“What!?” was my first reaction when makan buddy Vincent Lim invited me for chomps at Steeples Deli. “You mean they are still open for business?” After all, Steeples is Singapore’s first deli, opened about 37 years ago in a charming corner of the then popular Tanglin Shopping Centre. “Where?” you ask, but this fading, woody, musky, yet functioning mall is the quaintest in Orchard area, in my books. You won’t find the usual same-ol’-same-ol’ shops and brands offering pharmaceuticals or brightly lit Japanese or European mass clothing chains (isn’t it sad when you come across strangers who wears the same top as you do in a day), or fast food eateries. Their fastest eatery is a little economical rice café on the ground floor where you get served faster than at the fast burger chains. You see stalls selling collector eyewear, lots of antique shops, medical centres, camera shops, cosy little pubs, cafes, small boutiques and a some old popular restaurants (still standing) like Tambuah Mas and the Magic of Chongqing Hotpot (remember them?)
Back to Steeples. Boss David Mun partnered the founder Alex Steele way back when and took over this all woody, counter seat deli completely when Mr Steele retired, in 2006. “Customers come today and ask if I remember them saying they were here as kids 20plus years ago with their parents”, David laughs but nods although he cannot recognise many of the second or third generation customers. They come back for the ever appealing classic American deli offerings. The Reuben Sandwich ($16.90), is a top seller “just see the stars next to the menu items” he advised me. They don’t use the usual corned beef (ignore the menu detail) but slices of glorious pastrami with a grilled mixed cheese sitting atop. Bite in and a deck of crunchy sauerkraut (not irritatingly sour) hidden inside will contain all that richness within the toasted rye bread. The Pork Loin Chops ($17.90) was a memory booster- loins have a lovely flavour and texture and it’s not about “soft and juicy’. These cuts are comfortable firm to the bite, moist and naturally flavoured. They just sprinkle the nicely seared chops it with some herbs, salt and pepper. It all came back to me after the first bite, like how I remembered old Hainan English cafes serve them. Their Steeples Burger ($20.90), done with an own made firm and imperfectly shaped beefy patty, has melted cheese, bacon and an oozy sunny side up egg atop. The whole thing just teases you to devour it. And I did, and it was worth the bully. I was staring at the “Cuban S/W” ($17.90) on the menu (after all the above) and in a blink I was biting in a crispy crunchy toasted focaccia bread (with grill marks) with grilled cheese, ham, tomato and an own made sauce. It came together nicely but it was the crispy grilled focaccia that got me.
You can hardly find a good decent (let alone an old Singapore branded) deli these days Steeples still carry that torch proudly. They have their little set of old regulars but this will pique the interest of a new foodie generation who wants not just flavours, but stories and heritage, and the Mun family delivers. And of course, more will also similarly echo “What? They are still around?!!”
02-24/25, Tanglin Shopping Centre
19, Tanglin Road
Close on Sundays and PH