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Tales from our travels
Discover Chinatown’s five districts: the mosques and temples of Telok Ayer; the elegant restaurants and hotels in Bukit Pasoh; the bars and bridal shops of Tanjong Pagar; the hawker food at Kreta Ayer; Ann Siang Hill’s arty cafés, bars and boutiques.
Fusion cuisine is the headline act at some of the most fashionable eateries, all housed within the glittering Marina Bay Sands resort (+65 6688 8857) at Sands SkyPark, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue. Sky on 57 is Singaporean celeb chef Justin Quek’s glassy, classy Asian restaurant, perched loftily atop Marina Bay Sands, with a sublime view of the skyline and a gorgeous space that’s ideal for a power lunch or romantic tryst. The menu champions local ingredients and traditional dishes: try king prawn laksa, chicken rice and fried lobster hokkien mee (noodles). You won’t find renditions quite as luxe in such a prime locale anywhere else.
Definitely hit charming Haji Lane in the Arab Quarter! Better known as Kampong Glam, this pedestrianised lane cuts through the Malay-Muslim enclave near the Sultan Mosque. Lined with former 19th-century shophouses transformed into trendy little boutiques, it’s a mix of heritage architecture, modern boutiques and hip hangouts. Browse open-fronted shops selling textiles, rugs, wicker baskets, perfumes and spices and trendy boutiques. Don’t miss the Blog Shop at 35 Haji Lane, which champions cutting-edge creations from local fashion designers.
Don’t miss… Spa time in award-winning Auriga, where signature treatments match the moon’s phases. Linger in the wet area, with its herbal steam room, ice fountains and vitality pools in a garden setting.
In 2015, the National Gallery Singapore – once the Old Supreme Court and City Hall – will open having been transformed into a brand new visual arts institution (after having had half a billion dollars lavished on it, no less). The gallery will showcase art from Southeast Asia and Singapore, alongside big-name international exhibitions. It's not just what will be on the inside that's exciting us: Paris-based studioMilou's modernarchitecture has worked wonders with this heritage building.
A must for seafood lovers – the humble mud crab gets its star turn in this famous Singaporean dish, in which stir-fried crab is slathered in spicy tomato sauce and teamed with steamed (or deep-fried) buns. Your dietitian may not approve, but your taste buds certainly will. A reliably good place to start is No Signboard Seafood (+65 6842 3415) at 414 Geyland Road; don’t scrimp on the mantou (buns), as you’ll need them for sauce-soaking purposes. Pepper-crab fans head to Long Beach Seafood Restaurant (+65 6445 8833) at 1018 East Coast Parkway (you can opt for white or black pepper), but the restaurant’s take on chilli crab is lip-lickingly good, too.
Embark on your own walking tour of the Joo Chiat/ Katong enclave and learn about Peranakan culture by admiring the historic shophouses and traditional restaurants. Pick up Peranakan batik fabrics, ornate jewellery and colourful artworks at Rumah Bebe; when your energy levels dip from all that shopping, snack on rice dumplings from Kim Choo.
If you want your dinner and drinks to come with a generous side of sophisticated Singaporeans, follow the fashion pack to Catalunya (+65 6534 0886) at 82 Collyer Quay in the Fullerton Pavilion. You’re in good hands here: the creative team behind Catalunya hails from elBulli, Santi, Drolma and Sketch.
INSIDER TIP: 'For the fullest-flavoured local-dining experience, have a cheap and cheery meal at a food centre. I love Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in Chinatown – with more than 100 stalls it offers one of Singapore's biggest varieties of cuisines. Don’t miss Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice – considered a national dish this is where to taste it at its very best. Just look out for the longest queue forming in front of the stall every day… even American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain loved it, saying that that it’s 'so fragrant and delicious that it can be eaten on its own’ – and I totally agree.' Maureen Ow is food blogger Miss Tam Chiak.
Start with a light breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam on Killiney Road, the first of a charming chainette of traditional coffeeshops. Tables are shared and the menu is simple, however a cup of steaming kopi and a soft-boiled egg served alongside toasted bread smeared with kaya provides just the right amount of energy. Connect with Mother Nature on an early-morning trek along the Southern Ridges, a 10km hike that links up several of the city’s parks. While the whole thing can be covered in around three hours, the most scenic portion lays between HortPark and Mount Faber – the highlight being Henderson Waves, a 36m-high pedestrian bridge. Enjoy the sea breeze at one of the restaurants set up in Sentosa’s newest neighbourhood, Quayside Isle. Views of parked yachts can be soaked in from places such as Sabio by the Sea, serving traditional Spanish tapas, try the el pulpo, grilled octopus served on a bed of mashed purple potatoes. Along the same stretch, visitors can wander up to Saint Pierre’s second-floor seating and sample modern French cuisine (don’t miss the 72-hour braised beef short rib) while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Head to Tanjong Beach Club for a dip in the seaside pool. Sundowners can be ordered while grooving to DJ-delivered beats. Go back down the classic route by cracking open Sri Lankan crabs on the mainland. A long-standing debate is whether the chilli or black-pepper sauce reign supreme, although both can be sampled at places such as Long Beach or No Signboard Seafood, with multiple outlets around the city. (See Cuisine for more eating and drinking.)