I’m not a coffee drinker - and by extension, not a fan of cafe-hopping. Exhaustive menus of pedigree roasts and blends from far-flung corners of the world; overpriced, underwhelming dishes that I can make at home; and uncomfortable perches (note to cafe owners: wine crates are meant for storing bottles, NOT supporting our bottoms)? I’ll leave that to the hipsters, thank you very much.
So imagine my surprise when a friend asked me to The Populus Coffee & Food Co, opened late last year by the good folks behind the now-defunct Department of Caffeine. Despite being in the hipster enclave of Neil Road, this refreshingly spacious joint has proper tables and chairs, and – wait for it – fancy napkins.
I had a good feeling the minute I picked up the menu, which was recently expanded. In addition to the usual all-day breakfast grub, Populus now serves comfort food like donburis, grain bowls, pastas and burgers.
The Seafood Linguine ($24) is better than what I’ve tried at some restaurants – intensely briny thanks to a rich seafood stock, and generously topped with crabmeat and scallop. If you can afford to fork out $10 more for the deluxe version, do it - the additional butter-poached Boston lobster tail is totally worth it.
Another must-try is the Teriyaki Salmon Donburi ($18.50). The soft, fluffy Japanese rice and moist, slightly sweet roasted salmon are complemented by the salty crunch of flying fish roe and tangy, marinated ginger slices. Combine them with the onsen egg and the rice and you’ve got one party in the mouth!
I had to wait 20 minutes for the signature Spring Pancake & Fried Chicken ($21), but thankfully it wasn’t in vain. Made with spring onion and corn, the pancake offers a decidedly Asian twist to the fried-chicken-and-waffles trend. The highlight, however, is definitely the chook, a seductively crispy treat with a succulent, juicy bite.
As for their java - well, my lunch companion was pretty happy with her Cold Drip Coffee. The cafe has a different menu for weekends, but I reckon visiting on a weekday is more worth your while, because the more extensive menu is only available then.
The Populus Coffee & Food Co. is at 146 Neil Road.