Last Updated: December 30, 2020
I don’t count myself a self-professed coffee snob, but I do recognise that I have a preference for the type of coffee I consume. If nothing else, I always fall back on an Americano (or Long Black), but I have a particular soft spot for Cold Brew—so much so that I learnt to create my own at home during ‘Circuit Breaker’. That’s probably part of the reason it took me so long to discover for myself the elusive pull of %Arabica at Chip Bee Gardens.
It’s not a new name in town, I’m aware, but it was only during a recent curious sneak into their Chip Bee Gardens outlet did it dawn on me that they’re the only one in the world with a food menu. Curated by Michelin-starred Chef Lanshu Chen—who’s personally chosen by founder Kenneth Shoji—the menu sees a lean selection of brunch staples that are straightforward and lightly seasoned.
This outlet also boasts the largest space, at 1,200 sqft, and features heavy-set dining tables with sturdy long benches for those seeking a java joint in the area for either business or casual meetings. While a cafe serving coffee and small bites doesn’t warrant news headlines, %Arabica Chip Bee Gardens’ little-known menu is worth an inquiry.
For a coffeehouse such as %Arabica Chip Bee Gardens, light bites are the way forward—it’s easy to understand how their Sweet Pea Salad (S$16) found its way into the menu. Lightly dressed, a modest portion of sweet peas, feta cheese, guava, and a sparing drizzle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil warrants demure, dainty bites. Fork a little of each ingredient for the best experience, and you’ll be greeted by refreshing notes, punctuated by bursts of sweetness.
The feta cheese adds a dense slant to the visually lightweight cup of greens; an ideal pick-me-up pairing to go with your mid-day cuppa.
Speaking of green, a more (ful)filling option would be their Fedelini With Shiso Pesto (S$24). A miniature green mound appears at the table littered with fine homemade Perilla leaf pesto specks and pinenuts. Echiré butter binds the dish though there’s as an unmistakeable herbaceousness that lingers a little too long for my liking, even after multiple sips of latte.
The punch of pesto hits the palate too ferociously for my taste, and it’s a unanimous vote against finishing this plate of pasta.
Our local rendition of aglio olio is commonly laden with a heap of garlic and an unapologetic helping of chilli padi. %Arabica’s Spaghettini Aglio e Olio (S$18) is quite the opposite. Prioritising their coffee above all else, the food is treated as the inducted member of the family.
This is apparent in the dishes’ plain seasoning, especially so here, where the 24-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano conquers all. I scramble my fork around the tangle of spaghettini in an attempt to find the familiar garlicky nuance that I’m accustomed to but to no avail. Perhaps it’s a personal inclination, and while I still would not return for this, I understand the variance.
As the most dashing on the %Arabica Chip Bee menu at S$39, the Beef Katsu Sando is also visually arresting. I recognise that this plate might sway you to fork out almost S$40 (sans GST and service charge), but let me clue you in as to whether this is worth the squander.
Sandwiched between airy squares of Hokkaido milk toast, the beef is an unparalleled deep-fried Japanese Wagyu tenderloin. Its deep crimson shade will pull you in, even before its aroma has the opportunity to bewitch your appetite. There’s little fault to this dish, other than a gripe that’s purely a penchant.
I wish the toast carried a crunchy shell; I wanted to hear its crispiness ring in my ears.
Savoury dishes aren’t the only draw at this exclusive %Arabica outlet; they also serve Coffee Soft Cream. You might brush this soft serve recipe as inconsequential but it took eight months’ worth of R&D to perfect the balance of acid and sweetness in a single serving.
The final product touts approximately one espresso shot per cup, making this a caffeine junkie’s fantasy. I was impressed by how close this soft serve teetered on the brink of too bitter but managed to fall on the safe side of sweet—it’s almost poetic.
As %Arabica’s core branding will always lie in its coffee, it’s certainly a welcome sight to have a thoughtful lean food menu to complement their drinks. Come not with the mentality that you’re here to appease a growling belly, and you just might discover (and embrace) the beauty of their Chip Bee Gardens’ outlet.
Given the larger tables and benches, it’s a natural draw for those seeking a remote working location, so if your intention is to have idle chat, be mindful of peak hour crowds. While I don’t foresee myself patronising this outlet often—simply based on the fact that I don’t live or work close by—I still commend and endorse %Arabica Chip Bee Gardens for novelty and locality. But novelty simply cannot be a replacement for bolder seasoning and flavour—at least not for this food writer.
Expected Damage: S$10 – S$40 per pax
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 3 / 5
%Arabica Singapore Chip Bee Gardens
44 Jalan Merah Saga, Singapore 278116
44 Jalan Merah Saga, Singapore 278116