Written by Candice Neo
Co-written by Denise Tan and Beverley Lennon
I have always known Taman Mount Austin in Johor Bahru to be a hipster area with chill cafes, but on my recent trip there, I was even more amazed – the area has transformed into a mini Taiwanese town, not just with trendy cafes, but with more than 50 bubble tea shops (and the number is growing as we speak!), late-night food-truck supper spots, Instagrammable claw machines like those you see in Taiwan’s night markets and even a 24/7 convenience store where you can find Taiwanese and Korean snacks and sit and chill with a hot bowl of oden too!
It reminds me of small towns near central Taiwan (Taichung), with none of that big-city vibrant chaos of Taipei but with the chill vibes of a colourful town that comes alive mainly at night.
I know most of you love to hang around City Square and KSL area, where you can get your nails done and seafood feasts for cheap on a short day trip or weekend trip from Singapore, but why not see a different side just 30 minutes’ drive from JB City Square?
It’s now officially my favourite area in JB! And while you are in Mount Austin, you might want to check out Toppen Shopping Centre, a newly opened megamall just 10 minutes’ drive away (it’s super different from the usual JB malls with a rooftop garden, rock climbing facilities and Korean fashion)!
Here’s all the trendiest hipster cafes, restaurants and bubble tea shops you can hang out at with your BFFs when you are exploring Mount Austin!
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1. Toast up your mini loaves in a minimalist-garden setting: The Caphe 咔啡
This minimalist yet whimsical cafe reminds me of Shaun Teo Creations in KL, which also features bread that you can toast up yourself with a mini toaster!
They have also recently introduced a mini Korean spicy sausage stew, which you can enjoy over an individual hotpot, paired with soju for that extra buzz.
Come here for lunch, and stay for dessert! Their strawberry swissroll looks simply heavenly, and people love their lemon butter cake. End your day with their Vietnamese iced coffee – their speciality.2. Famous Thai noodles served with tom yum on a supper food truck: KCK Seafood Mama Mee (下麵给你吃)
If you’ve been to Thailand, you would have heard of Mama Mee, which is as popular in Thailand as how Indomie has reached cult status in Indonesia.
This food truck serves up a steaming hot bowl of tom yum seafood Mama Mee, popular among Johoreans mostly as a hidden supper spot, tucked away along Jalan Austin Heights 8/7, in front of Kong Inn Seafood Restaurant.
For only RM 13.90, I dug into my Mama Mee with a generous serving of fresh seafood – prawns, squid, topped with egg. The tom yum soup is thick, spicy and delicious, definitely comparable to some of the good ones I had in Bangkok.
It was quite breezy when I went at around 9.30pm on a November weeknight, perfect for enjoying a good bowl of tom yum noodles. Do come early though, especially on weekends – we hear they get sold out pretty quickly!
There’s a changing daily menu for their skewers too, which you can order up some to pair with your Mama Mee! And if you come in a group of 4, order up their giant tom yum Mama Mee suitable for 4!
3. Fresh lobster rice porridge founded by SG celebrity (who is also the chef!): Sun Gourmet Kitchen 新煌亭
It’s no surprise when celebrities start entrepreneurial ventures after they have accumulated sufficient capital, so when Singapore’s MediaCorp artiste Yao Wen Long (姚文龙) decided to set up a restaurant in JB, it did not raise eyebrows but rather, people were curious and excited to try it out since he is also the chef here!
They specialise in rice porridge with seafood, such as lobster, clams, crabs, etc.
Two of us shared the small (regular) serving of rice porridge with lobster and it was just enough for us, and we were starving! The lobster was fresh, and the rice porridge was smooth and tasty – easy for kids to eat too if you bring them!
We’ve heard that there’s a long queue usually at dinnertime, so we went at 5pm on a weekday and the restaurant was already more than half-filled! So do come early if you want to avoid the crowd.
4. Hotpot and karaoke?!: The Rhythm (节奏大使)
We love hotpots and karaokes, but to enjoy BOTH together? You’ve got us here.
At The Rhythm, you can come with your gang and don’t even need to head elsewhere for drinks after dinner. Enjoy your hotpot on plush comfy seats while some of you take turns with the karaoke and you can order in beer too – perfect for big group gatherings or birthday celebrations!
You can opt for different packages, and some include free-flow snacks with karaoke if you’re too full for hotpot.
Keep a lookout for their promos during festivities too, you might just be able to snag packages with freebies such as free karaoke sessions, free beer and so on! Students get special discounts too. 😉
5. Chill with creamy cheesecakes and refreshing mocktails: The Cheese Lab
Their cheesecakes are so light and fluffy, that even when we came here after a full dinner, we thoroughly enjoyed our dessert!
I must admit, I’m not a fan of cheese. I only go for cheeses with mild tastes such as camembert, so I was a little apprehensive when we came here, but to my surprise, their cheesecakes here are not the dense New York cheesecake versions (which I generally avoid) but pretty light and mildly sweet, paired with a generous dollop of cream. I tried their original cheesecake and love it!
You can opt for cheesy drinks too (just like cheese bubble tea), but we chose a refreshing peach mocktail with passion fruit and butterflypea instead, which looks so Instagrammable, as cute as the cafe’s colourful interiors!
6. Dine under bouquets of floral blooms: bloom by Mokmok
To all boyfriends/husbands out there, your girl definitely likes flowers even if she always tells you that they “are a waste of money” (unless she’s allergic to pollen :X).
So a floral themed cafe like bloom is perfect for a romantic date! Who would say no to dining under bouquets of colourful dried flowers, with a light floral fragrance in the air?
The menu serves up mains like the Grilled Chicken Burger or Salmon Rice Bowl, but they also offer some interesting dishes like the Gyutan Rice Bowl, which is actually beef’s tongue! Whatever you order, do give their flower teas a try – their specialties are blooms after all!
Oh, and did we mention that they have those jiggly cloud-like souffle pancakes here too? #boomerang inspiration, anyone?
Before you go, don’t forget that Instagrammable swing outside the cafe – a must for every trendy couple! The natural lighting and potted plants will give your photos a different spin! 😉
7. Throwback to old school Taiwanese dramas: High School Kopitiam
Once you step in, you’ll find an old school chalkboard menu and wooden tabletops – furniture pieces that most schools in Singapore and Malaysia have done away with since a long time ago. Nostalgia strikes – could it be…?
Yes, a remake of Taiwanese high school settings from some of our favourite movies like ‘You Are the Apple of My Eye’ (also known as ‘那些年，我們一起追的女孩’)!
Here’s your chance to pose as the charming school belle who steals the heart of every boy in class, or transform into that classroom joker who used to prank everyone else!
And of course, you can expect a rendition of your school canteen fare… Not. 😉 We wish these were served when we were still in high school! Warm and fresh charcoal-grilled sandwiches that are baked in-house, Crispy Pork Belly sandwiches with oozing egg yolk… Besides, at RM 8.90 (SGD 2.95), this delicious chow is a steal! We ordered their chicken and bacon-and-egg sandwiches, which are delicious (opt for their charcoal toast!)
Complement your trendy sandwiches with popular Taiwanese-nostalgia drinks – Sugarcane Milk or High School Milk Tea – there, you have your perfect match of Instagrammable after-school kopitiam food!
Here’s where you’ll never grow old (if you don’t wish to)! 😉
TripCanvas Tip: On the hunt for a full meal after your tea break here? Head on to Guo Ma Taiwanese Steamboat Buffet right next to the cafe for Malaysia’s affordable rendition of Hai Di Lao! However, do book beforehand, or you might get turned away at the doorstep…
8. Escape into Mickey & Minnie’s world! – M2escape
With so many cute trendy characters nowadays (we love Pusheen, Sumikko Gurashi, Gudetama, Hello Kitty, Moomin and all!), how often do we find those that are inspired by characters we used to love when we were kids (if you can relate to this, high five to fellow early 90s’ babies!)?
So it was a huge surprise to us when we stumbled upon this Mickey Mouse cafe, which is also part of a Mickey Mouse-themed homestay too! You can expect to find everything red-and-black and polka dotted here – from red-and-white polka dotted seats, giant Mickey and Minnie plushies as your Insta-companions, lattes served in Mickey mugs, to Mickey-shaped ice-cream, cakes… well you get the idea. Everything has a touch of that quintessential Disney mouse, and most utensils are Mickey-shaped.
They serve up mainly Western meals that both adults and kids generally love, such as the usual range of pastas (carbonara, tomato-based spaghetti, aglio olio), baked rice, chicken chop, Hawaiian chicken pizza and so on. Of course, don’t forget to order sides (French fries, potato wedges, chicken nuggets and more) for sharing!
And yes there is even Mickey-themed bubble tea with golden bubbles (because how can they miss out on the BBT craze in Singapore and Malaysia, right?)! 😉
You can also purchase Mickey and Minnie items at their cafe’s store, and for huge Mickey fans, you might even want to consider a night at their themed two-bedroom homestay, which stays up to 8-10 people, is very kids-friendly with Mickey beds and matching bed frames, play area for kids, Karaoke system, Xbox360 and balcony which overlooks the streets of Taman Mount Austin. If you’re here for special occasion, they do party catering too!
9. IG-worthy 24/7 convenience store with aquarium, hot oden, Taiwanese and Korean snacks!: Give Me Five
How often do you see a cute convenience store in Malaysia with an aquarium with colourful live fish (those that aren’t going onto your dinner plates), oden, Taiwanese and Korean snacks and comfy sitting areas altogether? AND is open 24/7? How about like, never?!
So I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard of this, and decided to go check it out when I was in JB one weekend (and my wallet sorely regretted it!).
What was meant to be a 5-minute stop at the convenience store ended up to be more than half an hour, during which I excitedly grabbed bags of Lobster potato sticks, Hokkaido white chocolate (yes, those super delicious ones that your friends always buy back from Japan), collagen beauty drinks (those you can find in Thailand!), smoked plum juice, Japanese biscuits, and filled my basket with Haidilao self-heating hotpots and instant Tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes). Simply because, these are uncommon items in Singapore and Malaysia.
If you’re lucky, you might even be able to find White Rabbit milk tea too (which we missed!).
You can also order up oden here like in FamilyMart (and with a wider selection too!) and sit by the aquarium with a hot bowl of fishcake, mussels, tofu, crabsticks and more! Looking for exotic snacks? How about salted duck egg yolk biscuits or spiced anchovies (those you can find in authentic Chinese supermarkets)?
And girls, if you’re having a beauty crisis, just head here anytime – you’ll find mini sewing kits, eyelash curlers, make-up sponges, hairbrushes and more!
10. Hidden speakeasy bar (look up to the sky!) – Cloud 94 (云酒肆)
Under the guise of a shop lot, Cloud 94 hides on the top floor of a 4-storey building. Chances are you’ll walk past it at least a dozen times throughout the day. We don’t blame you, as it is later during the evening that Cloud 94 invites you for drinks with a good bunch of friends!
No secret code or door here, but rather, it is an easily-missed venue with romantic vibes to it – it is draped in red curtains and is so underground (not literally but) that even locals don’t know about it. I mean, who wants to drop by a shop lot after usual working hours, right?
And when it comes to drinks, the mixologist here throws you into the clouds with unique creations that include dried fruits, flowers and more!
Clue: From 6pm onwards, look up at the sky to spot neon lights!
11. Look out for the pink Hello Kitty food truck!: Hao Hao Lok Lok 好好碌碌
Lok lok (skewers) can be Instagrammable too!
Check out this Hello Kitty food truck, where you can find a huge variety of skewers ranging from fishballs to meats, sausages, mushrooms, vegetables and more.
Don’t forget to pair them with the various dipping sauces too!
12. Sip coffee in a former factory: Just Want Coffee JWC, The Factory 30
If you’re braving the possibly horrendous custom queue to get into JB, you will probably want a nice quiet place to savour your food in peace without having to deal with the crowd. This 2-storey modern industrial themed cafe is perfect for that comfy afternoon ambience.
Think coffee aroma and a cool metal shutter interior with gurney sacks hanging from the ceiling, while you dig into a delicious meal of your choice – it’s simply the perfect weekend after a hectic work week!
This former factory is located in the industrial area so it might get a little confusing amidst all the workshops and industrial containers while on your way to the cafe. Just look out for the big red building!
Once you’re settled in at your table, take a look at the retro “customer manual” (yes, that’s the menu!). Choose from pastas, pizzas, bagels, cakes, and even bottled Oreo cheesecakes!
However, the real highlight is their coffee (no surprises here given the cafe’s name!) – you can find a good variety here from the classic cappuccino to hand brews like the Ethiopia Limmu. Yes coffee fanatics, it’s time to go crazy with a cuppa you can’t usually find in Singapore (especially with that affordable price tag)!
13. Pretty in pink: OH! Boss cafe (噢！老爷)
Pastel coloured ball pits, pink neon typography signs and all sorts of pink photo props – if you love everything pink, you’ll instinctively work out all the best angles to score the most Instagrammable photos!
Similar to the Urban Spaces cafe in Seoul, OH! Boss cafe has created a cute, pink camera-ready space (they even have an over-large photo frame for a cool Insta-ception shot!).
The menu here consists of desserts like eggettes and all sorts of beverages, from refreshing fruit teas with fresh oranges and mangoes, taro milk teas to grapefruit smoothies!
With their newly launched set option, a beverage of your choice and an eggette will only set you back by RM15 (approximately SGD 4.97)!
If you’re a fan of pink, this cafe will definitely be great Insta-fun for you – I’ll pinky promise! 😉
14. The Malaysian version of AquaS: Urban Artisan Cafe
Love the iconic blue AquaS soft serve, which originated from Sydney and has been a huge hype among Singaporeans since they opened an outlet in Singapore? Now you can find a more affordable alternative in JB too!
With 200 different flavours (rotated every week), you can expect to see unique ones such as Oceanic Sea Salt (which is in the shade of blue AquaS’ soft serve is famous for), Matcha & Roasty Hojicha, Valrhona Chocolate and more.
They also serve waffles topped with ice-cream if you want a heavier dessert.
According to them, their soft serves are low in sugar and fat too, so come down with your BFFs for a weekend date!
15. Bubble tea cafe-hop among more than 50 boba shops!
Taman Mount Austin is known to be the little hipster bubble tea town of JB, and it lives up to its name. When we were there, we’d walk past a bubble tea shop every three minutes! Not to mention lots seem to be newly opened.
My personal favourite is Black Whale, a Taiwanese chain that has super gao (thick and dense) brown sugar boba milk, and their signature Fiery Brown Sugar Black Whale Milk is really da bomb – no other brown sugar boba milk I’ve tried (and yes I’m a fan of The Alley too) could match up to it yet. Their Brown Sugar Avocado Milk is one of my regular go-to too. Hope they will come to Singapore soon!
A new one I recently tried is Feng Cha (奉茶), which specialises in healthier floral fruit teas in an Instagrammable cafe. I opted for their popular hawthorn and plum fruit tea with no sugar (yes, you can customise!), which was super refreshing especially after having a bowl of spicy tom yam mama mee.
Most of these cafes come with comfy seats and open till past midnight so you can come chill here after supper (unlike in Singapore where mostly only bars are open past midnight). A healthier option to alcohol, no? 😉
16. Kiap your favourite plushies at claw machines all over Taman Mount Austin!
One thing I noticed when walking around this area is that besides bubble tea cafes, there’s quite a number of claw machines scattered around – not individually, but rather in specific shop lots like in Taiwan.
Here’s where you can test your boyfriend’s skills – get him to snag your favourite plushie or even cosmetics like the much-loved YSL lipstick!
17. Delicious legendary bittergourd soup: Kah Kah Loke Bittergourd Soup food truck (佳佳乐苦瓜汤 餐车)
If you travel to JB frequently, you might have heard of the famous Kah Kah Loke Bittergourd Soup which has a few branches around town.
Though I did not try the food truck option, I’ve tasted their bittergourd soup at their restaurants more than once, and love it! It’s very savoury with generous servings of bittergourd slices and minced pork, and I finished every drop of it (though I must admit it must be pretty high in salt and MSG content…).
Now that they have a food truck outlet, you can enjoy a steaming hot bowl of savoury bittergourd soup for supper. Pair it with a plate of springy noodles topped with crunchy fried lard cubes!
18. Dig into the famous KL Hokkien Mee: Restoran Uncle Pou Wok
Not travelling to KL but thinking of KL Hokkien Mee (FYI, KL’s version is thick udon-like noodles soaked in sweet black sauce)?
You can satisfy your cravings at Restoran Uncle Pou Wok, which has a few outlets in JB. Don’t expect too much of good service here but come here to enjoy a good authentic plate of Hokkien Mee, which is smoky and has what we call the ‘wok breath’, stir-fried with sausages, fish cake, prawns and cuttlefish.
Pair it with their Sweet and Sour Pork, which is said to be delicious too.
Where to stay in Mount Austin
Garden-themed boutique hotel in the heart of Mount Austin: Midori Concept Hotel
This is one of the prettiest and most value-for-money comfy stay in Mount Austin (in my personal opinion) that’s close to all the action. I’ve stayed here twice and would choose this boutique hotel again on my next trip.
Not only is the exterior beautifully adorned with green creepers but the interiors too with a touch of greenery that’s uncommon in JB.
You can chill at the plush European-inspired sofa seats while waiting for check-in. And expect no less from your room – plush princess beds and headboards in an almost-French boudoir-themed room that your girlfriends would love.
And when you walk out, you’re right next to Give Me Five convenience store, nail salons and bubble tea shops! You can’t find another hotel here that’s better in terms of looks, value, comfort and location!
Truth be told, we’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg and featured some of the top hidden hipster dining spots in Mount Austin. To experience this small town in its full vibrancy, come down with your BFFs for the weekend! (Even 2D1N wasn’t enough for us, we wished we could have extended our stay!)