Tucked away in the cultural heart and hub of Singapore between Haji Lane and the Aliwal Arts Centre is a multitude of cafes and local culture.
On Kandahar Street, a two-storey unit houses a cosy cafe on the ground floor and a hole-in-the wall speakeasy on the second.
This year, Maison Ikkoku will be celebrating their sixth anniversary.
From Hungrygowhere to Seth Lui, Maison Ikkoku is rated on average about four out of five stars. Singaporeans can be unforgiving when it comes to food and paying it for what it’s worth, so if about 80% of the people give a thumbs up, it’s most likely to be worth trying.
For such a popular establishment, it doesn’t have a dedicated website, but lists top mixologist, Ethan Leslie Leong’s instead.
It’s been described as a “multi-concept […] establishment that is also an artisanal coffee joint and multi-label menswear boutique” in what must have been a past interview.
But it has since evolved from a multi-concept establishment to a multi-characteristic eatery.
The Birth Of A New Concept
Two pairs of a husband-and-wife tag team casually hung out as friends after knowing each other at their children’s enrichment programme and went to Japan together, which then sparked the idea for Maison Ikkoku.
Janice Ong and Thomas Ho, and Shanie Teoh and Franz Chua came back from the trip inspired from the multi-concept stores they saw there.
The words ‘Maison’ and ‘Ikkoku’ is an amalgamation of ‘house’ in French and ‘moment’ in Japanese; the founders want people to feel that “Maison Ikkoku is a place where people can come here and hang out for a while and ‘be in the moment’.”
Thomas said the conception of the cafe started in 2009, but only took four months to turn their idea into reality. Back then, it included a curated menswear boutique focusing on Japanese fashion.
The reason for that was because Janice noticed that Japanese men could make themselves look stylish even in casual, basic clothes simply by styling their outfit with accessories.
She felt that Singaporean men have “spending power, but don’t know where to get nice, fashionable clothing.”
They partnered with master mixologist, Leong, to manage and helm the bar’s operations – making it a cafe in the day, cocktail bar in the night.
They also worked with World Latte Champion, Hiroshi Sawada, to make the delicious coffee Maison Ikkoku is renowned for.
A Museum Of Their Influences
Co-founder Thomas felt that it was necessary to work with a designer who could give him what he envisioned, and it certainly went well.
The furniture reflects their mission; hanging cabinets to make time seem suspended, to keep that moment “frozen in time“, and their tables, which were actually old cupboards, were handpicked by the founders.
The Kong Bak Pao dish was a recipe passed down to Janice as a “secret family recipe” which was highly recommended by Campus. As they are “ardent Japan lovers“, the light, Japanese-fusion dish, the Wasabi Egg, is a wonderful statement in the menu.
It is delightfully described as a combination of egg, baby spinach, and wasabi mayonnaise.
Ciabatta bread wraps around the delicious mixture which “promises not to ignite the inner depths of your nose the way too many enthusiastic sushi gorging sessions have.”
The MI Musubi was inspired by Franz and Shanie’s college dating times in Hawaii.
It was Franz’s favourite food to have while she waited for Shanie. At an affordable $3 a pop, it’s a combination of the Japanese onigiri seasoned with furikake, and a slice of spam (luncheon meat). Sweet and savoury in one bite.
Keeping Up With The Times
As Jack Ma once said in a speech, “We keep on changing [ourselves]… If the guy only (sic) checks himself, ‘Yeah, something [is] wrong with me here, something [is] wrong with me there.’ This guy has hope.”
The founders revealed back in 2014 that they wanted to introduce waffles into their menu because it was “the ‘in’ thing” then and were open to experimenting with it.
They also included all-day breakfasts because in 2011, they noticed that everyone went for all-day breakfasts.
In a Seth Lui write-up, it was mentioned that the team celebrated its sixth anniversary this year with a new dish, “Maison Ikkoku introduced a twist on traditional udon with a fusion of local spices and regional flavours”. It was well-received by the foodie.
The cafe culture in Singapore has seen a spike in growth over the years, with young, up-and-coming coffeeshops paying more attention to its ambience and the palates of youthful Singaporeans.
FORT by Maison Ikkoku is another one of their ventures in bringing reasonably-priced Japanese cuisine to the masses, combining it with Leong’s mixes, and bringing the fusion speakeasy affair to another level.
Six years and still innovating flavours and experiences, Maison Ikkoku will keep on winning our hearts.
Featured Image Credit: squarespace, The Smart Local