by Destination expert and Evelyn Chen, The Telegraph, November 8, 2019
Old-meets-new glory in the Garden City
Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot in Singapore 200 years ago. This bicentennial milestone is celebrated with events and festivities aplenty, chief amongst them a multimedia sensory experience at Fort Canning Centre that showcases key moments of Singapore’s 700-year history tracing back to 1299. But why stop here when you can experience the Lion City in all its old-meets-new glory?
To see the real Singapore, veer off the beaten path to the newly gentrified Tiong Bahru for local breakfast and to observe how Singaporeans procure groceries at the Tiong Bahru market (whilst at it, check-in for a cup of local “sock“-filtered coffee with beans roasted with margarine and sugar). No one leaves Singapore without first getting a bird’s eye view of it in all its cosmopolitan beauty. For that, head over to Marina Bay, now a symbol of 21st century Singapore, to witness the centrepiece of the city’s successful urban transformation.
Hot right now . . .
Evelyn Chen, our destination expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things places to eat, drink and stay this season.
Snagging a reservation at the 16-seat Burnt Ends (20 Teck Lim Rd; 00 65 62224 3933), No. 59 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, requires meticulous planning, but that’s the least you could do to savour the burnt leek in brown butter sauce that everyone’s talking about.
The founder of the now-defunct Wild Rocket, Willin Low, who coined modern Singapore cuisine, brings back his experimental creations at dinner only in his new-to-Frasers Tower casual eatery, Relish (501 Bukit Timah Rd; 00 65 6763 1547). His deeply savoury Hokkien mee (prawn spaghetti) and super addictive har cheong (fermented shrimp paste) bacon are first rate.
After a period of restoration and renovation, the historic Capitol Building and Stamford House in the civic district have re-opened as an ultra-luxe hotel, albeit after a three-year delay due to a dispute between the owners. Now re-branded Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore (15 Stamford Road; 00 65 6368 8888), the 157 rooms and suites are smart and elegantly appointed with lots of dark wood and muted tones. Book the 137-sqm Heritage Suite to pamper yourself.
La Terre is an austere 15-seat bar with a 500 label-strong list of mostly old world wines and a stash of 150 types of whiskeys catering to the city’s most prolific wine and whiskey connoisseurs - think various vintages of Domaine de la Romanee Conti wine and the ultra rare 48-year-old Karuizawa whisky. The bar’s clientele is decidedly low-key although the drinks list is anything but.
48 hours in . . . Singapore
Singapore is known for many things but, first and foremost, as a street food paradise. A trip here is therefore incomplete without a roaming hawker safari tour that takes in the city’s melting pot of cultures through its hawker food offerings.
Start with breakfast at Hong Lim FoodCentre (531A Upper Cross Street; 00 65 6225 5632) - try the bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) from Tai Wah Pork Noodle and char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles) from Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee. Of course, don’t leave without having Singapore’s most iconic breakfast – soft-boiled eggs with kaya (coconut milk-enriched jam infused with pandan) and butter toast, all washed down with Singapore-style coffee brewed from beans roasted with sugar and margarine – your best bet is at Qi Xiang Cha Shi.
Singaporeans are known to take shelter from the heat and humidity when the sun makes its daily appearance. You can do so at one of the mega malls along Orchard Road, a three mile-long stretch housing more than 22 swanky malls and six department stores.
Or better still take a cultural trip to the Asian Civilisation Museum (1 Empress Place, 00 65 6332 7798). Set in the neoclassical Empress Place Building by the historic Singapore River, this pioneering museum explores traditional aspects of pan-Asian culture, religion and people through exhibits of more than 1,000 artefacts – including porcelain figures, bronze sculptures, woodwork, prints, textiles and ornaments – housed in 11 thematic galleries.
For lunch, walk 10 minutes to Jaan (2 Stamford Road Swissôtel; 00 65 6837 3322), perched on the top level of Fairmont Singapore where executive chef Kirk Westaway serves his interpretation of reinvented British in a boutique space with panoramic views of the city's southern shores.
For late night revelry, you can’t do worse than a trawl through Chinatown’s storied Keong Saik Road. Once a hotspot for brothels, the buzzy street now houses a cadre of great restaurants and bars. Start your evening at Olivia Restaurant & Lounge (55 Keong Saik Road) where elBulli veteran, chef Alain Devahive, dishes up a menu of rich and hearty mostly Catalan delights headlined by a Basque-style burnt cheese cake with molten insides crafted with a mix of cream cheese and blue cheese!
Before you call it a day, have a nightcap at the Singapore offshoot of the No.1 ranked bar on Asia’s 50 Best Bars – The Old Man (55 Keong Saik Road 01-04; 00 65 6909 5505). Named for Ernest Hemmingway’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Old Man and the Sea, this new kid-on-the-block is known for its progressive approach to swizzles. With only nine options on the menu, picking one is a cinch - we highly recommend Islands in the Stream, a refreshing take on gin & tonic where clarified and carbonated pink grapefruit juice is mixed with salty gin.
Singapore’s “City in a Garden” vision is omnipresent but for the best of the city’s green efforts, you can’t do better than its botanical-themed gardens. The Singapore Botanic Gardens (1 Cluny Road; 00 65 6471 7138), which was founded in 1859, is the city’s only Unesco World Heritage site and the best way to explore it to do it like a local: go for a jog through the meandering pathways framed by lush greenery or take part in one of many complimentary exercise classes – daily tai chi at 8am is a highlight - then proceed to Casa Verde (1 Cluny Rd; 00 65 6467 7326), for refreshments before making a beeline for the National Orchid Gardens (1 Cluny Rd; 00 65 1800 471 7300) – the world’s largest display of orchids – where 60,000 plants and orchid plants are on display.
By about 10.30am, hop into a cab for Tiong Bahru wet market (30 Seng Poh Road) to observe how Singaporeans procure wet and dry groceries.
If you’re famished, make a pit stop at the 70-plus-year-old Hua Bee (78 Moh Guan Terrace; 00 65 6438 4567), which shares a ground floor shop space with hip yakitori joint Bincho, for a steaming-hot bowl of dry mee pok (flat egg noodles). Wash it down thereafter with a cup of joe, Australian-style, at 40 Hands (78 Yong Siak Street 01-12; 00 65 6225 8545).
Now that you’re energised, proceed to hipster bookstore Books Actually (9 Yong Siak Street; 00 65 6222 9195) and take your time to peruse their collection of fiction and literary books. After, Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice (71 Seng Pok Road 01-49; 00 65 6225 3762) is the place for a pick-me-up snack of wallet-friendly rice with dishes (don’t miss the Hainanese pork chops) – bear in mind that this stall attracts a long queue, get here before the crowd does!
To while away the afternoon, you can’t do better than to read a book with a glass of wine in hand at PS. Café (41 Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street; 00 65 9226 7088). For dessert, pop to Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry (55 Tiong Bahru Road 01-39; 00 65 6324 1686), which serves some of the city’s most popular Peranakan kueh; try the kueh dadar (crepe skin with coconut filing).
Do not leave Singapore without trying local style stir-fries called tze char. Keng Eng Kee (124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-136; 00 65 6272 1038) is one of Singapore's hottest tze char joints as it was recently featured in Netflix's Street Food series. Order the claypot pig's liver, moonlight hor fun (flat noodles with raw egg) and their signature coffee pork ribs.
Where to stay . . .
The 112-room Capella Singapore is the preferred staycation address for the city’s deep-pocketed crowd. The reception rests in a restored 1880s colonial building with red-tiled roof, which used to serve as the officers’ mess of the British Royal Artillery, and this connects to rooms and suites housed in a contemporary extension clad in red louvres; the ultra-spacious villas and manor houses fan out towards the sea, as does the triple-tiered cascading pool.
Double rooms from 730 SGD (£395). 1 The Knolls Sentosa Island; 00 65 6337 8888
With a storied past and a strategic location by the banks of the Singapore River, the sleek Warehouse Hotel offers a Singapore experience like no other. Once a spice warehouse, then the Warehouse Disco and finally an oil mill, this historic 1895 building has been transformed into a 37-room boutique hotel sporting a sleek industrial design with intricate details that whisper of the property’s past.
Double rooms from 345 SGD (£198). 320 Havelock Road; 00 65 6828 0000
The Quincy offers all the trimmings of a design-driven boutique hotel and more – the all-inclusive tariff includes evening cocktails, refreshments throughout the day, limited laundry, Wi-Fi access and complimentary snacks from a well-stocked minibar. What it lacks in size, is more than made up for in style – think glass and steel façade, glass-wrapped lobby with magenta and crimson suede lounge chairs, cow-skin rugs and quirky art installations.
Double rooms from 293 SGD (£159). 22 Mount Elizabeth; 00 65 6738 5888
What to bring home . . .
Whilst you’re enjoying your cup of “kopi” at Ya Kun with pieces of toast slathered with butter and kaya (a jam made with coconut milk, eggs and sugar), why not buy home a jar of Ya Kun kaya and a packet of Ya Kun coffee powder so that you may replicate the Singapore breakfast experience at home?
When to go . . .
Weather-wise, there is no “best time” to visit Singapore. Known for its year-round warm and humid weather, the city’s temperature hovers between 24C in the mornings and evenings and about 31C in the daytime. From November to January, the temperature dips slightly with the onset of the wet monsoon season during which it’s wise to pack a brolly.
Know before you go . . .
Telephone code: +65
Time difference: +7
Flight time: London to Singapore take about 13 hours
Emergency contact: dial 999 for police, 995 for ambulance
British High Commission: 00 65 6424 4200
Singapore visitor information: yoursingapore.com
Foreigners holding travel documents from certain countries require a visa to enter Singapore. See the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority website.
Local laws and etiquette
• Singapore is known as a fine city and for good reason – you can be fined, and even caned or jailed – for breaking seemingly draconian laws that the locals have learnt to live with.
• Since 1992, when a vandal stuck a piece of chewing gum on an MRT door sensor that resulted in the disruption of train services, the sale and import of chewing gum has been banned in Singapore. You can still chew gum, but be careful to dispose of it properly.
• Smoking is banned in restaurants, cinemas and all indoor public spaces. Since mid-2013, the ban has been extended to include public spaces such as overhead bridges and outdoor hospital compounds.
• Vandalism is also a punishable offence and so are littering, spitting, jaywalking and failure to flush the lavatory.
Born, bred and educated in Singapore, Evelyn witnessed her city grow from underdeveloped to thriving metropolis. When not checking out new restaurants for her blog, she’s combing the city for her favourite street food.
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