The year 2019 marks 200 years of history for Singapore, with a slew of exhibitions and events lined up to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial milestone. The celebrations will give Singaporeans the chance to reflect on the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore in 1819, an avid collector and explorer in the region whose arrival was one of the “key turning points” that changed the country’s trajectory.
Singapore is a constant buzz of activity with business, technology, traffic, exhibitions, shows, architecture, and under it all – its heritage. By taking in these humble origins, you realise just how massive and driven this creation of a cosmopolitan city has been. Don’t miss putting an hour aside for the Fullerton Heritage trail, which starts out from The Fullerton Hotel and from “mile zero,” the spot that marks all street measurements for the original calculation of fares and charges from this landmark. Everything started from this building, which, once completed in 1928, was the largest building in the city and today, it is the epitome of a by-gone grandeur. The sweeping front entrance, with it very own roundabout, also leads to the pedestrian Cavanagh Bridge, which stretches over the Singapore River to the Asian Civilisations Museum. Once inside, the majestic lobby has an atrium that spans the length of the building and its internal corridors, which lead to the 400 elegantly appointed rooms.
The lookout from the Fullerton Lighthouse on top on the building is a real highlight of any stay here, as it is the original lookout point from the days when the hotel stood directly on the main waterfront. The entire horizon is everything that makes up Singapore today, and to end the day up here in the breeze, with the bar serving worldly cocktails, is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Raffles is conveniently a stone’s throw away for a quick nip, famous for the peanut shells that litter the floor, as they did in the colonial days. The story goes that the monkey nuts were given free of charge to accompany the drinks as they were cheap as chips and so were supplied by the sack-full, but I rather prefer the story that this tradition goes way back to when tigers roamed free, and the residents and staff would hear the crackling of the nuts to alert them as the big cats walked about the hotel! Singapore is, after all, also called Lion City – from the Sanskrit Singa Pura – but there is also talk of a Malayan tiger visiting the town, so the story has its various interpretations.
The following day, I head to see the street food markets, stopping off for a walk down Haji Lane where the latest trends and cocktails are served up from small shop-fronts and cool bars with tables spilling out onto the pavements. The city is alive all day and all night, and there is little fear of crime, nor is there a policeman in sight. I am told you can leave your handbag on a table to reserve it while you get your drink inside, and come back to find it exactly where you left it.
I coast the Marina waterfront with its scented hedgerows, and sweep up to the front of The Fullerton Bay Hotel, sister hotel to The Fullerton, in the sidecar of a fine vintage Vespa driven by Simon Wong, whose company Singapore Sidecars is renowned for its bespoke sidecar experiences. The doormen, in bespoke long silk coats, come over with beaming smiles, before ushering me inside. The first impression feels rather like stepping onboard a sumptuous yacht, as the water glistens at the end of the original Clifford Pier, which has now become a signature restaurant and a go-to for Singaporean treats and sumptuous heritage afternoon teas.
The hotel is cool, sophisticated and highly polished. The styled public areas have the hand of rising star designer Andre Fu, and sitting alongside this style is the contemporary design of the rooms, each with its own balcony overlooking the water – at any moment, you feel as though you might be setting sail to some remote island, like the Bawah Resort.
The Singapore skyline is in full view from this prime location, set in the heart of the city’s art and cultural scene. The lights at night sparkle from one end of the marina to the other, way up into the sky, up the skyscrapers and all the way to the Levo rooftops of the Marina Bay Sands edifice, which I can only describe as a triple-tower triumph with, why not, a floating boat on top.
To get away from the high-rises, head to the hills, specifically to the historical Duxton Hill, an area which was once a nutmeg plantation owned by William Montgomerie. In time, it developed into a fishing village, then a rather sought after place of vice (read: opium) while today, it is an uber cool commercial hub within the city, with food markets, boutiques, design-led concept stores, trend-setting bars (some as small as just eight seats), and the best street-food offering inside the Maxwell Food Centre. Think the tastiest noodles and a true local environment.
The Oriental spirit and acclaimed imagination of designer Anouska Hempel has also been drawn here, her vision presented in a perfectly harmonised fashion in a period building, now branded the Six Senses Duxton – part of Six Senses Singapore, which opened in November 2017. The first boutique hotel in Singapore, it houses some of the designer’s personal collection of signature café screens and calligraphy wallpapers. Her meticulous perfection is most evident in the traditional Chinese medicine room, where a huge hand-painted tiger greets you, and also in the famous Yellow Pot bar on the ground floor. Its design is an inspiration to the Art Deco movement, where Anouska had an original flower patterned centre-piece replicated with painstaking attention to recreate three more to panel the walls and the ceiling, in celebration of the local chrysanthemum flower of Kaifeng city.
Originally a group of shop-houses, the hotel’s 49 guestrooms and suites have been uniquely designed, and Anouska’s touches can be sensed throughout, punctuated by her sensitivity to preserve local traditions. Her colour palette (of glamorous piano-black, rust, cinnamon, yellow and white) and golden coloured fans as big as the setting sun, are all in tune with the signature flavours of Mongolian sunflower-oil, turmeric vodka shots, and amber yellow-peril cocktails, crowned with a chrysanthemum.
Singapore is the crossroads and interchange to the Asian world, and the cuisine at the Duxton Chinese restaurant captures the billowing smells of Pak Choi broth, which roll like the breakers onto the palm-lined streets, inviting you in. The visitor to Anouska Hempel’s Orient is in for an eccentric, elegant surprise. Each dish is served in large yellow bowls, black tiffins and black Bento boxes, which you open using metre-long wok sticks, whilst very cool and disciplined staff dance in attendance.
However, my foodie travels in Singapore wouldn’t have been the same were it not for the little black dining book of Andrew Henning, visionary General Manager of The Westbury Mayfair Hotel in London. This was a short and concise inside track of the best foodie destinations in town, and an insight into the directional new dishes soon to be presented in the heart of Mayfair at the hotel’s POLO Bar, with chef Tim Ross-Watson in the kitchen. Interestingly, Tim is now back in London after spending 12 years in Singapore, so you don’t really need to travel that far now to experience these amazing flavours!
Andrew’s Little Black Book For Singapore
Chef Drew Nocente’s kitchen-lab style restaurant specialises in cured and grilled meats, charcuterie and fresh produce, all drawn together by his passions in life: cooking and surrounding himself with the wonders of fresh food infused with Italian heritage. On trend and nearly re-decorated (sadly, we didn’t see the finished result), it is a must-visit restaurant, and it is right alongside the newly re-opened Raffles on Purvis Street.
Chef-Owner Ryan Clift settles down in three shop-houses, just alongside another great spot, The Duxton Club hotel. His avant-garde culinary experience comes close to theatre, and is served from the bar (the best place to be to get involved in the action of the preparation) or at the tables, which are illuminated by large nets of chicken wire filled with light bulbs – everything is a feast for the eyes and the senses. Not to mention the sensory collection on the drinks menu with cocktails created to encompass fragrances and aromas – think cut grass, olives, and leather.
A creative cocktail bar with a focus on commercially foraging for its ingredients! Once you find this funky hole-in-the-wall on Amoy Street (there’s no sign out front), your taste buds will be tickled by flavours only found in Asia. Everything is sourced locally and everything has a story, which makes for a fascinating chat with the engaging bartenders!
Frequently voted one of the best bars in the world, Manhattan is reminiscent of a grand hotel bar with a touch of old New York glamour and sophistication. If you want one of the best solera-aged Negronis with the signature M-branded ice-cube, this is where you can find an array of particularly special cocktails which have been created weeks in advance, and left to evolve independently and unexpectedly in oak barrels. On tap – not shaken, not stirred….
A trend-setting southeast Asian diner and cocktail bar that is well worth visiting, for food design, flavour experiences and the best convivial diner-style atmosphere.