How to have a thoroughly enjoyable stopover in Singapore
Coming from a family that talks about lunch when we’re eating breakfast, the two favourite past times of many Singaporean people – eating and shopping – suit me perfectly fine. Indeed I bonded with locals over a shared fondness of talking about what we were eating, going to eat, or wish we could eat. Singapore, as food scribes Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix wrote recently, is the place to gorge. From smokey tangles of noodles studded with sweet sausage to succulent satay and desserts centred on the wonder that is sweetened condensed milk, being a garbage guts is easy, nay encouraged. So, armed with a list of must eats, must shops and best places to get a new truly brag worthy Facebook profile photo, we set off to spend a rather pleasant few days in one of Asia's culinary and cultural melting pots. Numerous gratuitous photos were soon posted on social media.
Like this one.
Because Singapore is fairly small, quite compact and has an excellent subway system, getting around is easy. Driving into the city from the rather impressive Changi airport via taxi (decompressing in the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Singapore beforehand is thoroughly recommended) is a nice welcome to the Garden City. There really are gardens everywhere - plonked on roof tops, under motor passes and housed in glass buildings with thousands of different varieties of plants from all around the world. So it seems that Singapore is also a place for the green thumbs, as well as the gourmands.
Trying our best to get used to Singapore’s heady humidity, we wander along Clarke Quay, admiring its funny rows of colourful shop windows and airy riverside restaurants showcasing their own unique take on Singapore crab (the sticky sweet and sour dish is not to be missed, though best eaten with people that you’re quite comfortable wearing a bib around).
Singapore from a boat!
We stop at the giant lion, well a Merlion actually!, spitting water into the river and then, foreheads glistening with sweat, we all but throw ourselves into the first of what will be many gleaming Singapore shopping malls. In Singapore, shopping is a sport and/or past time. Indeed friends of ours who live in Singapore tell us that their local friends will declare their hobbies as “malling”. As in lingering around malls in the manner of a bored 15 year-old. The malls are impressive, each of them a marvel of curving architecture and shining excess. High end brands are proudly and prominently displayed, but the high street is also incredibly represented with everything from Swedish mecca of fast fashion H&M to the endearingly cute Japanese everything store, Muji.
It's not a lion, it's a Merlion
Perhaps the most famous of the shopping malls is the impossible to ignore Marina Bay Sands. It is an altar to high end and excess. I mean; it has canals and gondolas and Gucci. It looms above the forest of shining skyscrapers with its Noah’s Ark-esque boat perched on top. It’s awfully impressive. While you have to be a guest to swim at the incredible/terrifying infinity pool on the roof, having a drink at Ku De Ta and greedily taking in the panoramic view of Singapore is almost as good. Later that night we gobble pizzas at Pizzeria Mozza and sip decent wine while looking at the framed faces of Brad Pitt and other famous friends of Wolfgang Puck at Cut.
Yep, the infinity pool looks pretty swell.
The next morning we start with brunch at White Rabbit, a quirky take on Louis Carroll’s best loved story. Housed in an old church it is replete with soaring ceilings and elaborate stained glass windows (I’ll admit it did feel fainty blasphemous to be eating a rare wagyu beef burger in a church, but oh my it was delicious). There’s no grinning Cheshire cat but the white apron clad staff are almost excessively polite. A popular spot for brunch, it’s in the posher part of town close to Singapore’s botanic gardens. To balance out the fanciness later that day we sample one of Singapore’s renonwned hawker centres. The antidote to the image of Singapore as clean, slightly sterile and businesslike, the hawker centre is noisy and crowded and pleasantly pungent odours punctuate the air. Vendors push their 'world’s best' satays at us and I try sting ray, a signature dish, and try not to think about Steve Irwin too much. While on the food trail, a curry at one of the many restaurants and a meander in Little India - a colourful crush of colour, shops selling fabrics, trinkets and sweets - is also a must. It’s Divali, the Indian festival of lights when we’re there, and the lights and the atmosphere is beautiful, if slightly overwhelming.
Oodles of noodles at a Singapore Hawker Centre.
Seeking a night cap we duck into the landmark Raffles Hotel where Singapore slings are made by the dozen and tourists gleefully discard peanut shells on the floor as woven fans slowly wave from the ceiling. Though far better cocktails can be found in Haji Lane, right near the Arab quarter with its rows of shops selling kaleidoscopic rugs and where the air is sweet with the smell of Turkish Delight. This is where Singapore’s hipsters hang out. Boutiques selling small local and international designer labels and quirky souvenirs line the pavement, there’s a DJ lazily spinning tunes outside one of the stores and cider bottle clutching cool kids spill out onto the pavement swaying in that way that is half dancing, but not quite. The best cocktails can be found at Bar Stories. Perched atop a furniture shop there’s no menu but the gents behind the bar ask you what flavours you like, if you want sweet, if you want sour, and do you like pears? It is guaranteed that you will instragram your cocktail because it is so darn delicious.
Yep, definitely instagrammed my cocktail ...
Haji Lane is just around the corner from the beautiful Intercontinental Singapore which, while built just 17 years ago, with its grand lobby, piano playing crooner, classic shop windows and preservation of Peranakan culture, feels eternal.
The Intercontinental Lobby, sans piano man.
We spend our last night in Singapore at the recently opened W hotel in Sentosa - "Asia's playground" and home to Universal Studios. If you had to describe the W in one word, it would be "glitzy". Which suits its uber rich surrounds perfectly.
The W hotel and the yachts of the rich and famous. Fancy, right!
There are glitter balls, and abstract art, the lifts are padded in purple puffy material, pink lights and, hot tip, visit the dunnies in reception to experience the heated toilet seats. In Singapore! So much excess. Everything is deliciously over the top, including the pool where we manage to spend most of our last day. And floating in this pool, surrounded by the yachts of the rich and famous and having eaten everything on our list, it's almost impossible to feel anything other than, well, glitzy. That, and rather full.
Where to stay:
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Best bit: a swim on the terrace pool while you watch planes take off is highly recommended Details: 75 Airport Boulevard, 2nd Floor Crowne Plaza Hotel (Next to Changi Airport T3) 819664, Singapore 819664, www.ichotelsgroup.com/crowneplaza/hotels
Intercontinental Singapore Best bit: The grand lobby where you can have high tea and listen to the gentleman playing the piano every night Details: 80 Middle Road, Singapore, 188966, www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental
W Singapore Sentosa Cove Best bit: The sheer excess, the glittery cushions and the view of the yachts from the balcony Details: 21 Ocean Way, Singapore, 098374, www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels