More than vestiges of the past, Singapore’s historic buildings are being reinvented as hotbeds for restaurants, al fresco bars and indie markets.

1. Seletar Aerospace Park

The Oval @ Seletar Aerospace Park used to be a military airbase.

The next big foodie haven, a 320ha aerospace park that surrounds Seletar Airport, once housed a British military airbase.

Hamilton Place, a colonial house in Seletar
Hamilton Place, a colonial house in Seletar meant for the RAF’s personnels

Inside, 32 recently restored black-and-white colonial houses reside in an 11ha field and provide customers with a view of jets taking off and landing as they dine.

Among the first restaurants to open here in 2017 was Wheeler’s Estate (above; 2 Park Lane, Tel: 65 6293 6008), by the same people behind bicycle-themed cafe Wheeler’s Yard in Balestier. Its first floor houses a cafe and grill house, while guests can tuck in to Australian cuisine upstairs.

If you fancy a picnic on the lawn, grab a mat and basket from the cafe, along with food and drinks.

Also occupying a two-storey bungalow, The Summerhouse (3 Park Lane) focuses on produce grown by farms locally and in the region. Other eateries on the estate include Youngs Bar & Restaurant (above), which serves modern European fare such as flank steak on mashed potatoes, and Di Wei Teo Chew Restaurant (1 The Oval), which offers traditional Teochew dishes such as braised duck and yam ring with seafood and vegetables.

Block 9 Dempsey
Block 9 Dempsey (Image Dempsey Hill)

2. Dempsey Hill

Dempsey hill first and foremost was a nutmeg plantation. Later, it became army barracks for the British Troops – known as the Tanglin Barracks.

According to the National Library Board, Dempsey hill was “named after Miles Christopher Dempsey, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Land Forces Southeast Asia and General Commanding Officer of the Malaya Command” in the 1850s.

Then-Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, commanding British 2nd Army, in France, 16 July 1944
Then-Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, commanding British 2nd Army, in France, 16 July 1944 (Image: Dempsey Hill)

From 1972 onwards, these nine colonial buildings were occupied by MINDEF and CMPB, and was the site where Singaporean men enlisted for National Service (NS). Later, from 1989 onwards, these buildings were leased out by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to the private sector.

Dempsey hill only really took off after 2006 when SLA upgraded this area.

A nutmeg plantation in the 19th century, this verdant area near the Singapore Botanic Gardens was home to British troops during the colonial era.

It was only in the late noughties that the maze of old barracks in Dempsey Hill was reinvigorated. The charming architecture of the soldiers’ quarters has remained, with black-beamed ceilings, wide verandas and stout brick columns. Antique and carpet shops now sit side by side with upscale restaurants and bars along tree-lined roads.

The atmosphere is lively on weekends, as the city’s latte set enjoy brunch at PS. Cafe (above) and the Dempsey Project.

Gourmands head to Greek restaurant Blu Kouzina for what is said to be the country’s best moussaka (baked eggplant with minced meat), or Chop Suey for Asian fusion.

And there’s more. The popular Como Dempsey luxury lifestyle hub (17-18 Dempsey Road) fully unveil five concepts in 2017, such as cult multi-label store Dover Street Market, the Michelin-star Peranakan (Straits Chinese) restaurant, Candlenut (above), Culina, and Como Cookhouse, and Ippoh Tempura Bar.

Thanks to child-friendly eateries, families also gather here. Open Farm Community is flanked by vegetable and fruit gardens, with a space for lawn bowls. The farm-to-table restaurant, which has a menu of inventive dishes such as mud-crab pappardelle with Thai curry sauce, also holds farmers’ markets.

Chijmes in 1840

3. Chijmes

The popular night life and cafe hopping enclave in City Hall, Chijmes, used to be a convent.

In the heart of the Civic District, Chijmes is a beautifully preserved former chapel and convent that dates back to 1854.

Where students in pinafores and nuns in wimples once strode through the hallways of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, people now gather during happy hour at Chijmes’ many fine restaurants, bars and clubs.

A $45 million facelift from 2013 to 2014 breathed new life into the venue, where eateries – old and new – have earned a solid gastronomic reputation. Modern Australian fine-dining restaurant Whitegrass (above), by Tetsuya-trained chef-owner Sam Aisbett, is highly acclaimed for its experimental tasting menus. Think slow-cooked Mangalica pork, Hokkaido scallops with dashi jelly, and roasted-beetroot salad with smoked eel.

Other popular (and very crowded) cafes include Glasshouse, Hvala, and Dough.

Chijmes is also a popular spot for events, such as live music performances and pop-up markets.

This article first appeared on Silverkris in 2017.