Hotel Yan: Delicious digs in Jalan Besar

SINGAPORE – A jaunt across the border; dropping my bags in a new hotel; a weekend-long whirlwind of brunches, naps and never feeling hungry because 24 hours is not enough time for all the good food.

Before Covid-19 struck, this was my annual getaway in Johor Baru. With borders closed, I find similar adventures in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Jalan Besar, with a stay at Hotel Yan in Tyrwhitt Road.

Its name captures the spirit of travel – Yan means swallow in Mandarin – and this motif recurs in the hotel’s design. Its logo is a sleek bird’s feather and an installation of metal birds adorns a concrete wall behind the check-in counter.

The industrial interiors are a nod to the building’s former life as a metal warehouse, amid hardware stores that line surrounding streets.

Some have moved out in recent years as cafes such as Wimbly Lu and Black Fairy Coffee sprung up, says director Eileen Lim, who opened the hotel with her husband in 2015.

The concrete-chic design continues in my superior double with balcony view, which is compact but functional. A narrow balcony with draping reeds lends a pop of colour.

Starting at $159, the room is good value, but it is best to be well acquainted with your bedfellow before sharing the 12 to 15 sq m digs.

Toilet and shower cubicles share a single sliding door – which means only one can be shut at a time. For the sake of privacy, a curtain separates the bed from the bathroom.

The hotel is scant on amenities, relying on its surroundings instead.

Only street parking is available, and in lieu of a gym and pool, Mrs Lim says some guests head to the nearby Jalan Besar ActiveSG gym or swimming complex. Wisely, there is no in-house restaurant or breakfast offered. Why compete with all the good food around?

Across the street, in a coffee shop below Hotel 81 Elegance, Dynasty Fried Porridge dishes out Malaysian favourites such as Kuala Lumpur-style Hokkien mee. I order its eponymous dish ($7) and it arrives thick, gooey and gently charred, studded with cubes of fried lard.

Nearby, Gelato Labo features a menu influenced by fruit, herbs and spices. A server describes its seasonal flavour of smoked artichoke and pear compote as “epicurean”, which I interpret as an acquired taste, and settle for the safer option of navel orange and white chrysanthemum ($5). This turns out to be refreshing. A lavender cone ($1.40) adds fragrance and flavour.

Everything is within close proximity, so it is easy to duck back to my room for a video call. The Wi-Fi is zippy and power plugs beneath the desk are a nice touch.

At sundown, I wander through mural-painted alleys looking for a dinner spot and chance upon Scaled by Ah Hua Kelong, which moved from Haji Lane to Hamilton Road this year. I am impressed by the briny sea bass with nori cream tagliatelle, elevated by paperthin slices of tart pickled radish and a sprinkling of tobiko for crunch. At $23, it is good value.

There is too much to eat and too little time. When I check out the next day, the lunch crowd has already descended on coffee shop stall 88 Hong Kong Roast Meat Specialist across the road, with char siew and ultra-crispy roast pork so popular they sold out daily even during the circuit breaker.

Caffeine fiends have already gathered outside Chye Seng Huat Hardware. And the extensive craft beer menu at Druggists beckons. I will be back for another round of grazing.

Hot tip: Hotel guests get a 10 per cent discount on food at Black Fairy Coffee across the street, which serves Japanese bento and cafe fare.

Where: 162 Tyrwhitt Road

Info: Hotel Yan website

Rooms: 69

Rates: A single loft, which sleeps one, starts at $127. A superior double with balcony view (left), which the writer stayed in, starts at $159. All taxes are included.

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