19 th Jun 2014
Once considered a mere convenient stopover between Australia and Europe, Singapore’s booming culinary movement and fascinating architecture have elevated the city-state to a desirable destination in its own right.
Singapore is buzzing. Not like the gloriously chaotic Bangkok or the frenetically paced Tokyo. It’s a smoother buzz; refined, relaxed, harmonious.
Rather than being stifled by a government that has famously curtailed the freedoms of chewing gum and crossing roads at will, Singaporeans appear to enjoy the structure, manicured beauty, and care the government takes to ensure its people are housed, safe and employed. Indeed, there is a certain courteous harmony in the multiculturalism of Singapore with its mix of Chinese, Malay (Muslim), Peranakan (a cultural mix of Chinese and Malay ancestry) and Indian heritages — one that other countries would do well to take note of.
For travellers seeking a luxury escape, Singapore’s range of accommodation, architecture, cuisine and landscape all ensure it is no longer simply a stopover. This city is a destination.
A mouth-watering selection of Peranakan dishes is on offer at the Swissotel Merchant Court’s popular buffet.
The culinary movement is booming and impressive, with inspirations from its Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan (also known as Straits Chinese) cultures. Peranakan cuisine came about at a time when Chinese ingredients were being married with various spices and cooking techniques used by the Malay/Indonesian community. The resulting dishes are tangy, aromatic and spicy — such as ayam buah keluak (chicken cooked with a nut from the kepayang tree), otah (fish blended with spices and wrapped in banana leaves) and itek tim (duck and preserved-vegetable soup). The city’s Swissotel Merchant Court hotel, located near the harbour, features a lunch buffet that includes a selection of Peranakan dishes, and is a favourite of both locals and tourists.
Vogue Living asked around to find the best place for the country’s national dish, chilli crab, and was directed by several sources (including a local cab driver) to Jumbo restaurant at Clarke Quay. Having done our research, we remembered to peel the shell away from the crab and dip the meat into the thick, chilli-based broth in which it is served.
Dining room with a view — Swissotel The Stamford’s Jaan restaurant looks out across to Marina Bay Sands hotel.
Jaan restaurant, on the 70th floor of the Swissotel The Stamford (higher than the 57 floors of the famous viewing spot atop Marina Bay Sands hotel), affords not only stunning views but the artisanal French creations of chef Julien Royer, who this year took the restaurant to the 17th spot on the S. Pellegrino/Acqua Panna Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The dishes are inventive, and seductively light, drawing on natural flavours — sweet crab; salty chicken broth poured over lightly cooked monkfish; and smoked eggs cooked at 55 degrees Celsius, served in their shells topped with toasted chorizo and laid on dry ice.
Hawker food centres (street food stalls jumbled together in designated areas) are best when searching for another dish local to Singapore, Hainanese chicken rice — boiled chicken served with rice cooked in the stock of the chicken. For produce, the wet markets are where locals buy their fresh food, eschewing supermarkets for these vibrant stalls, including Tiong Bahru Food Market, which also features a hawker centre upstairs. Try the sweet hot coffee or a cooling sugarcane juice between other tempting dishes.
We suggest you skip the malls! Outside the Tiong Bahru Food Market in the surrounding art deco neighbourhood you will find boutiques and clothing stores such as Nana Bird on Chay Yan Street, stocked with local designer wares, and standout cafe 40 Hands on Yong Siak Street.
The Writers Bar at Raffles is the perfect spot to sip a Singapore Sling and learn about the hotel’s storied past.
Vogue Living stayed at Raffles, the iconic colonial gem so steeped in history that a story is found at every turn, from the silver beef wagon used for serving (which was among the silverware buried for safety in the garden during the Japanese occupation of World War II) to the original grandfather clock that chimes every 15 minutes in the grand lobby. Raffles is another world — a magical enclave for reminiscing about a splendorous past filled with poetry and high-society glamour. Ask to meet resident historian Leslie Danker, a charming man in his fifth decade of employ who knows all the stories there are to tell, from the truth of the tiger shot under the billiard room, to the handwritten notes of dedication from Somerset Maugham.
Spanish head chef Carlos Montobbio serves up modern tapas bites at the Fairmont’s trendy new bar Anti:dote — part of the hotel’s recent refurbishment.
Vogue Living also stayed at the newly renovated Fairmont Singapore, in its central location across the road from Raffles, which offers touches of the Peranakan culture in decoration as well as luxurious accommodation. The Penthouse Suite, with its decadent sauna tucked away in the expansive bathroom, is a not-so-humble lesson in extravagant bathing.
Charming reminders of yesteryear — such as this retro-style painting on a window blind — are to be found around every corner in Ann Siang Hill and Keong Saik Road.
We strolled down to the Gardens by the Bay at night and wandered among the giant ‘supertrees’ — man-made vertical-garden structures designed to allow flora to find its way up as the vines climb and weave around its bars. At night the lighting is blue, creating the illusion of a settlement of alien pods nestled in the dark surrounding greenery.
Futuristic structures are found throughout the city, from the Esplanade (also known as the ‘opera house’) to the Marina Bay Sands hotel, and are the more striking landmarks on show, towering over some certain jewels below. These include the colonial beauty of older buildings and the majesty of the Sultan Mosque. Also worth a drive-by is the Old Hill Street Police Station (now the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts), which features a rainbow of bright window shutters. Colour is everywhere, from the (lawfully) graffitied walls of Haji Lane — parallel to the more famous Arab Street shopping strip — to the pretty pastels of the colonial shopfronts in Ann Siang Hill neighbourhood and Keong Saik Road.
A city of contrasts — colourful shop-houses are juxtaposed against a backdrop of modern highrises on Keong Saik Road.
Ann Siang Road and the adjacent Club Street are closed to traffic Friday and Saturday nights after 7pm, providing pedestrian strips of dining and drinking spots. Venture down in the evenings for the atmosphere, but allow enough light in the late afternoon to take in the architectural surrounds.
Nearby, a traditional Chinese tea house little-known to tourists is Tea Chapter, an authentic and charming spot for taking and purchasing tea. The locals love it, as does Queen Elizabeth II, whose visit was captured by pictures that now adorn the walls in tribute. A nod to the country’s colonial past? Or, perhaps enjoying a perfect cup of tea is simply a universal pleasure.
Vogue Living flew to Singapore with Qantas Business Class and enjoyed the new premium lounge at Singapore’s Changi airport, with food by Neil Perry and a dedicated cocktail bar inspired by the tastes of chef Perry’s Spice Temple restaurant.
City guide: a gourmet escape in sophisticated Singapore