La Ristrettos Coffee Boutique, Singappre

 

I finally got over whatever reservations or procrastination I had in me, perhaps just plain laziness, and went to check out La Ristrettos that is located on the 8th storey of Novena Medical Suites. I have read some reviews of this place before and how its odd location had not prevented customers from flocking to it. The fact that it has been around for sometime now goes to show that an obscure location these days isn’t a deterrent for people wanting to experience something different from your usual run-of-the-mill coffee chains. Well, I am not turning my back on good-old trusty Starbucks since I am not fussy about my caffeine dosage, especially when I am quite a sucker for convenience and who can fault me when walking an extra 100m in Singapore can sometimes be a catalyst for dehydration from excessive sweating or who knows heatstroke.

It was a weekday afternoon when I decided to make my way there, and I think I dropped in at an opportune time because the lunch crowd had probably already dispersed and the sneaking-out-of-office-for-a-coffee-break crowd had yet to come by. After placing my order and getting settled into a counter seat that looks out to lush greenery with my back to the rest of the cafe, I realised that the cosy place started to fill up with more customers.

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It was by pure coincidence that I chose a seat that had this small arrangement of purple flowers by the side. I don’t know my flowers since I am generally not appreciative of them but they do add a country touch to the place, complementary to the red brick walls.

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Was pondering on my choice of caffeine and went back to the usual Americano even though I was considering a cappucino. Oh well, the Americano is nice. Despite that I still think good coffee is typically a little too acidic for my palate, the first whiff and taste of it already sealed it as a mark above the usual coffee that I have.20140505-111302.jpg

And since it was lunchtime, or just slightly past, I caved in to an indulgence of a sandwich that was packed generously to the brim with fried breaded chicken, avocadoes, cheese and perhaps some mayonnaise of sorts. I didn’t read the menu carefully and can’t remember the name of this sandwich but it was indeed delicious and great with my coffee. The side salad also was not miserly and dressed lightly with (I think) balsamic vinaigrette, it provided a healthy take to the fried chicken. Don’t get me wrong, the chicken, though breaded and fried, wasn’t oily like how some breaded and fried stuff are. It’s just that I can get a little obsessive when it comes to fried stuff, sometimes. With the exception of French fries of course, where the obsession is in a totally opposite direction.20140505-111311.jpg

A closer look at my yummy lunch. 20140505-111318.jpg

I’ll definitely return, hopefully its business continues to be good and it continues to operate, so that I can enjoy its coffee, perhaps a cappucino or latte the next time, and definitely I will check out the other food items. Besides sandwiches, they also offer all-day breakfasts and have a selection of desserts too! If you are thinking of visiting, go to Square 2 at Novena, take the lifts in the Medical Suites lobby and go to the 8th level. It isn’t hard to find it from there. Just follow your nose to the aroma of coffee.

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always crowded

It can be so frustrating when the streets and malls are a perennial sight of human beings, jostling for space in this already too-small island that we call home. I think many of us can certainly relate to the ever-growing population, whether they are locals or foreigners. Where locals are concerned, we can’t help it, because we are all in this together, for better or for worse (sounds like a marriage vow) unless we choose to pack our bags and migrate somewhere, which… isn’t impossible but I feel most times doesn’t make things any much better to relocate to a place to become a second-class citizen. Where foreigners are concerned, many have felt that we Singaporeans are becoming a xenophobic bunch, and honestly there are times too when I would rant incessantly about foreigners and the detriment they have caused us, all for good reason.

It isn’t that we are afraid of foreigners invading our land, taking over our country or whatever, or that we are such a protectionistic group of people that we abhor the very thought and sight of foreigners here, hey I have friends who are foreigners too and I am definitely not against any of them, but we just get so annoyed and helpless when it comes to a burgeoning population that creates an entire heap of social problems.

Not going to start expounding on all that has already been discussed to death in various forms of media, but as someone who is often out and about, I often find the crunch in cafes. When I am in town on weekends, I just can’t find a decent place to spend an hour or two, having a nice cup of coffee and cake, perhaps catching up on some Korean or Japanese homework, or maybe just doing some quiet reading. I know it isn’t the fault of tourists, who duck into these cafes for reprieve from the heat or just to take a break from strolling the malls, and it probably isn’t the fault of the students who occupy the seats for an extended period of time (ok, maybe you guys should just go somewhere else more conducive for studying if you feel that staying home to study is not doing the trick for you), but when I am tired after yoga and hungry, the last thing I want to do is to hop from mall to mall, cafe to cafe, only to find that I can’t find a single empty seat.

I have still to check out this place in Novena Square that a reader so kindly recommended, because I’d admit that I am lazy sometimes. Especially when it comes to the point where I end up at Novena Square, it means that I have exhausted the possible places in town and probably about to explode from the fatigue-induced frustration if I have to start the whole looking-for-a-cafe endeavour. Nowadays, I just give Cedele a quick glance, because the last few times I emerge from Novena MRT station, it is just crowded and not enticing at all for me to walk in. So generally I’ll just walk by it and move on to the other nearby cafes.

Spinelli is much smaller in comparison, and they really do have a fairly limited selection where food is concerned. Most times, they don’t even have muffins, and their sandwiches and salads displayed somehow don’t look all that appetising, sadly. So my usual boring choice almost always sticks. 

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Cedele, Novena Square (re-opened!)

The Cedele branch at Novena Square, which is not easily missed since it is right in front (albeit a little towards the left) of the exit from Novena MRT station when you take the escalator up to Novena Square, is the one I usually visit on weekends. It used to be a really tiny outlet with limited seating but on those days that I pop in, it isn’t hard to find a seat because I go at times that are perhaps not so popular. I love the food at Cedele, and although this branch isn’t a full-service restaurant, it is still a bakery cafe where I can get my fill of tasty and healthy sandwiches. If you want cakes and pastries, they have it here too. So I was a little dismayed when they closed sometime in early April (or maybe even earlier) for renovation, and from the boarding, it seemed like they were expanding to take over the next unit, which I think was a jewellery store before.

I got an email (since I have the Cedele loyalty card) from them that this outlet would be reopening on May 9, last Thursday, and was fairly elated that I can again enjoy these great sandwiches nearer to me, without having to trek all the way from the MRT station to United Square (which I am not so fond of anyway) or go to other Cedele outlets further away.

Well, renovating a place is supposed to be for the better, but I think in this outlet’s case, it isn’t really all that good a thing, at least not for me. Many Cedele outlets seem to suffer from the same problem of understaffing, or that could be the case for most F&B outlets (or other businesses for that matter), so their premises tend to appear a little unkempt and messy, with food debris from patrons left uncleared on the tables occasionally. I can live with that actually, since with sandwiches and pastries, these aren’t that gross to the sight. After the renovation, indeed the Novena Square branch looked much better. I don’t have a picture to show, but the store front looks much more prominent than before, especially now that it has taken over the unit next door too, the entire shopfront has become wider and therefore, more open. I suppose having such open concept seating is meant to lure more customers in, and at the same timer perhaps discourage people from staying too long by getting cosy in a more enclosed space? At least that was how I felt, I wouldn’t want to sit there for long periods of time, because now that they have instituted this open-ness, there are actually people who stand hovering around your tables waiting for you to vacate it. Isn’t this supposed to be a cafe, and not a food court? I find this unacceptable, but maybe that is the aim of the business owner, to improve customer turnover. As I was just starting on my sandwich, a family of four was standing near my table, and the mother allowed her two young kids to prance around in front of me, playing with the chairs at my table. How blatant can you get to ask me to hurry up, eat and leave? But surely, she can see that my sandwich is 10% consumed and I’m not going to wolf it down like a cheeseburger in MacDonald’s because you need a table right? I paid for the food, which is not cheap by the way, and I get the privilege to sit for as long as I want to enjoy my food.

With this renovation, they have also put in place the same “self-service” concept that I talked about at Millenia Walk, where you place your order at the cashier and pay up, get this electronic disc that you wait for it to beep, then collect your order at the counter. I really hope they will improve on their use of this method, because currently it is plain stupid. You get beeped, and I weave my way around the tables to get to the counter at last, to be greeted with my drink, and was asked to return again later (when the disc beeps again) for the sandwich. Have they considered to prepare all of the customer’s order and have it ready first on a tray before beeping so that the customer only needs to come by once? It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you are not going to serve the food and drink to the customer’s table, at least minimise the need for the paying customer to walk to and fro. And they don’t bother to offer a tray, cutlery or serviettes, all these you need to ask from the counter, which is also sharing space with the cashier, that makes the whole service of food/drinks cluttered and messy. If Cedele had wanted to push this idea of self-service, they should have thought about having a segregated service area for order pick-up, not unlike those of Starbucks or Coffee Bean, rather than having everything at the cashier.

And maybe I was imagining things but the roast chicken avocado sandwich I ordered that day seemed to have shrank. From the aerial view it still looks the same since the bread loaf hasn’t changed, but inside it just feels like the ingredients have been reduced. Do businesses reduce the value by cutting back on ingredients whilst maintaining the prices to claw back the costs of renovation?

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It wasn’t a pleasant experience that evening, from the whole ordering, getting my orders piecemeal (and I’d only ordered two items, imagine if I had four), and then eating my food all the while having to tune out the distracting vultures circling around waiting to swoop in when I clean off the last morsel of food on my plate.

Oh, and lastly, I ordered a soy latte that felt like heated soy without the latte. I don’t think it’s my imagination from the already bad dining experience but I just didn’t feel the coffee at all, even though I hadn’t had a single ounce of caffeine at all the whole day and was looking forward to a nice cup of latte.

Maybe it is a great business idea because I can see that business seems more brisk but the human touch feels absent. In dollars and cents, I suppose it makes economic sense to have high turnover of customers and people coming and going, but then it feels just like another fast food outlet in the end.