Aside from Google, not many would expect a corporate headquarters to have the best dining options. A decent cafeteria, few chain restaurants and fast food eateries are usually more than one can ask for - so it was an immense surprise to hear about a great Peranakan café-restaurant located smack on the upper floors of Pico Creative Centre.
Perched on the 11th floor, the café-restaurant offers a wonderful panoramic view overseeing the Kallang Basin and Singapore Sports Hub. It occupies a large area, which coupled with its floor-to-ceiling windows and longer communal tables make it a lovely spot for dining with family and friends. A hidden gem indeed.
It's adorably named 5 Little Monkeys. Owner-chef Patrick Goh purportedly named it after his daughter's favourite nursery rhyme, cause why not extend that joy and happiness to others? That homeliness extends far beyond the adorable origins of its name, to the warm wooden furnishing, amber lighting, and its menu of simple yet hearty fare. The cuisine's a lovely mix of Western and Asian, offering burgers and pizzas along with traditional Peranakan dishes - all at an astonishingly affordable price.
Breakfast is served from 9.30am, spanning classics of Buttermilk Pancakes (S$5.50) and Eggs Benedict (S$6.80) among others. For lunch through closing, expect a short and concise menu of burgers, sandwiches and pizzas as well as an extensive variety of Peranakan mains. Caffeine addicts would be glad to know 5 Little Monkeys does an excellent cuppa. Their house blend sees a mix of 4 different types of beans, including Columbian and Brazilian. It is smooth, bold, with a low acidity that would please most.
Gourmet Hamburger (S$11.80) - Chef Goh's special homemade gourmet hamburger served with fries & salad
We were invited for a tasting over dinner, and started with the highly recommended Gourmet Hamburger. It looks simple and run-of-the-mill, but this turned out to be one of the best burgers we've tried of recent. There are no gourmet fancy ingredients or exotic pairings, just a good old fuss-free cheeseburger done well. The homemade patty was juicy and flavourful, cheese was nicely melted, caramelized onions were the right amount of sweet - all that held between two intensely fluffy and soft oat buns. At that price point it's an absolute steal.
The staff were adorably honest in telling us most of their other Western mains were but plain Jane; so if you're craving someting Western, do give their burger a try.
Kueh Pie Tee (3 for S$3.80, 5 for S$6) - Crispy Pie Tee cups filled with a spicy and sweet mixture of thinly sliced vegetable and prawn
If you're visiting with a larger group, then it would be best to try their Peranakan dishes instead. To start, go for 5 Little Monkeys' Kueh Pie Tee which comes in portions of 3 or 5. The traditional snack is a simple but delightful bite, with a nice crisp cup encasing sweet sauteed turnips. All of that's topped with a little shrimp and some lovely sambal for that slight kick.
Chap Chye (S$5) - Mixed vegetable stew
Before starting on their mains, remember to get a plate of steaming hot White Rice (S$1.20) that comes with a side of addictive achar. Each dish is perfectly portioned to serve 2-3, allowing you to sample a variety of items without feeling too stuffed. The quintessential Peranakan Chap Chye we tried fared pretty well, nicely maintaining the balance between savoury and sweet while generously studded with crunchy black fungus. Some may prefer a sweeter dish closer to tradition; but 5 Little Monkeys' rendition was perfect for us.
Sambal Prawn with Petai (S$6.50) - Scrumptious prawns cooked with sambal & "stinky beans"
The spicy sambal and crunchy big prawns made this simple dish a surprisingly delicious one. The sambal was fragrant and flavourful, just spicy enough to keep the dish exciting without causing it to be unbearable. At S$6.50 for 8 pieces of prawn, it is quite the steal. Those who aren't familiar with stinky beans however may like to thread with caution: they are an acquired taste and may be a tad overwhelming.
Beef Rendang (S$10.80) - Chef's version of the well-known spicy beef dish
5 Little Monkeys' beef rendang, while not too bad a rendition, can be given a miss. A fattier cut of meat with more cartilage is used, which may please some but not others. Melt-in-your-mouth, with a wonderful nutty aroma, there is nothing exceptionally exciting about this dish. Order if you must; but I'll recommend trying the more interesting Ayam Buah Keluak (S$6.50) instead.
Fish Maw Soup (S$10.80) - Stuffed fish maw and minced chicken meat cooked in a clear vegetable soup and a dash of Chinese wine
Sometimes what seems the most simple and unassuming turns out to be the best of the lot. The familiar Chinese soup of fish maw, minced meat and mushrooms was perfected by 5 Little Monkeys. Interestingly stuffing the chicken mince into the fish maw, each mouthful was a wonderful medley of flavours. The mince was lean and well-seasoned; the fish maw had a delightful crunch; and the soup was light, clean-tasting, and absolutely flavourful. It was my favourite dish over dinner.
Assam Fish Head Curry (S$35) - serves 3-4 people
Yet another favourite over dinner, their fish head curry was the perfect accompaniment to a simple bowl of rice. While some assam dishes can be exceptionally sour, 5 Little Monkeys' was a wonderful balance between sour and savoury. The curry was thick, intensely fragrant, and not overly spicy. We were surprised at how much meat that seemingly bony head boasted. Packed to the brim with okra, sweet cherry tomatoes, and other soft stewed vegetables, there were so many ingredients we could hardly finish amoung us three. A must-order if you're visiting in a group. Note that only limited quantities of this dish is prepared daily, so do call ahead and pre-order to avoid disappointment.
As unexpected as it may be, 5 Little Monkeys have gained themselves quite a following for their amazing Peranakan fare. The menu may not be fancy nor extensive, but what they offer they do stunningly well. In a time where hipster-esque cafés are popping up every now and then, hearty traditional soul food as such come as a refreshing breath of air.
5 Little Monkeys
20 Kallang Avenue
#11-00 Pico Creative Centre
Mondays to Fridays