New ‘cool’ cafes keep on popping up in the Little Red Dot in the last couple of years. Now there are so many ‘hip’ & ‘trendy’ places to go to in Singapore that each and everyone one of them is claiming to be the ‘best’ or ‘has the best <insert food being served> or simply the ‘most unique’.
Basically, we (Babs and I) categorize them all as ‘hipster’ cafes. It’s not saying that we try our best to avoid them, we just want to be more discerning when choosing which cafes to visit. Most of these places are more style than substance, more of like a ‘be seen’ place rather than a ‘good place to eat and relax’.
That is why we came up with a list to look out for which will serve as a red flag for us about these places.
1. A Chalkboard.
There is always a chalkboard somewhere in the cafe. It can very well be by the door / entrance, advertising today’s specials with some cute drawings or it could be behind the counter with the full menu written on it. My issue is that if it’s behind the counter, it could contaminate the food as most of these cafes are small, some prep their food or pastries behind the counter. Also, my assumption is that you use a chalkboard you have difference menu every day / every week that it is a must. Trivial, I know. Anyway, these are one of the ‘warning’ signs of a cafe wanting to be hip. Which brings me to my second point…
2. A Minimalist / Retro / Industrial Decor.
This follows point #1. Most of these cafes either have a (1) black and white theme or (2) a grayish and dark interior or (3) cute pastel colours splashed around the place with a few mismatched furniture. Admittedly, I find the latter cute but in an effort to be unique, these new cafes are limiting themselves to these three themes, they almost look identical to each other. Not to mention their menu is composed mostly of #3-#5 below!
3. Truffle Fries.
Or pasta that I can easily make at home. Or store bought pastries. Seriously, I’ve gone off truffles fries now as each and every cafe are serving it. I’m over exaggerating, of course, and I still won’t decline when offered one but I think the novelty of the Truffle Fries has robbed off. Let’s just say it’s so 2012 (or maybe earlier). I think they should start mastering the art of homemade, plain salted fries (or chips!) and ditch those store-bought, frozen, flimsy ones. Plus, it’s not even real truffles! It’s olive oil infused with synthetic stuff to achieve that same aroma as truffles. Unless it’s a $30 small portion of truffles fries (probably more?), then it probably is not the real thing.
4. Store bought pastries.
I’ve been to small pastry shops which do not have all the fluff but serves honest to goodness cakes and pastries. And yes, they bake it themselves. Seriously, if it’s something you got from the same supplier as Starbucks, I suggest just ditch the idea of a pastry / dessert stand if it’s not homemade. Oh dear, I’ve been watching too much Gordon lately.
5. Eggs Benedict.
Eggs on toast. Big breakfast with eggs. Poached eggs. Well, the first thing you see in these cafes are their unoriginal egg dishes, well mostly, the Eggs Benedict. I would like to see more variety to my (all day)breakfast menu than eggs. I can say that Babs would agree with me on this.
6. Hot Coffee Served in a Glass Cup, et al.
Without a handle. How am I supposed to drink my hot coffee? Either burn myself or let it cool down. Might as well order an iced drink! Apart from these, have you noticed all the mason jars? Or that dessert in a jar? If you think a cup with a handle is too mainstream to serve your hot drinks on, please, think about the customers drinking from it. At least serve a decent amount of table napkin because for sure there will be spillage! Oh and just because that Tiramisu is served in a cute little mason jar does not mean you can charge me $10 for it when it’s all watery and icky. Again, focus more on substance than style.
7. Someone taking photo of the food.
Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of this. Very much. Even if I don’t post it on my social media accounts, I still take photo of my food. Most would probably eat their warm food cold because of all the food styling and angling that comes into that perfect little Instagram shot. I’ve had my fair share of this.
8. Mostly Teenage Patrons.
The oldest will be a middle age, childless couple (Babs notes). It simply is not a place families go to. Yeah, families might not be the target market of these cafes, fair enough, as most of these places are not family-friendly enough in terms of space and food being served. But wouldn’t it be wise to target families though as (1) parents would spend (a fortune) for their kids and (2) the young ones don’t have that much spending power – imagine a group of six ordering two cake slices and hogging the table for hours on end?
9. Small font on the menu (by Babs)
Probably because the majority of their clientele are still undergoing puberty, hipster bars seem to delight in using teeny-tiny fonts on their menus to ensure that anybody over 30 won’t dare to venture near their door. Sometimes the font is so small that only an 18-year old fighter pilot with laser vision could read it. Also, the prices often are displayed just as a sequence of numbers like 18.6 (or even more hipsterish – 18/6!) without a single dollar symbol gracing the page. Did their $ sign fall off their keyboards when calculating how much they had spent on truffle fries?
10. Selling other things (by Babs)
Most hipster places tend to close down after five or six months, probably when the reality of running a business clashes with the idealistic dreams of somebody still living off their parents’ money. “Why aren’t my $20 dollar gluten-free cupcakes selling well in this residential area mainly consisting of retirees in their mid-70s? The chicken rice store next door seems to do well enough!” I’ve noticed that in order to try and pump more profit into the business, the cafes will often devote some of their store space to selling whatever bags, jewellery, paintings, or wind chimes the owner’s unemployed friends are able to create. Even the furniture you are sat on or the cutlery you are using can be for sale (we’re looking at you, Table Manners), making hipster cafes the culinary equivalent of an up-scale thieves market.
Anyway, again, we are noting this down NOT because we want to avoid these places. We still go and we are always open to trying out these newly opened cafes (especially if it’s in the Geylang area, please, we need more of it here! Quality ones, of course). This list is more of managing our own expectations when visiting them – meaning, not to expect too much. These cafes are a dime a dozen and there is only a handful of truly good ones. I think the last thing I can add is this: Why not improve on something that you think you can offer best and not be a copy cat of others? Maybe serve “The best apple crumble in town” – I would sure frequent that!
What do you think of the list? Share your thoughts below!