From the cheap and cheerful to grand temples of fine dining, Singapore’s rich cultural heritage has produced some of the most exciting food anywhere.
I’m always happy to be in Singapore. It’s one of the great, great eating cities, and nobody says it enough. It has a fantastic natural cuisine but also this exciting mixture of Indian, Malay, English and Arab. Unlike other major Southeast Asian city’s, say Bangkok, Jakarta, and Phnom Penh, Singapore is clean, neat, tidy, safe and efficient. My goodness, it’s efficient: restaurant bookings, taxis, public transport, a coffee order; and people smile here.
I spent a long time in Singapore, assigning myself to personal culinary missions, and noticed almost immediately how the city is a homogenous, integrated, international place of choice rather than birth. I travel a lot, and this must be the most successful mongrel casserole anywhere. Every national that comes to compete in banking, food or tourism, will find a welcoming committee and a population ready to eat. It’s this microcosm of deep fantastic natural that has resulted in some of the best
Many meals were consumed in hawkers, hopping between vendors; quick,cheap, on-the-move mouthfuls. Other times I’d just wander along thestalls, gawping at the endless variety of noodles, satays, dumplings,chicken rice and cultural mélange.
The centrally located Chinatown Complex is one of the largest hawker
“The food in Singapore is one of the best melds, not just a melting pot of world
Opposite Chinatown Complex, I had breakfast one morning with Chef Han Li Guangof Labyrinth restaurant, slurping bowls of
For laksa, visit Alexandra Village Claypot Laksa (
I turned to such economical hawker options often, wandering among the stalls studying the endless dishes, trying anything I could—fish-head curry,
Likewise, the sloshy amphibian
I moved to the new InterContinental Robertson Quay, located in theRiver Valley on the banks of the river. Here I experienced another part of the city, away from the malls and tourist cluster. The hotel opened last year, offering a very different experience and design aesthetic to The InterContinental Bugis across town. Rooms are slick and contemporary, fitted with all mod-cons. My Club Riverview StudioKing Room was a moderately sized space with the most comfortable bed this side of the Yangtze River.
Next door, the hotel’s Publico restaurant
Exploring the River Valley further, I visited two of the city’s most anticipated restaurant openings, handily located next door to one another on Mohamed Sultan Rd: The English House by Marco Pierre White and Hashida Sushi.
White’s restaurant is engulfed in tropical foliage, a former shophouse injected with new life. Upon entering, two Indian doorman—brothers, Sarjit and Swaran Singh—greet diners. Food is best described as British comfort food, nothing hoity-toity; it’s quality pub grub: a gravy-soaked Shepherd’s Pie and a Fried Fillet of English Turbotwith Chips—that’s fish & chips to you and me.
Meanwhile, next door, Kenjiro ‘Hatch’ Hashida—the son of Master Sushi Chef, Tokio Hashida—has opened Hashida Sushi, a classic omakase concept serving counter dining with menus ranging from 80 Singapore dollars to 300-500 for the Chef’s Menu, featuring premium grade sushi and sashimi such as
Venturing deeper into the island, I arrange tours of Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens. Built on reclaimed land in 2012, Gardens by the Bay is a marvel of engineering and sustainable design—one of the island’s most photographed attractions. I like how its climate-controlled greenhouse domes, artificial superstructure trees,
Over in the sticky-tropical-entrapment of the Botanical Gardens, I visited Corner House Restaurant (Cluny Rd) for dinner. Set within the former house of British botanist Eldred John Henry Corner, the restaurant applies an in-depth understanding of how best to use herbs and plants in the cooking process with Chef Jason Chan describing his menu as ‘gastro-botanica’. The standout course is an intricate study of the humble onion, manipulated and presented as a trio: “Baked OnionCup” sees a whole onion baked and hollowed, filled with onion puréeand confit, a 62°C sous-vide egg, sea salt, chives, and black truffles. Then, an “Onion Tart” made from crispy filo pastry, topped with parmesan cheese; followed by “Onion Tea” and an emulsion of onion confit and cream; Earl Grey-infused onion tea is then poured over.
Back in the city, I moved to The InterContinental Bugis, a more historical offering than the contemporary Robertson Quay, and a building rooted in the arts and cultural districts of Bugis and Bras Basah. This district is home to several museums and places of worship, reflecting Singapore’s rich, multi-faceted cultural identity. The hotel is also within striking distance of the colonial-style Raffles Hotel, which, along with The InterContinental Bugis, remains one of Singapore’s most loved heritage properties.
Raffles, however, was closed for refurbishment during my visit, but by the time you read this, should once again be open to the world. To payhomage to its refined culinary roots—it was the first hotel inSingapore to hire a French chef when its restaurant opened in1899—the renovated hotel will house a new lineup of dining venueshelmed by celebrity chefs—including Alain Ducasse, Anne-Sophie Picand Jereme Leung. Considering that Singapore lost its only Michelin three-star restaurant when the recently deceased chef Joël Robuchon closed his eponymous French restaurant, this is certainly good news for visiting gourmands.
Now set within the Bugis district, I’m able to discover more on foot and take to the streets, discovering specialty coffee at Mellower Coffee and their “Sweet Little Rain” innovation, in which a ball of cotton candy is suspended over a steaming Americano, so that the upwards steam begins to melt away the candy, which drips into the coffee, simulating raindrops as it sweetens the brew.
Discovering Amoy Street changed everything. This vibrant stretch of road isparticularly encouraging for the time-poor and hungry traveller. Thelong, narrow street of candy-coloured shophouses is lined witheverything from barbershops to bars to galleries, offices and Koreanbarbecue joints, easily one of the most exciting and progressivestrips in Singapore.
Dinner at Nouri—a pop-up event and collaboration between Chef/Owner Ivan Brehm (one-time head of The Fat Duck test kitchen) and Chef ArnieMarcella of Bunker in Bangkok—is a masterful meal of intersecting cultures and unique
Speaking of bars, I experienced some of the most brilliant cocktails and bearded-hipster-efficient-friendly service I have anywhere in the world. Also located on Amoy Street is Employees Only, a high-energy cocktail bar accessible via a secret entrance behind a neon sign advertising psychic readings. Other standout bars—many of which feature in The World’s 50 Best Bars list—
The following day I return to Amoy Street hoping to uncover more in daylight. Back within the
I leave central Singapore for the eastern Katong district, checking into Hotel Indigo. There’s more of a feeling of progressive gentrification here, a
The Peranakan-inspired Baba Chews is run by Chef Alvin Leong who tells me that this honed style of cuisine is rooted in memory with menus
For breakfast, I went local, ordering kaya toast, runny eggs,
It’s in Katong where I also stumbled upon an outpost of Tim Ho Wan—the Michelin-awarded dim sum restaurant from Hong Kong—and the nearly-century-old Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, a local institution where charcoal-grilled kaya buns are the order of the day. Kim ChooKuch Chang is another stop-off, where I feast on glutinous rice nyonya chang dumplings. Then, it’s back across the island, returning to thecentralised bustle and meals at a handful of Singapore’s mostcelebrated restaurants.
I meet up again with Chef Han for dinner at Labyrinth (RafflesAve)—winner of a Michelin-star and the Epicurean Star Award’sBest Asian Fine Dining prize—followed by meals at Burnt Ends (Teck Lim Rd) and Jaan (Swissôtel The Stamford); a trio of restaurants each competitively striving forward, establishing themselves as players in Asia’s busy food market.
At Labyrinth, I ate one of the most accomplished and personal meals of my life, Chef Han producing a menu rooted in nostalgia, each course accompanied by a postcard detailing the genesis behind each creation, many of which are influenced by a family member. The Chilli Crab IceCream was
Burnt Ends is a spectacle offering too, a long, narrow restaurant with an open kitchen and counter-top seating. Food is cooked over fire because, well, gas and ring ovens are simply regarded as one long bored eye roll. Australian Chef Dave Pynt applies an uncluttered simplicity to his food, and it takes serious skill and nerve to grill a beautiful fish like Kingfish and get it right. The skin here is grilled to that curious place between gelatinous and crisp. Just about everything is touched by flame or smoke giving a robust flavour, from the likes of flatiron steak to King crab with garlic brown butter.
At Jaan, Chef Kirk Westaway is making the boldest move of all, breaking out from the French traditions that swamp great swaths of the Singapore fine dining establishment and promoting English food—gulp! Yes, hear me out. He’s not chasing the fashionable, but turning tohome—he grew up in the Devonshire countryside—and cooking with a bold inventiveness with results beguiling and ingenue fresh.
The “English Garden” course is a Chef Kirk creation requiring painstaking dedication, and a steady hand, consisting of over 30individually plated vegetables, dressed with a Scottish kombu dashi poured from a small watering can. Chef Kirk demonstrates an intense eye for detail and an instinct for clean, bright, showy design, all of which is on full display here.
Remaining days are spent on foot, undoubtedly a good thing given the obscene volume of food I had consumed, walking the shoreline, through EastCoast Park to Tanjong Beach. I passed Long Beach SeafoodRestaurant—“Creator of the Original and the Best Black PepperCrab of Singapore!”—and couldn’t resist
Crabs are a must in Singapore and they come in various renditions. They go through a two-step cooking process; first boiled, then fried so the meat doesn’t stick to the shell. My two-kilo black pepper crab is aking crustacean, and I pick, pluck and pull at its flesh, all of the fiddly
Few cities have left me as filled and fulfilled as Singapore. It’s a strange global gathering of cuisines stretched across districts on what is a relatively small island. At every level and every price-point, there is deliciousness and serious, proper, belly-out
I can’t be as bombastic as to say it’s the greatest eating city in the world, but it’s a masterclass in mass feeding across economical divides and in the metaphysics of
David was a guest of InterContinental Robertson Quay, InterContinentalBugis, and Hotel Indigo Katong.