John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, July 16, 2013
Rapidly developing Singapore is making a name for itself with audacious new attractions such as the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum but some things, such as its reputation as a culinary capital, have been developed over decades. As the current Singapore Food Festival continues, concierges from three of the destination's best hotels give their guides to the city's best attractions, hawker centres, restaurants and bars - and give a brief introduction to Singlish.
Sharing their knowledge are:
Ali Alsagoff, chef concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore
Syed Musaddiq, chef conciege at The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore
Roslee Sukar, concierge at Raffles Singapore
I'm new here. Tell me something interesting about Singapore.
Ali: Only 710sq km in size, Singapore is known as the “Little Red Dot”. Despite its size, the “City in a Garden” is resplendent in lush greenery.
Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
Ali: The venerable 154-year-old Botanic Gardens, which are also home to the National Orchid Gardens. At the moment, the Botanic Gardens are awaiting an announcement on their bid to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Syed: Sentosa Island which is just off the southern coast of Singapore and about half an hour’s drive from the city. The island is home to an exciting array of themed attractions, award-winning spa retreats, lush rainforests, golden sandy beaches, resort accommodations and renowned golf courses.
Roslee: I don’t want to sound biased but you have to visit the 125-year-old Raffles Singapore. It is not just a hotel, but a National Monument in Singapore, where having a Singapore Sling at Long Bar is a true rite of passage for travellers. Also visit Gardens by the Bay.
Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
Ali: Raffles Hotel & The Merlion Tower at Sentosa Island…. both are overrated!
Syed: You should not avoid any attractions while in Singapore as each attraction is different and unique in its own way.
Roslee: There is something for everyone, with different tastes or preferences, here in Singapore. Read up on the attractions beforehand and you will be able to make an informed choice.
Is there a particular exhibition I should see while I’m here?
Ali: The four permanent galleries at National Museum of Singapore – Singapore Living Galleries: Film & Wayang [traditional theatre]; Fashion; Food; and Photography. These are the four components that define our nation as it is today!
Syed: The Singapore History Gallery and the Singapore Living Gallery: Food at the National Museum of Singapore. They both trace the major events in Singapore’s history and bring you back to Singapore’s yesteryears with food-related artefacts and sound installations.
Roslee: The Peranakan Museum showcases a mixed-heritage culture unique to a handful of locations in Southeast Asia - Singapore being one of them. Peranakans are descendants of intermarriages between foreign traders from the old days and local women. Their cultural costume and cuisine are unique unto themselves.
Where can I take the best picture of Singapore?
Ali: Either from a capsule of the Singapore Flyer or from the highest alfresco bar in Singapore – One Altitude. Both offer a vantage point for a photo of the famous Singapore Skyline.
Syed: Merlion Park. Apart from taking a picture of the Merlion which is Singapore’s most famous icon, you will also be able to take pictures of Singapore’s other famous landmarks such as the Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay, the Singapore Flyer and The Fullerton Hotel which used to be the General Post Office back in the British colonial days.
Roslee: From the double helix bridge at Marina Bay. You could take a photo of the city skyline with the bay in the foreground, and the bridge overlooks a floating platform. Some evenings, the platform is used for football (it’s an Astroturf pitch). I think it’s pretty amazing to look at a football match played on a pitch surrounded by water.
The view from 1-Altitude
I’d like to try something new here – what do you recommend?
Ali: Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine which is the original fusion cuisine between the Malays and the Chinese and dates from the 15th to16th century. Also try our one-of-a-kind thorny “king of fruits” – the Durian.
Syed: You should try Peranakan Cuisine while in Singapore. True Blue Cuisine Restaurant located at 47 Armenian Street is known for its authentic heritage Peranakan dishes and the restaurant is also located next to the Peranakan Museum where you can discover more about the unique culture.
I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Ali: Pick up something from Arch – a unique shop that specialises in framed wood carvings depicting famous landmarks in Singapore.
Syed: In the Peranakan Museum you can purchase ornate brooches and unique business card holders with designs inspired by the Peranakan culture.
Roslee: A Raffles Doorman stuffed toy. My colleagues are the only hotel doormen I know of who have a stuffed toy made in their likeness.
Tell me a phrase or piece of slang I can use to fit in around here.
Ali: The best way would be to learn Singlish – colloquial Singapore English. To start off, end each of your sentences with the affectionate “lah”.
Syed: “Alamak” which in Singlish means “oh my God” in English and “Shiok” describes something that provides great pleasure and is often used after indulging in a delicious meal.
Roslee: When befriending a local, instead of simply saying “Good afternoon, how are you?”, try “Hello, how are you? Have you had lunch?”…and the conversation will take off.
Is there a particular Singapore law or form of etiquette I should be especially aware of?
Ali: No littering and jaywalking on the streets. Always hand out your business card with both hands.
Syed: To keep Singapore as clean and green as it is, smoking in public, chewing gum, spitting in public, littering and jaywalking are prohibited.
Roslee: If you happen to see packets of tissue paper at a table in a hawker centre, it means that seat is occupied. Locals leave packets of tissue paper on tables at hawker centres to hold their seats while they make their purchases at the food stalls. Similarly if you plan to go a hawker centre, be sure you are equipped with a packet of tissue paper.
What’s the best restaurant in the city right now?
Ali: Restaurant Andre and Iggy’s – both are ranked on the prestigious S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Syed: For a special occasion, I would recommend Catalunya . Opened in late 2012, the contemporary Spanish restaurant is helmed by an international team of award-winning culinary experts from the likes of elBulli, Santi, Drolma, and Sketch. The restaurant itself is housed in a unique glass-encased dome floating on the waters of Marina Bay with spectacular views.
Roslee: There is no time like the present to be in Singapore for dining. International Chefs such as Joel Robuchon, Wolfgang Puck, Jamie Oliver, Daniel Boulud and Jason Atherton have all opened restaurants here in recent years. The current top-rated restaurant internationally is Andre’s, by chef Andre Chiang – it is on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 Guide and is number 5 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
What’s your favourite hawker centre, and your favourite food stall?
Ali: Maxwell Food Centre; my favourite stall is #01-10 Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Syed: Maxwell Food Centre located at 1 Kadayanallur Street. My favourite food stall is Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at unit No #01-10/11 located in Maxwell Food Centre. Chicken rice is one of Singapore’s most famous dishes and features steamed chicken accompanied by rice cooked in chicken stock. It is served with cucumber slices, minced ginger, chilli sauce and dark soy sauce.
Roslee: This is a difficult question, but a favourite hawker centre is Lau Pa Sat and food stall 51 has excellent Satay and Chilli Crab. Another hawker centre is the Tiong Bahru Market Hawker Centre, which has a great selection of local food. The “chwee kweh” [steamed rice cake] here is well-known across Singapore. In the housing estate across the road from Tiong Bahru market is a fruit stall that sells jelly in a fresh Coconut husk. To enjoy this, spoon the jelly out while digging into the fresh coconut flesh – it’s delicious.
And where’s best for drinks? I don’t want somewhere touristy.
Ali: The Tippling Club at Dempsey Road. The mixologists there are geniuses.
Syed: Lantern Bar located on the rooftop of The Fullerton Bay Hotel. Designed by the highly sought-after Andre Fu, the décor is chic and the ambience is sophisticated. In addition, with sweeping views of the city’s skyline and landmarks, the bar provides a sense of place and a setting that is unforgettable.
Roslee: Bitters and Love at North Canal Road. All you need to do is select the spirit of your choice, let the bartender know your preference (eg. a tall drink/slightly tart or refreshing/sweet) and they will create a cocktail for you. The bar is in a ‘shophouse’ – an old two-storey buildings protected by conservation. The shophouse is located by a road so there is not much for an external view.
What can I do to relax in Singapore?
Ali: Go on the Southern Ridges walk from Alexandra Arch right onto the Forest Walk, a zig-zag metallic runaway amongst the trees that ends at Henderson Waves - a wavy pedestrian bridge 36 metres above sea level, complete with park benches overlooking the harbour.
Syed: You can charter a yacht to Lazarus Island. The island offers a laid-back ambience, sandy beaches and clear waters where you can swim, snorkel and dive.
I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m here – where should I do it?
Ali: The Bandstand at Singapore Botanic Gardens. Built in the 1930s, it used to be the stage for evening performances of military bands. Private and romantic, it is the perfect setting.
Syed: If your partner is a nature lover, you can consider making your proposal along the 22-metre-high skyway at the SuperTree Grove of Gardens by the Bay during the beautiful Rhapsody Light and Sound Show at 7.45pm and 8.45pm.
Roslee: The Singapore Flyer, which offers a great view of Singapore over a 30-minute ride. Dining may be arranged in the capsules too.
Who’s the standout creative talent in Singapore right now – is there someone in particular whose work I should check out before I leave?
Ali: Check out our drag queen stand-up comic – Kumar, who performs every Monday night at 11pm in Hard Rock Café. 17 years on, he is still rocking with his jokes regardless of race, language or religion - he takes a swipe at everyone and everything.
Thanks for your help. Should I tip in Singapore?
Ali: Tipping is not customary as most establishments charge a 10 per cent service charge. However, if a service staff went above and beyond, an additional tip will always make his or her day.
Syed: In Singapore, tipping is not typically expected as a 10 per cent service charge is included in your total bill. I would, however, suggest giving a tip in the range of S$5 and S$10 when you experience exceptional service to encourage and show your appreciation to the service staff.
Tipping is not encouraged.
For more on Singapore, see the Telegraph's complete Singapore city break guide