Singapore Fling

Gravity-defying architecture, world-class resorts and top-notch chefs have given Singapore a dramatic facelift.

If you haven’t visited recently, now is the time to drop in as Singapore’s social scene has shifted gears. Singapore is growing so fast that even the locals can’t keep up,” says 2am:dessertbar owner Janice Wong.

The spotlight in particular is on Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, the two recently opened mega casinos, or ‘integrated resorts’, which cost billions to complete. Fortunately, beneath the city’s new showy image lies a strong cultural heart that is uniquely Singaporean.  

Singapore must-dos Some things are so iconic they’re too good to miss, especially when they break records. Longer than the Eiffel Tower laid flat, Singapore’s Sands SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands scores a perfect 10 for wow factor. The boat-shaped creation is suspended 200 metres above the ground across the resort’s three hotel towers and is a 1.2-hectare tropical oasis with a rooftop infinity pool. Access to the Observation Deck costs $15 (SG$20) or you can get a bird’s-eye view from the world’s largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer.

Hanging out at Singapore Zoo is always a hoot but the Night Safari is one thing the locals rave about, and not just because it’s the world’s first wildlife night park. You can’t visit Lion City without seeing its mascot, the Merlion, a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. The head represents Singapura, meaning lion city, and the tail symbolises the city’s beginnings as a fishing village. There are five Merlions in Singapore but the one to photograph is at Marina Bay with its backdrop of the city’s skyline. 

Top Eateries

There are hundreds of hawker centres offering tasty dishes, such as nasi lemak and Hainanese chicken rice. But here are a few gems Singaporeans cannot do without.

ONE: Locals love homegrown seafood-restaurant chain Jumbo Seafood for fleshy Sri Lankan crabs served in a thick, tangy ginger, chilli and turmeric gravy. There’s an outlet in the popular East Coast Seafood Centre. 

TWO: Slurp ramen noodles at Tampopo where a dizzying number of varieties, including Hokkaido ramen and Kyushu ramen, served with crispy pork chop, are always delicious and fresh. 

THREE: Steamed chicken dipped in ginger sauce is the star of Soup Restaurant’s menu, which has evolved from traditional Cantonese street cuisine. Visit www.souprestaurant.com.sg for menus and other Soup Restaurant outlets across Singapore. 

Culinary Stars

Top-notch chefs from around the world are taking fine-dining to a new level in Singapore, wowing palates with quality and creativity.

FRENCH: Savour French flair at much-lauded Michelin-star chef Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant, which both opened in April. Executive chef Tomonori Danzaki recommends the 16-course degustation menu, which food critics have described as “pure magic”.

RUSSIAN: Vodka, caviar, borscht and blini are on the menu at Buyan Russian Haute Cuisine and Caviar Bar. The three-storey venue has a bar, casual eatery and a fine-dining salon. The restaurant serves caviar from farmed sturgeon and does not source meats from protected wildlife. 

MODERN AUSTRALIAN:  Australia holds its own with Tetsuya Wakuda and Scott Webster waving the flag. Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill & Sky Bar has a jaw-dropping view from the 55th floor of the ION Orchard building.

Bed Heads

Our pick of the best check-in destinations in Singapore.

COLONIAL CHIC: The ultra-luxurious fusion of colonial and contemporary design at Capella Singapore attracts the cream of Asia’s high society.

ICONIC: Sleeping in a brand-new 2500-room architectural marvel is quite an experience at Marina Bay Sands.

CULTURAL: A room in a converted 1920s Peranakan shophouse offers plenty of character at InterContinental Singapore.

HERITAGE: Housed in an historic 1928 building, The Fullerton Hotel has a picturesque location at the mouth of the Singapore River. 

BOUTIQUE: Quirky 29-room designer hotel Wanderlust will appeal to travellers with a penchant for the eccentric. “The hotel reflects the vibrant Little India, which is a noisy, smelly ethnic quarter, the antithesis of what Singapore is today,” says hotelier Loh Lik Peng. 

Hidden Cultural Gems 

ONE: With old timber houses, country roads and coconut palms, the Pulau Ubin island is a 10-minute boat ride away from the skyscrapers. Visiting Singapore’s ‘last village’ is a nostalgic journey back to its fishing-village roots. 

TWO: Singapore Art Museum’s newest contemporary art extension, SAM at 8Q, is a hotspot for homegrown artists to display their works. “The museum has an excellent collection of South-East Asian Nanyang Style art,” says artist Ng Woon Lam, assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media. 

THREE: Soak up the ambience of Malay, Chinese and Peranakan (Chinese traders who married local women) cultures by wandering around Joo Chiat and Katong, before popping into the Peranakan Museum for an interactive peep into this unique heritage.

Going Dutch

A few kilometres west of Orchard Road’s multi-storey shopping malls, Holland Village  — with its eclectic array of trendy restaurants, bars, emporiums, galleries, and fashion and antique shops — is a magnet for Singapore’s cool crowd and the expat community. Janice Wong of 2am:dessertbar is right there among it, creating desserts for the island’s well-to-do denizens.

What do you like about Holland Village?

It’s very casual; very hip. Its unstructured growth is unique in Singapore where everything is so orderly. Here there’s a mixture of cheap and expensive; you’ve got classy restaurants close by to coffee shops.

Who should I expect to bump into here?

Locals and lots of expats.

What are the other must-visit places in Holland Village?

Wala Wala Café Bar  for great music and atmosphere, and Crystal Jade Kitchen for its dim sum.

Is there any place here you can’t walk past without buying something?

The food markets for fresh meat, prawns and fish.  

Words by Christina Pfeiffer - Published in Voyeur September 2011
Quick Facts 
Population 3 million
Area 712 km2
Time Zone GMT + 8
Languages Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English (official languages)
Currency Singapore dollar (SGD)
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