Chin Mei Chin Coffee & Cake Shop, East Coast Road

The real old school, done old school.

Although it’s a pain to get to, and I don’t really get much done, seeing the office slowly come together – desks, chairs, furniture – gives me a sense of expectation and anticipation. I’ll need it, for it’s a nearly two-hour commute from home, so I’ll need some heavy-duty motivation. What the East Coast area lacks in transport accessibility, it makes up for that with good food.

Every time I’d come by the street leading to the new office, I’d pass by an old school Singapore cafe. With every step I take pass, it slows to a grind, and I’d imagine a time when life was a little more laid back and stressful, all to the soundtrack of Pakk Hui’s Broken Orange, the theme song to in my opinion, one of the best Singapore films ever, One Last Dance. I’d see people sip their little mugs of goodness, with a hearty looking bun, sliced in the middle, and slapped with a generous serving of kaya and butter. And just as quick, I’d lose sight of it, walking on, putting one feet after the other, as I make my way purposefully to the office.

Chin Mei Chin Coffee & Cake Shop’s a time capsule of the institution of Hainanese coffee shops that once dominated Singapore’s coffee shop landscape. Long before Ya Kun and Killinney were household names, I had my own “family cafe”, at the former Lakeview Market. It’s gone now. It’s no Melburnian, but it’s Singaporean, and don’t you think that’s something worth celebrating, something worth remembering? The cafe decor is simple and minimal, a Singapore fifties, sixties feel complete with mosaic wall tiles and wooden round chairs, yet it’s very homely and cozy. Being my first time here, I must admit that it was a little daunting – it was hard to attract the attention of the staff, who constantly shuttled back and forth between the diners and the kitchen with their orders. There’s no menu, and having not Googled the place prior, I was pretty conservative, and ordered what the neighboring tables were having – the kaya bun (I didn’t know it, but besides the popular kaya bun, the cream puffs, egg tarts and bun with luncheon meat are also hits). I was a little daunted, because the only indication that you’ve got the staff’s attention is a moment’s look into your eye while they scurry back to the kitchen, and you dictate your order to them, hoping they understood you.

While it’s not Tiong Bahru Bakery or Maison Kayser, the mastery of the kaya bun was equally masterful. Made in the store, toasted till slightly burnt, with a thick layer of kaya spread on the buns and a small chunk of butter as it melts against the warm bun, it was quite frankly, astounding and good. While the kaya’s a little sweeter than usual, it bounces off well against the savory chunk of butter. My Teh C, or black tea with carnation milk was beautifully aromatic, but alas, lacked in sugar when I sipped it. I look around, wondering if I had missed something, but looking around, I see diners adding sugar on the table, to which I proceed to pour myself a healthy teaspoon full.

I’ll be back real soon.

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