Shooting the breeze with Loh Lik Peng
Hotelier, restaurateur and - who knew? - music bar owner
6 December 2015
“We’re meeting with Loh Lik Peng to discuss Hua Bee this Saturday at the residents committee office!”
Loh Lik Peng turned up for the meeting with residents on time and with openness in his countenance. He had agreed to meet with us to discuss the future of a Tiong Bahru coffeeshop (”kopitiam” in our Singlish* parlance) that he’d just taken over. He assuaged our fears and agreed to keep the old-school façade and even the mee pok aunties (the lady noodle sellers). His plan was to operate a kopitiam by day and Japanese yakitori by night, which is now Hua Bee Restaurant and Bincho rolled into one.
*A version of English that is proudly Singaporean.
That was my first encounter with Peng in 2013; I feel quite inner circle now that I’m able to call him Peng. I knew the name - I’d read about his business ventures in hotels and restaurants and, oddly, hadn’t heard anything bad about him. Every businessman gets flack from some quarter of society, no matter how obscure. But, Peng seems to have a clean report card.
I took an immediate liking to his authenticity.
We were desperate to save Hua Bee from hipster doom. It was (and remains) a chilled out hangout for taxi drivers, residents and anyone who doesn’t work conventional office hours. There’s magic in being able to sip on one’s coffee at three in the afternoon with one leg hitched up on a stool and an arm resting on one’s knee. The thought of Hua Bee being turned into a cupcake shop or purveyor of $6 lattes gave us anxiety attacks.
But, Peng didn’t need much convincing. He listened to what we had to say and told us, “Please don’t worry; I’m definitely keeping those wall tiles.”
Peng’s stable of restaurants and hotels under his Unlisted Collection (ULC) brand are largely situated in heritage and/or conservation areas, whether in Singapore, Shanghai or Sydney. He explains that this focus is driven by much more than mere aesthetics.
“[It] is very much our brand DNA and it’s because for me, these buildings are the most interesting and have the most character. I love the old buildings for their sense of history and social rootedness in their locations. I like to be part of a community and part of the fabric of a neighbourhood when I situate a hotel and I think having an old building that’s been there for as long as living memory and one that the community recognises as part of the urban landscape helps a lot in that respect.”
Décor is another distinctive feature of Peng’s establishments, each creating a niche ambience that caters to a mostly eclectic taste.
Quite eclectic also, is Peng’s taste in music.
Use arrows to view photos of Unlisted Collection businesses.