After patronising all those modern cafes featuring complex espresso machines churning out steamed milk and exquisite espresso shots, a visit to Dong Po Colonial Cafe almost felt like I had returned to somewhere familiar after a long absence. I remember growing up on kopi from the drinks stall before church, and my parents would try to limit the amount I drank (“small children shouldn’t be drinking so much coffee!”). Coffee came in small porcelain coffee cups with a saucer, unlike how most hawker drinks stalls serve their drinks in glass mugs these days. The drinker would pour a bit of his coffee into the saucer for it to cool and slurp it up from there. This practice has since given way to ‘civilised’ manner of drinking straight from the coffee cup.
However, I observed a number of the well dressed middle aged customers doing just that at Dong Po Colonial Cafe. Perhaps they simply saw it as a necessity to revive habits long tucked away in a setting that seemed so apt. The cafe is done up in an old school nanyang coffee shop style, replete with vintage Flying Pigeon bicycles, tea and coffee kettles as well as furniture.
True to traditional style, you would not expect to find dainty cupcakes or cookies here. What Dong Po serves up instead is a variety of long lost pastries and tartlets, many of these I have never encountered, which goes to show just how long these goodies have disappeared from the food scene here. The pastries all seem to combine both western and local elements, somewhat like little pieces of evidence that our little island was once a British colony.
Kopi and Bostock Set
Order the little snacks ala carte or get them in sets that consist of a drink and a snack or two. I opted for the Kopi and Bostock set. Having never tried bostock apart from the one Chong Hao made (recipe featured in an earlier post on this blog), I thought it was high time to try another interpretation of it. The one served at Dong Po is made a la minute. My order arrived at the table fresh off the grill, fragrant with frangipane, toasted almonds and caramelised syrup. Instead of the traditional brioche base used in bostock, Dong Po puts a local twist to the delicious almond breakfast bread by using white toast instead. While this might reduce the sweetness of the bostock, it also adds a slighty more savoury flavour and crusty finish to the toasted bostock. A slight orange-y flavour lifted the dish and prevented it from being too cloying. Topped with a generous amount of frangipane and burnished slivered almonds, this is undeniably great breakfast food.
The coffee, meanwhile, was a good rendition of Nanyang coffee. It was smooth and sweetened with just the right amount of condensed milk. Thankfully, it was not watered down and weak like how some hawker stalls serve up their kopi these days.
It was a joy to sit in a bustling coffee shop and look out the window on a rainy day, savouring a good cup of coffee and breakfast. I imagine this might have been what it was like when the pace of life was slower in the past and people preferred local coffee and food over higher priced western options. The beauty of being taken back in time wasn’t lost on me and for that (and the urge to try the other little goodies on offer) I will definitely be back.