The best of Singapore experiences

The best of Singapore experiences

Top picks of the Lion City - a guide for where to eat, shop, drink, dine and stay

Manidipa Mandal
July 07 , 2014
16 Min Read

STAY
There are excellent and emphatic luxury hotels in the Lion City, of course. And we can’t overlook the opening of the year. But one of our favourite recommendations for a luxurious Singapore stay is to enjoy one of its more affordable and smile-inducing boutiques instead. Save your beans for our EAT and SHOP recommendations

 Wanderlust
A Singapore school­house playing hookey from academic achievement makes for an object lesson in humorous hoteliering in Little India’s Wan­derlust. Past the bar­ber chairs and fussball table, you fall down a rabbit hole to the bottom of a swimming pool — the teal room of the Pantone floor, all lined in mosaic tiles with a sunken bed where a bath might have been. Nespresso pods, telephone, TV and earplugs are to hand — and the rest of the room is a series of bathroom cubes and closet, making up three-fourths of the space. The soft drinks in the mini bar are free and toiletries Kiehl’s...mmm. Up­stairs, in Whimsical, a typewriter monster swallows up some guests and a spaceship disgorges others in the duplex loft rooms. In between sit origami folded chambers and Pop Art spaces on the Mono floor. The Pantone floor has a vibgyor soaking pool on a deck outside. Down the warrens of Little India and beyond the seemingly incessant roadworks, this is just an incred­ible bolt hole. There is breakfast included, at Cocotte, the casual-fine French restaurant past the reception rabbit-hole, beyond the bar with the vin­tage Campari-bottle light ‘shades’ hanging off the plumbing pipes. Breakfast should re­ally be called brunch with its mounds of bacon and pancakes or fruit salad with Chardonnay dressing. The industrial-edged bistro-chic eatery re­members its roots with its honest-to-goodness ‘show kitchen’, fresh-faced behind the huge picture windows. For lunch it transforms into a chic bistro and the communal table heaves under whole grilled squid and roast pork collars and cote de boeuf and artisanal cheeses. Outside, Lit­tle India bustles and sizzles in the noonday sun. We could readily stay lost here. From S$170, 2 Dickson Road, wanderlusthotel.com

Sofitel So Singapore
It is quite the Asian coup to outdo Bang­kok’s marvellous So Sofitel property. Since the Accor brand moved its headquar­ters to Singapore, this soon-to-be flagship property promises to be the big marquee of the year when it launches this May. Overlaying the luxury DNA of the Sofitel brand, So adds a contemporary skin and designer muscle. It stars Karl Lager­feld’s work behind the neoclassical facade, vs Christian Lacroix at the Thai sister. With 3-metre-high ceilings and a skylight above the bed, the rooms also have complimen­tary minibars and free wi-fi — and a Mac mini, iPad mini and iPhone 5 for guest use! Just 134 rooms, 9 suites and 6 balconies divided between a Hip and a Heritage wing… and a rooftop golden pool. sofitel.com

The Club
On fashionable Ann Siang Road, among the chi-chi boutiques, this 1900s shop house has 22 modern minimalist rooms with bold local design (calligraphic animal mascots, Chinese pillars, traditional terrazzo floors, antique lamps), rainforest showers and great soundproofing, a rooftop bar and a whis­key bar downstairs, a cafe and — a rarity for heritage properties here — a window in ev­ery room. From S$210 (breakfast excluded), 28 Ann Siang Road, theclub.com.sg

Naumi Liora
We liked staying at the original Naumi a lot. This newer one in the heart of China­town sounds better still. Sister brand to Hong Kong-based Ovolo, Naumi has a similar approach of contemporary with local colour and loca­tion. Rooms are, yes, shophouse snug and there is no restau­rant — which forces you to walk down to a cafe they offer vouchers for, which is a good thing for discover­ing the lovely little eateries around. Nice extras here include a great bouncy bed and a nibbles area with free coffee and ice cream and cookies in the lobby. A Jason Atherton cafe (Snacks) sits downstairs, and you will have special access to a speakeasy-style bar. From S$185, 55 Keong Saik Road, naumiliora.com

The Daulat
This young Little India property has Sealy Posturepedic beds, Nespresso and Twin­ings teas, rain show­ers with Penhaligon amenities and Geneva sound machines in its 16 snug rooms, free soft drinks in the lobby—and the quaint­est 14m mosaic alley of a lap pool we have seen, complete with underwater sound sys­tem, under the stars. The building is over a 100 years old and was once a cattlehouse. Now the interiors in­clude modern wooden floors, granite vanities, mosaic rain show­ers, cane chairs and patchwork-quilted ac­cent upholstery within a blaze of whites. From S$190, 16 Madras Street, thedaulat.com

Hotel Clover
This small chain of boutique hotels run by a trio of doctors(!) now numbers three. The original North Bridge location has rustic modern chic with nostalgic 1950s flair, and we like it best (the Hong Kong street property has smaller rooms and the new South Bridge one seems more kitschy). A bullock cart sits in the lobby. There is a bar and a café. And the rooms truly are plush while being tren­chantly modern mini­malist. From S$320 (but often with deep discounts of 45%), 769 North Bridge Road, hotelclover.com

Rabbit Carrot Gun/Trenchards Arms
Mad as a March Hare, these folks. And this is certainly not a Beat­rix Potter bunny on their coat of arms. The ‘eclectic English’ food here gets raves: cas­serole of mushrooms, gamekeeper’s shooting breakfast, chicken liver and Madeira parfait, and home-brewed buckshot ale. The five little suites above the restaurant and gastrobar in this 1925 Katong shophouse are reminiscent of sleeping in a nice pub — with the extra perks of excellent soundproofing and rather posher accom­modation in mid-cen­tury Modern, heritage or hipster styles. Rabbit Warren rooms from S$160 on airbnb.com, rabbit-carrot-gun.com

EAT
Big names and little big secrets — it is almost impossible to eat badly in Singapore. Choosing where to spend your dollars is the real toughie, so we did the short-listing for you

CatalunyaStart with the spherical olives a la El Bulli, which is where the chef drifted over from. And sip The Other Spanish Tortilla. And some ham-and-cheese bi­kinis, Catalan style. And some suckling pig, tapas style. And a trick (tomato) tartare. Yes, you are in Singapore to eat Spanish. Yes, you are filling up on tapas instead of dinner. Yes, you will return for lunch to order the paella for S$55. Yes, they are that good. To the last gastro­nomic molecule. Fullerton Pavilion, 82 Collyer Quay, catalunya.sg

Andre
When Taiwan-born Andre Chiang moved on from Jaan, it was actually Sin­gapore foodies' gain. Because they got Andre. This four-year-old food paradise has about a month-long waiting list for its 30 seats. The esoteric and arcane Octaphilosophy tasting menu runs to more than a dozen courses and several hours — and items don't just vary day to day but table to table. This is a treat of a lifetime. S$298 plus taxes, 41 Bukit Pasoh Road, restaurantandre.com

Shinji By Kanesaka
Eat sushi in Singapore. I always do. And this is the top of the chef's table. There is no menu, only omakase, only from the sea. Not all raw — there is even a five-hour steamed Hokkaido abalone. Off a table made out of a 220-year-old single piece of Japanese cypress, seating 22. S$300-450, The St Regis, 29 Tanglin Road, shinjibykanesaka.com

Secret Cooks Club
Secret Un-dinner Experiments have included nyotaimori (sushi served on a naked woman for a table) and a dinner based off diners' DNA from their saliva samples by chef Florian Cornu. There is a secret sign-up and then you get invites, so yes advance planning required.facebook.com/secretcooks

Lolla's Secret Suppers
Yes, there is a Lolla restaurant in China­town now, but the underground guer­rilla dining is still the exclusive experi­ence it is. Venue is secret, chef is secret, menu is secret — the thrill is a certainty. Look for the group on Facebook, eh? Or email s8@lollapalooza.asiaand keep about S$300 handy

Hatter Street
Served with a pinch of madness, the desserts dreamt up by former Bo Inno­vation chef Yvette Chua are not pricey (S$5 a smoked sawdust pudding) but have enough local flavour and, well, innovation to be worth the trek to the middle of tourism-nowhere (Hougang). You just can't get this stuff at Ku De Ta, never mind the view. hatterstreet.com

Labyrinth
Best of the latest, this little 14-seater by Chef Han Li Guang draws up all its chairs to the one counter for a 14-course S$78 tasting menu. Reimagined curry rice and a beach landscape of a hot-cold chilli crab, risotto in ramen broth and a sweet xiao long bao make this a cutting-edge Chinatown eating experience. 5 Neil Road, labyrinth.com.sg

DRINK
Bar Stories

The ultimate cocktail fantasy, this bar has nary a drinks menu. Tell the bartender your life's story — or at least that of your taste buds — and have them match you to a drink of their choice. Bottoms up to exciting adventures, when you've been everywhere and drunk everything already, loh! 57A Haji Lane, barstories.com.sg

The Library
Drink in the bathtub — or a copper mug. That's what you get for fetching up at the Library with the right password. Unlike 28, this one's easy to spot, but you’ll need help with the 'word’. (Hint: Drop by Keong Saik Snacks — see ‘Stay’ section — or Esquina for eats first.) 47 Keong Saik Street

28 Hong Kong Street
Punches served in Shannon crystal bowls are the speciality at The Office private lounge at this American-style speakeasy bar. Treating friends? Go for Plan B (S$230 for 20), with tequila and tea and cava. However, none of the standard brands are lined up at this watering hole. Bring an appe­tite for the finer spirits, not oft seen. 28hks.com

Mr Punch At The Mint Museum Of Toys
The other rooftop bar of Singapore has more fun on the way up than you can afford to indulge in publicly at upscale Marina Bay. The bar at the Mint Museum of Toys has to be among our best-kept secret attractions in Singapore, particularly for the rare luxury of indulging in childhood again, on the cheap at that. S$10 a pint of beer at Punch hour, 26 Seah Street, emint.com

Ku De Ta Club Lounge
Still unbeatable for the view, Marina Bay Sands' rooftop poolside terrace remains the nightlife photo-op of choice. We hope it stays that way after being snapped up by Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessy last month. kudeta.com.sg

EXPERIENCE
There's Food Street and the Durian and the Flyer and the Night Safari and the movie sets of Sentosa. But consider something different for Facebook updates that beget the second look and not just a like

Ikeda Spa Prestige
Japanese Edo-period inns used to be found in hot-spring resorts, much like the original European spa. Taking its cue from there, the ryokan-style suite includes a hinoki (cypress wood) tub for two that releases its oils as you soak in mineralised water to the accompani­ment of a cool spray mist — as if sitting in an onsen in December. Consider adding on the organic geisha facial with night­ingale droppings. It's like two holidays for the price of a rub. From S$80, 6 Eu Tong Seng Street, ikedaspa.com

Ultimate Drive F1 Experience
Choose a Supercar (Ferrari or Lambo­rghini, or one each and swap with your partner halfway) from S$215 to drive down the strict Singapore's freeways in style, or better still, go speeding without a ticket (or stripes from a flogging) with the Ultimate Tour (S$788) that starts on the Formula 1 track. ultimatedrive.com

Something Specialyacht To Lazarus Island
Planning to propose? Charter a boat — Sunseeker Manhattan 60, plus scooters and jet boat tender — to get off theisland and make off to Lazarus Island with an overnight Billionaire's pack­age. Also included: diamond jewellery, designer dress, and champagne to celebrate your success. Price on enquiry, somethingspecial.com.sg

AROUND SINGAPORE

The Sanchaya, Bintan
Never mind the big resorts. Retreat to the serene new Sanchaya's 26 villas and suites on the ivory beachfront up north. From S$435, thesanchaya.com

Prive At Keppel Island
Got extra yacht hours to waste? Goeat at Prive, a dining and wining venue on Singapore's only private island.Chef Robin's five-course menu with wine pairings is a very handy S$128,for scallops and salmon and Aussieonglet or barramundi and duck. theprivegroup.com.sg/prive

TRAVEL
Orient Express Singapore To Bangkok
Arrive or depart in greater style than any business class lounge or flight with the legendary Eastern & Oriental Express in the actual Orient, complete with teakwood-panelled observation car. From £1,560 per person, easternandorientalexpress.com

Scoot
Speaking of arrivals and departures, we like the ‘why pay extra for what you don’t need?’ policies of fun and youthful Scoot airlines for the other leg of your ex-Bangkok itinerary. Again, save the pennies for the experiences that matter. From S$154 on ScootBiz, flyscoot.com

SHOP
Yes, this is the won­derland of malls. But better souvenirs are found further afield

Kevin Seah
He was only 17 when he started to sew, and today is possibly the foremost designer for bespoke men's suits in Singapore. He prefers English fabrics in his swatch books rather than the typical Italian and stocks a fun Japa­nese brand of specta­cles as well as Gaziano & Girling shoes. With hand-sewn seams and mother of pearl buttons on shirtfronts, your suit will be ready in three months or four, so you will need the luxury of a second vacation to collect. From S$4,000 for a suit, S$350 a shirt,55C Boat Quay, kevinseah.com

I Am Brilliant, Too
Another one where you will need to return or book a long stay (8-12 weeks) to pick up your piece of one-and-only customised merchandise. Six brilliant local design­ers — Jeremy, Pigeon, Karen, Lynette, Jimmy and Phyllis — specialise in diamonds, oh yes (from Facets Singa­pore), but will work with any gemstones and also pearls from Golay Pearls. Price on request, 545 Orchard Road, by appointment, iambrillianttoo.com

Things Your Mother Throw
Vintage and custom­ised pretties for your pad are the busi­ness of this cheek­ily named store/service — which is why we are dying for them to reopen. No wor­ries, in the meantime, they are still taking orders for repur­posed pieces. They specialise in Mid-Century Modern, Art Deco, Machine Age and Industrial, especially good old teak and tubes of iron and steel. But for the tight baggage allow­ance, the enamelware is especially worth watching for. tymt.net

Singapore Trading Post
Paying homage to the East India Company, this homeware store selects its wares from all along the old trad­ing routes. Yes, there are those Kashmiri Easter eggs, but also exquisite handmade Myanmar parasols and retro tin boxes, vintage furniture and contemporary linens. But it's their recycled goodies we love best: a map cabinet (S$325), an alphabet chest of drawers, a Picadilly Line dresser, the Coors beer chair (S$120)... 102F Pasir Panjang Road,singaporetradingpost.com

Second Charm
Vintage, reproduc­tions, custom-made and, of course, second-hand furniture is the forte of this fine joint. We particularly like their spindleback benches, pop-coloured kopitiam chairs, wood and metal modern pieces, freshly silked French period settees... Really, they have great taste. secondcharm.net


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