modern comfort Italian Western food. And I like it. Two Face Café sits amidst the hipster Tiong Bahru estate where later in the day, black chalkboards and simple makeshift counters are rolled out, along with old school tunes on the playlist. In under an hour, the morning kopitiam is given a slightly fancier facelift. It’s fuss-free, unpretentious, and uber chill, the sort of place where it’s completely acceptable to stuff your face with pizza, talk out loud and not get judged. I headed there on a Wednesday night, dressed down, along with my messy bun and oily sheen all brought over from the day’s fatigue, yet still felt perfectly in place while having my Italian mains.
“I wanted to retain as much of the heritage as possible, to retain what was old. Everyone is coming in to Tiong Bahru and changing all the shops. You don’t see much of these coffeeshops anymore,” 50-year-old owner Victor Tan, shares.
Preservation of heritage is subjective. As for Victor, it’s really the “old Tiong Bahru look” that he wanted to retain. And all is evident looking at the ambience and architecture of the place, where he decided to not “tear down anything”. It’s as raw as it gets but only a cosmetic preservation.
Local Flavours, Italian Style
Having moved into the neighbourhood two and a half years ago, he opened Two Face Café as a necessity for himself. Though faced with a smorgasbord of stir-frys, gourmet coffee, crusty sandwiches and brunch food, it clearly wasn’t enough.
“There’s no real good Western food here,” he laments. “No comfort food that’s affordable and yummy.”
Flip through the menu and aside from the usual Italian favourites like Pan Fried Foie Gras ($14) on Fries to classic Margherita ($12), are some unusual Singapore flavours. Die hard local food fans are always skeptical when creative individuals decide to twist up their comfort food, but the ones here are worth a shot.
Kiam He Pizza, $14. It was voted by FHM as one of the “Must-Eats Before You Die”, and is also hugely favoured by the Caucasians. But beware of the salty sting. One bite and I cringed. Despite the overwhelming saltiness, it was an intensity I was willing to get used to. The thin crust was flavoured with a bed of kiam he bits, capers and olives, then topped with melted cheese. The salted fish gave each bite a nice lift, adding a touch of the sea to my slice.
Ha Chong Gai, $10. Just like how Westerners love their buffalo wings, we Chinese love a good prawn paste chicken. Nothing I would shout about but this was well-battered and crispy.
Pork Belly with Maple Mayo, $8. Crusty and melty, but definitely not oily. The pork belly had a good fat to meat ratio, its meat tender and moist. Dip it into their housemade maple mayo for a pleasant combination of savoury and sweet.
They also offer pastas and does a pretty wicked Mushroom Bacon Aglio Olio. Unlike the many cafes around, coffee is not on its menu. “Well, we tried. But it didn’t really move, and there are so many cafes here doing better coffee than us so we decided, aiya, forget it,” laughed Victor.
Not A Bed Of Roses
It took a “couple of months” before Victor successfully persuaded the 60-year-old kopitiam owner to allow him to have this space at night.
“He was very hesistant. He didn’t know what I was trying to do,” said Victor. “The first time I asked, he said mai mai mai (No in Hokkien).”
Two Face Café may have started for only a year and a half but Victor already has some plans laid out for this cosy space.
“I hope to plant one or two more, but in appropriate neighbourhoods. This concept is so unique I can’t simply transplant it in Orchard Road, then there’s no meaning. I’m trying to find an old neighbourhood, and continue its heritage. If not, it’s just this one outlet, I won’t stretch it.”
With every new change to our environment without a social conscience, a chip of our heritage slowly falls off. Destruction of old architecture, disregarding your dialect, or losing the art of a certain cooking method, leads to the dilution of a culture. It was never about being hardcore heritage warriors, but rather, being conscious individuals. Victor may be retaining the raw physical heritage of a building of shophouse, but down the road, are shops like Galicier Pastry and Sin Hoi Sai, both dedicated to retaining traditional flavours and their craft in cooking. Growing up, I was once taught – that one stick can easily be broken, but put a bundle together, and you’ll have a tough time breaking them off. The twigs of this Tiong Bahru bundle is beginning to fall off, I am afraid.