A Walk Back In Time
Balestier, a subzone in the planning area of Novena in the Central Region of Singapore, is home to rows of shops selling lighting equipment and bathroom accessories. Unlike Novena, its neighbour – which the government has plans to turn into Singapore’s largest healthcare hub, Health City Novena, by 2030 – Balestier has mostly been left untouched by the urban planning policies.
Unknown to most, Balestier also served as an important medical hub from the 1860s Healthcare institutions at Balestier were pivotal as the medical staff cared for the wounded during World War II, and also trained and educated generations of medical students.
Take a walk along Balestier’s streets and one would be transported back in time, for it is reminiscent of the idyllic vibes of the 1980s. In the early 1900s, shophouses sprung up along Balestier Road in response to the growing number of residents entering the area. Today, many of the traditional shophouses from the past are still present, namely Sim Kwong Ho shophouses on 292 to 312 Balestier Road, Kwan Yow Luen shophouses on 412 to 418 Balestier Road, the Art Deco apartment blocks at 230 and 246 Balestier Road, and prewar terrace houses on Pegu Road and Martaban Road.
Situated at the junction of Balestier Road and Kim Keat Road, the Sim Kwong Ho shophouses, designed by architectural firm Westerhout and Oman, are in a rich, ornamental, Chinese Baroque style. Also known as the Singapore Eclectic, this style is a combination of European architectural elements and Singapore motifs. The row of Kwan Yow Luen shophouses at the junction of Jalan Kemaman was designed by Kwan Yow Lue, a local architect. These shophouses have extravagantly detailed plaster stucco figures, which include dragons, phoenixes, and bats, all auspicious symbols.
Meanwhile, the terrace houses at Pegu Road and Martaban Road, built between the 1920s and 1940s, are similar to the terrace houses on Emerald Hill and Cairnhill Road, off Orchard Road.
Another notable landmark buildings at Balestier is Balestier Point. Completed in 1986 as a redevelopment of the former Ruby Theatre, the multi-use property was designed by Chan Fook Pong of Regional Development Consortium (now RDC Architects). Chan drew inspiration from Habitat 67, an apartment complex in Montreal, Canada, that was designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. Resembling stacks of Lego blocks, Balestier Point won an Honourable Mention award from the Singapore Institute of Architects in 1987.
Food and lifestyle
Perhaps the most “Instagrammed” place in Balestier would be Wheeler’s Yard, a bicycle-themed cafe at 28 Lorong Ampas with an industrial chic design. Housed within an industrial warehouse, indoor and outdoor seats are both available, and the cafe is also decorated with bicycles and parts. The space boasts a high ceiling, a luxury that is rare for cafes. Have a hearty meal with friends, or enjoy a cup of coffee with a book there.
Known for various eateries, Balestier is a heaven for foodies. There is the flagship store of Founder Bak Kut Teh at 347 Balestier Road. Founder has an established reputation as one of the best bak kut teh stores in Singapore. Its bak kut teh has fresh and meaty pork ribs, simmered in a broth of herbs and spices. Take a sip of the peppery soup that packs a punch, and you will understand why it is so popular. Grab a you tiao, a long golden-brown deep-fried strip of dough, and dip it in the soup to eat as a side snack.
There are few traditional bakeries in Singapore, but Sweetlands Confectionery & Bakery at 10 Kim Keat Lane is still in operation. Offering buns of various old-fashioned flavours like red bean paste, kaya, coconut, and butter sugar, this traditional bakery has kept its prices affordable over the years. Its popularity means that crowd favourites such as peanut and kaya are often sold out in the afternoon, although the bakery is open 24 hours daily.
At 639 Balestier Road, Loong Fatt Eating House & Confectionary has been serving crowds since 1948. Despite having a selection of confectionaries, the shop is most known for their traditional Teochew Chinese biscuit or tau sar piah. These are handmade daily from scratch, presented piping hot and fresh from the oven, and available in only two flavours: salty or sweet.
Apart from the eateries, there is also Zhongshan Mall, which opened in November 2013. Located at 20 Ah Hood Road, the mall is linked to Zhongshan Park, and has more than 58,000 sq ft of retail space. Dine at GION Dining Japanese Restaurant, a cosy restaurant at the park with beautiful views, or get a quick fix at Subway or Toast Box. Adjacent to it is Days Hotel, which houses Starker Bistro. Here, the nights are always packed with people gathering for a drink or more. For the cinema-goers, Shaw Theatres Balestier, at Shaw Plaza on 260 Balestier Road, has been a long-time venue. It will be closed for renovations from Aug 15, but is scheduled to reopen in 2021.
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