CLUNY Court might not ring a bell now, but this once sleepy row of four-storey conservation shophouses along Bukit Timah Road looks set to be a new gourmet haunt.
Sitting at the junction of Bukit Timah Road and Cluny Road, the building is better known as being home to Italian restaurant Da Paolo Il Giardino and cake shop Awfully Chocolate.
But new food and beverage outlets opening there are shaping it into a mini food haven.
Last year, gourmet deli Da Paolo Gastronomia opened its second outlet there.
In April, Denise The Wine Shop, with 17 outlets islandwide, opened one there. It was joined five months later by Karma Kettle and Rhapsody, a cosy cafe serving traditional European fare with an Asian influence. The first-floor eatery also runs a retail shop several doors down, selling everything from soaps to vinaigrette from France.
Adding to the buzz is Relish, a burger joint by chef-owner Willin Low of Wild Rocket in Upper Wilkie Road, which opened on the second floor last week. On its menu are 10 burgers, including the popular Wild Rocket burger served with sun-dried tomato relish and new creations such as a Chinese roast pork burger.
In the pipeline are at least another two F&B operations, including a juice bar on the first floor.
These new F&B owners say they are drawn to the building because of its accessibility and heritage architecture, never mind if few are familiar with Cluny Court.
Low, 35, says: 'I like to find hidden gems and open eateries in places that are still largely undiscovered.'
Mr Dhiraj Arora, 27, owner of Kettle Karma, adds: 'We hope to be part of the action that turns Cluny Court into a dining landmark, and with things hotting up here, our cafe should draw crowds.'
He is so confident about the potential of the place that he is willing to pay three times the rent, on a per sq ft basis, that he is paying for his outlet in hot lifestyle hub Tanglin Village. That cafe opened yesterday.
The row of shophouses that make up Cluny Court were vacated in the early 1990s by tenants such as a Chinese bakery and a coffee shop that occupied the space now taken by Da Paolo Gastronomia. The buildings were then refurbished and put on the market in 1997 by its new owner, property developer Summerview Developments.
Yet there were no takers because of the property slump during the Asian financial crisis.
The place has 30,000 sq ft of commercial space on the first two floors. There is another 12,500 sq ft on the third and fourth storeys, divided into 10 apartments.
But Ms Elisa Ding, director of property development firm Jobina Construction, whose largest project to date is the 52-unit condominium Duchess Manor in Duchess Road, saw potential in the 'nostalgic architecture, charming shophouse frontage and prominent roadside location' of Cluny Court.
So she leased it from OCBC Bank, which took over the property after Summerview Developments failed to service its mortgage in 2001. She then sub-let to tenants such as Da Paolo Il Giardino and Italian restaurant Bacco, which has since closed.
In 2003, she bought the building for some $15 million in a mortgagee sale. A $6 million renovation followed, and among other things, the dusty rose-coloured exterior was given a more elegant coat of white paint.
With most of the major renovations on the first two floors complete this year, 11 new outlets have sprung up, including Kids' Loft, a children's playschool, and skin-and-body-care store Aldha.
Another 10 stores are planned for the second floor.
On the tenant mix, Ms Ding, in her 40s, says she goes for 'speciality stores that project a boutique-like feel and target a middle- to upper-class clientele'.
She adds that it is important that the stores 'complement each other and promote Cluny Court as a lifestyle destination offering visitors options for eating, shopping and relaxing.'
So there's everything from supermarket Cold Storage to Basic Essence, a holistic store and spa.
To jazz things up further, a bazaar will open on the second floor on Tuesday. Featuring new vendors weekly, it will stock a range of knick-knacks, including handmade bags and artworks.
Ms Lyn Lee, 34, owner of Awfully Chocolate, which opened here in 2004, believes the new hum of gastronomic activity in the building will liven up the place.
Residents in the neighbourhood also welcome the bustle, which for them means more dining and shopping choices.
Dr Erwin Viray, 46, a National University of Singapore assistant professor in architecture, who often drops by for a morning coffee, however, hopes the place doesn't lose its charm as 'a little pocket of quietness' after it takes off.