April 8, 2007

Pros and condos

Condo eateries are catching on as they offer restaurant- style food at affordable prices and mostly free parking

By Brenda Goh

SAVVY diners are heading to some unusual spots for a meal - restaurants and cafes in condominiums.

Most started as amenities for residents, but have developed their own following through word of mouth.

LifeStyle found at least six such thriving eateries.

They range from proper restaurants with plush sofas and decor to decidedly more humble cafes with wooden stools.

But all have one thing in common: The food is often cheaper than in restaurants because of lower rents.

ThaiPan, a restaurant in the Mandarin Gardens condominium in Siglap, offers restaurant-standard fusion dishes starting at $6 for its homemade tofu dish. A similar dish at a regular restaurant would cost twice that.

Kim Moh Restaurant in Laguna Park in Marine Parade Road, virtually an institution among residents in the area, charges $5.50 for a bowl of beef noodles, about what a coffee shop stall might charge.

Other more casual condo eateries offer residents and other diners affordable cafe and hawker centre-style food in air-conditioned premises.

Pandan Cafe in the Pandan Valley condominium off Ulu Pandan Road, for example, sells rice with an assortment of dishes from $3, while the Clubhouse Cafeteria in the Braddell View HUDC estate serves up samosas from $1.

The owners of these establishments say they do not mind being tucked away in condominiums.

For some, the lower rents - up to 50 per cent cheaper than a similar-sized space in a well-populated area - make good business sense. For example, ThaiPan pays about $3,000 a month in rental.

Others, such as Kim Moh's owners, Ms Lucy Lim and her brother Marc, find it convenient to do business in the estate as they also live there.

Some want to start small as it is their first foray into the business.

Mr Oliver Chan, 32, who opened an outlet of the Japanese gelato shop Haato in Ridgewood Condominium in Mount Sinai, said he found the shop space by chance.

He grew up in the area and when he was looking for a space to make the gelato, his wife suggested the condominium.

He said: 'We called the management and found that a tenant had just moved out a few days ago.'

That was a year ago, and now he has five outlets all over the island.

He said of the Ridgewood store: 'Though initially there were no crowds, more non-residents now come here because of Haato.'

ThaiPan's co-owner, Mr Paul Lee, 30, opened the restaurant with business partner Kenneth Lo four years ago.

The restaurant serves residents, students from nearby schools and those living in surrounding condominiums.

He said: 'We wanted a location that was big enough, that had potential for us to expand the business. We visited many other places before settling on Mandarin Gardens because of its large catchment of residents.'

It also helps that these condo eateries are located in large developments. For example, there are 1,080 units in Mandarin Gardens and 623 in Pandan Valley.

Customers come through word of mouth. Ms Nancy Wan, 42, who runs Pandan Cafe, also handed out flyers.

Other eateries say they cater mostly to non-residents. These include Arcadia Restaurant, located in between the Hillcrest Arcadia and Arcadia Park condominiums in Bukit Timah, and Laguna Park's Kim Moh.

If there is a downside, it seems to be condo rules and regulations regarding entry for non-residents.

For instance, non-resident customers of Kim Moh have to park in a designated visitors' carpark and pay $1 to enter.

Still, residents and non-residents give their stamp of approval to these condo-based eateries.

Korean housewife and Mandarin Gardens resident Kim Gui Yong, 41, said: 'It's very convenient, and I eat here once every two weeks.'

Salesman Gene Yong, 38, pops into Laguna Park for lunch even though he does not live there.

He said: 'The food's good and I especially like the beef noodles.'

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Where: 5 Ridgewood Close, Unit G1

Tel: 6464-9607

Open: 11am to 11pm daily

Must try: Affogato, $4. A shot of espresso is poured over a scoop of gelato. The sweet and bitter flavours keep customers coming back for more. The cafe also serves a variety of gelato flavours (left, $3 for single scoop and $4 for double), pastas and other dishes such as udon with braised pork.

Kim Moh Restaurant

Where: Laguna Park, 01-22/23
Block 5000F Marina Parade Road

Tel: 6442-8900

Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm daily

Must try: Crispy boneless chicken with orange sauce (left), $10. The savoury chicken comes with a tangy orange sauce, and the dish is sprinkled with almonds for crunch.


Where: Mandarin Gardens, 13 Siglap Road

Tel: 6448-9827

Open: Butter squid, $6. A popular dish with younger customers. The squid is coated with a rich sauce made with margarine and egg yolk.

Arcadia Restaurant

Where 01-09 Hillcrest Arcadia, 251A Arcadia Road

Tel: 6468-7473

Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5 to 10pm. Closed on Tuesdays

Must try: French beans with minced meat, $7. This tasty dish is cooked in authentic Hainanese style.