36 hours in Singapore

H has had many visitors over the past 7 years of staying in Singapore and I would say on average most of them are here on transit. The daunting tour guide responsibility falls on my local shoulders where I am tasked with showing them around my little island in 24-36 hours. Honestly there is not much sightseeing to do in my petit country, but I try my best to offer a true Singaporean experience, filled with local hideouts and flavours.

36 hours in Singapore

Start the day early with a local breakfast of kaya(coconut jam) toast, soft boiled eggs and local coffee or tea. My favourite is Killiney Kopitiam, but there are many alternatives like Ya Kun and Toast Box which are equally as good. Powered up for the day, take the MRT to Bayfront to start the day at the newly opened Gardens by the Bay before it gets too hot. Next, cross the bridge to Marina Bay Sands where a ticket to the SkyPark will give you unblocked views of the city. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see far past the city skyline into the residential area and the ocean littered with shipping vessels.

Take the MRT to Chinatown for some cultural immersion. Walk along the old shophouses and stop at the Chinatown Heritage Centre for a peak into the lives of Singaporean’s early immigrants. Pass by Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and admire its colourful architecture. Hungry? Stop for some Dim Sum at Yum Cha or walk further to Maxwell Food Centre to sample local cuisines. Tian Tian‘s Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of the best on the island. On the way back to the train station, pop into Mei Heong Yuen Dessert House for traditional Chinese desserts like mango pudding, mango sago, peanut soup, sesame paste…

Recharged and ready for another cultural experience? Take the MRT to Bugis and walk towards Arab street to visit the Kampong Glam district. This area in recent years has been sporting the “bohemian” vibe with the emergence of new restaurants, bars, cafes and independent fashion designers setting up shop along Haji Lane. To experience the traditional feel of the area, just walk across to the street parallel. Arab Street is lined with colourful fabric shops and the Sultan Mosque is considered one of the most important mosque in Singapore. If visiting at night, stop for a smoke at the many shisha bars or head to Blue Jazz for their live jazz band.

Tired? Head back to rest before dinner or use the time to pack in some shopping. The most common things that our visitors have bought are electronics like cameras, ipads and iphones as they are cheaper here than in Europe. Head to Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza or Funan DigitalLife Mall for electronic products but beware of touts that are out to cheat naive tourists (esp at Sim Lim and Lucky Plaza). Also note that Apple products are price controlled so just buy them from any Apple store. For the ladies, go shoe crazy at local brand Charles & Keith or Pedro. Comb Far East Plaza along Scotts Road for some cut-label designer clothes or just relax to get your nails done at the countless salons in the building. Along Orchard, most shops or clothes are imported so they will not be cheaper, but a few local standout brands to check out are M)phosis for casual comfortable wear, Alldressedup for fancy delicate dresses and Raoul for business smart shirts.

Have dinner at Newton Food Centre to sample the local staples. Chilli crab, sambal stingray, oyster omelette, bbq chicken wings, satay, hokkien noodles and popiah are must tries! Wash it all down with ice cold Singaporean Tiger beer and to end the meal on a sweet note, try the local deserts like ice kachang, bobo cha cha, tau suan.

Filled up and ready to party? Start the night with a few artisan cocktails at 28 Hong Kong Street or The Library or a slow beer along Emerald Hill or Duxton Hill. The night life starts to be happening around midnight so once you are ready head to Clark Quay for bar hopping or to Mink for some serious partying. If dancing is not your thing, The Vault offers a laid back venue for drinks without rubbing shoulders with sweaty people on the dance floor. There are plenty of venues to party the night away in Singapore, with most clubs closing at 3 or 4 in the morning. Take note that most bars and clubs have a dress code, and you will be denied entry even if they are Gucci flip flops and shorts.

If you are hungover the next day, I suggest putting on your aviators and heading to PS Cafe at Dempsey for a laid back brunch before heading to the airport. Try to sit outside facing the forest for some sun and mother’s nature remedy.

If you have more time in Singapore, here are my other suggestions:
Universal Studios at Sentosa– at least half a day
SEA Aquarium at Sentosa
The Zoo if you have young kids – at least half a day
Visit a local wet market, I suggest Tiong Bahru market or Chinatown market (only open in the mornings)
If you have time for another meal I suggest Jumbo Seafood for their chilli crab and black pepper crab. Don’t forget the fried buns to dip in the chilli crab sauce!

You’re dead tired and on the way to the airport but the past 36 hours have been worth it. You can sleep on the flight back!

Further details
Map of the MRT (metro)
-Taxis are cheap by European standards and are all metered
-Skypark visits are only at scheduled timings
-Maxwell Food Centre 1 Kadayanallur Street (Chinatown or Tanjong Pagar MRT)
-Blue Jazz Bar 11 Bali Lane
-Newton Food Centre 500 Clemenceau Ave North (Newton MRT) My favourite stalls are #66 Sin Sin Seafood BBQ for chilli crab and sambal stingray, #73 Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, #69 for fishball noodles, #72 for BBQ chicken wings and satay.
-The Library 47 Keong Seik Road
-Emerald Hill bars: No. 5 and Ice Cold (Somerset MRT)

For more local insights to Singapore please check out my other posts:
Singapore’s Local / Asian food scene
Singapore’s Western food scene
Singapore’s party scene

Iggy’s

Iggy’s always been on our go to list, and we’ve not had the opportunity to celebrate since we last had lunch 4 years ago after getting the keys to our apartment. This is the first time in a long while we stayed in Singapore for H’s birthday, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try dinner at their new venue.

With the influx of countless celebrity chefs setting up branches in Singapore, Iggy’s might have lost some shine. However, this place was around almost 10 years ago and is a pioneer in the fine dining scene. Their new premise in the Hilton hotel is remarkable bigger – they have kept the original counter seat concept (now facing the pastry chefs) and have added private rooms and a dining hall. Service is top notch as expected of a place of this standing and was perfect without being ostentatious.

We had not read any recent reviews on the place so were surprised that the menu was highly Japanese influenced. Almost every dish had a Japanese element to it and our favourite was the foie gras risotto. Their famous sakura ebi cappellini was on the menu and though well executed we didn’t think it was outstanding. Every dish was beautifully presented and the succession of each dish flowed perfectly into the next. Though each dish was executed perfectly, we wished more dishes had surprised us or have the wow factor.

Only the menu is served for dinner, so this is a place reserved for special occasions. Lunch is a cheaper alternative and the experience is no less special.

Iggy’s
The Hilton Hotel, 581 Orchard Road Level 3

January Menu @ $275/pax

Gillardeau Oyster
Iggy’s sushi
Buri, egg sauce
Alaskan King Crab
Alba white truffle, foie gras risotto
Sakura ebi cappellini
Kuro Mutsu with Jamon Iberica
Roast Duck
Forest Berries
Pumpkin spong cake
Hinoki chocolate box

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Singapore’s Western food scene

You never notice change if you are looking at something or if you are in the situation all the time. Somewhere along the years, Singapore started opening up, embracing different cultures and food and has the onslaught opening of new restaurants to show for it. Restaurants from casual bistros to gastronomy have been sprouting like mushrooms with both local and foreign chefs at the helm. Not all of them are good and below is our take of places that we love.

French
We love Absinthe and Nicholas for their classic French cuisine without burning a hole in your pocket. L’Atelier de Robuchon
 on Sentosa is a great venue to try decently priced gastronomy – the quality of all L’Ateliers globally is of the same standard! Jaan, 
Au Jardin and Les Amis are places for romantic or celebratory dinner but be prepared for the huge bill at the end. For something more casual, Le Bistrot and
 Brasserie Gavroche
 provide a close match to the bistros in Paris.

Italian
Besides pastas and pizzas, we don’t really go for fine dining Italian. After having amazing pizzas in his restaurant in LA, we were super excited that Mario Batali decided to open Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza
 at MBS. Though the pizzas are not big, they are very filling and I find myself unable to eat more than half of a pizza. The portions in the Osteria are small and therefore makes it expensive but the fresh Burrata cheese is worth the price tag.

Spanish
There has been a recent influx of Spanish tapas bars and I love the concept, as I like to try a little bit of everything. The newly opened Binomio serves up traditional tapas cooked with the chef’s grandmother’s recipe in the bar area (there is a restaurant behind) while Esquina’s tapas have a modern take on them. I found it the most refined among the 3. Lolla puts a creative spin on their tapas and their squid ink sea urchin pudding is to die for. My only gripe is about their reservations policy – only Binomio accepts reservations. As there are not many counter seats, this pretty much leaves you standing by the bar waiting for a place if you arrive after 630pm!
Binomio 20 Craig Road

Modern European
Food that doesn’t fit into a specific category goes into the Modern European box, much like the “others” in a Singapore IC. Kilo is perfect for a laid back dinner in an old school setting with tapas style dishes to share, while Keystone is more upmarket but has value for money degustation menus. Iggy’s by Ignatius Chan is one of the older standing restaurants in my list, and it has been consistently delivers outstanding dishes over the years.

Brunch
I never heard of brunch growing up – it must be a cultural thing the foreigners brought with them in their suitcase. My idea of eggs and sausages was McDonald’s big breakfast! However, one of H’s favourite things on the weekend is to sit outdoors and have brunch. We have tried many places; some are either overpriced, or just tasteless. EM by the river and Rider’s café ticked all our boxes – decently priced, outdoors / open aired, surrounded by nature. PS Café at Dempsey outdoor seating is lovely but I find it on the pricy side.

Burgers
Don’t you find a woman that eats attractive? I’m not talking about ordering carrot sticks and pushing food around the plate. I’m talking about finishing a bloody steak or a huge burger. Anything that I put in my mouth has to be worth it, otherwise it’s just wasted calories. 
&made
 and Roadhouse make burgers the way we like them – toasted sesame bun, thick juicy medium rare patties and just the right size to pick up and eat with your hands.

Even with all these options, we often find ourselves at a loss when it comes to deciding where to eat. “What to eat ah?”

Singapore’s Local / Asian food scene

I’ve written so much about my travels and food around the world, but I’ve not written a post about the food in Singapore. All year round we get lots of visitors from all over and the responsibility falls on me to plan all the meals to showcase Singapore’s worth as a food paradise. Besides the occasional tourists, friends and colleagues constantly ask me, “what to eat ah?”.

The pressure of immediately having a good recommendation on the tip of my tongue sometimes gets to me and I freeze! It’s time to put my stomach on paper and list my favourite eating haunts in my hometown.

These are places that I’ve eaten since I was a child or places that has caused me sleepless nights craving for their food. I’ve been to all the places below more than once and would definitely go back again. The list below ranges from hawker food to fine dinning.

Local / Zhi Char

Sik Wai Sin
287 Geylang Road
steamed fish head, prawn bean curd

Lor 9 Beef Kway Teow
Geylang Lor 9
beef kway teow

Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh
593 Havelock Road
bak kut teh, pig trotters

Nan Hwa Chong Fish Head Steamboat
814 North Bridge Road
pomfret steamboat, fried bean curd, ngoi hiang, breaded pork

XO Fish Bee Hoon
Blk 19A Dover Crescent #01-05
XO fish bee hoon, prawn paste chicken

Tiong Bahru Market
30 Seng Poh Road
Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice #02-82, Wanton Noodles #02-30, Hwa Yuen Porridge #02-74

Zion Road Riverside Food Centre
70 Zion Road
No 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow, Noo Cheng Adam Road Prawn Mee Stall 4

Newton Circus
500 Clemenceau Ave North
#66 Sin Sin Seafood BBQ for sambal stingray, #73 Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, #69 for fishball noodles, #72 for BBQ chicken wings

Longhouse
183 Upper Thomson Road
Boon Pisang Goreng, Prawn noodles, braised duck rice

Ghim Moh Market
20 Ghim Moh Road
Hakka Yong Tau Fu #01-14, Fried Bee hoon and chicken wing from stall opposite

Chinese 

Beng Hiang
112-116 Amoy Street
This traditional Hokkian restaurant has been around for ages. Must try: fish maw soup, oyster omelette, kong ba bao

Chui Huay Lim
190 Keng Lee Road #01-02 Chui Huay Lim Club
Jumbo’s group upscale Teochew restaurant serves excellent cold crab, steamed pomfret, ngoh hiang

Silk Road
165 Tanjong Pagar Road, Amara Hotel
Sichuan style cuisine which could be quite spicy for some. I absolutely love their snow flake dumplings

Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck
290 Orchard Road #05-42 (Paragon)
This peking duck is the best I’ve found – the skin is cut with chunks of meat, to be wrapped in the traditional pancake skin. Their menu is extensive but I prefer to stick to the basics like spinach bean curd and crab meat fried rice.

Royal China at Raffles Hotel and Crystal Jade Golden Palace in Paragon are great for afternoon dim sum

Imperial Treasure Steamboat and Jpot are my favourite places for hotpot.

Crabs

Melben Seafood
232 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
Famous for their crabs, this place draws big crowds every night. Be prepared to wait up to 1.5 hour for your food. The butter crab and crab been hoon are superb.

Ming Kee Live Seafood
556 Macpherson Road
This place does the crab bee hoon dry – the noodles are soaked with the flavour of the crab roe… And the crabs are huge! Every table orders the same couple of dishes: steamed bamboo clams, steam soya sauce clams, fried fish skins

No Signboard
An institution by itself. I’ll always bring first time visitors to Singapore here to try their chilli crab and white pepper crab.

Japanese
Tomi Sushi is definitely value for money, the quality is one of the best for that price range. A cheaper option is Itacho Sushi at ION or Plaza Singapura. Or treat yourself to a sushi lunch set at Aoki, prices are sky high at dinner! Kazu Sumiyaki at #04-05 Cuppage Plaza and Shunjuu at 30 Robertson Quay are my favourite places for yakitori and Yakiniku Yazawa hits the spot for melt in the mouth Japanese beef.

Peranakan
Trust me, I’m half Peranakan… Ivins at 21 Binjai Park and Guan Hoe Soon

Indian
Eat with your hands like a pro at The Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India. Their fish head curry is not so spicy but can cause your stomach to burn for the whole afternoon. Another place for fish head curry or chicken / mutton biryani is Samy’s. Housed in an old open aired colonial building in Demsey.

Vietnamese
Finally a decent place to satisfy H’s Vietnamese cravings. Long Phung at 159 Joo Chiat Road serve up the tastiest pho bo and bun thit nuong on the island. It’s located in the middle of the red light area so be prepared to share tables with some seedy characters.

Check out my recommendations for western food and chilling/partying locations in my other posts.

The Bazaar by José Andrés

José Andrés’s tapas style restaurant in the swanky SLS hotel was easily the best meal we had in the US. The hotel is dimly lit and the restaurant takes up 80% of the hotel lobby. We found the furnishing rather quirky, imagine weird animal wall ornaments or a 6 foot dog headed army general statue. The Philippe Starck furnishing adds to the baroque tone of the hotel and the restaurant.

Reservations must be hard to score after winning many awards, but we didn’t have a problem when we went in 2010. The crowd was casual chique, with most ladies dressing more for the after party and we definately felt under dressed in our casual jeans and hoodies. Try to get a counter seat so you can observe the chefs at work and the seat is perfect for people like me who prefer to see how the food looks before ordering it.

José Andrés has an impressive resume, starting out as a young chef under Ferran Adrià at elBulli. The menu consists of small portions of traditional and modern Spanish tapas. The traditional tapas were executed well but there wasn’t anything to shout about; the draw here are the modern tapas. The creations are his modern take on classic dishes, and no doubt the molecular gastronomy influence at elBulli was evident. Each dish was interesting and creative and the it was an interactive atmosphere with the chefs explaining the creations as they were making them.

465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Hong Kong

HK is a 4 hour flight away and we travel there often for both work and holidays. A typical itinerary consist of cramming as much shopping, eating and partying into every day that we are there. We usually stay in central and the airport express brings you into the city in 45min.

The city works hard and parties harder, perfect for single people. The partying scene is very vibrant in Central area and once the sun set, Lan Kwai Fong fills up and the crowd spills on to the streets as the night goes on. The pace of life is very fast and you feel it immediately walking around Central. HK people walk really fast, it seems like they are in a rush to go somewhere to do something. It feels like I’m operating at snail speed even when I’m there on business walking from meetings to meetings.

HK is a top destination for celebrity chefs to open a satellite restaurant outside of their home country. It boasts big names like Amber, Zuma, Joël Robuchon and Mario Batali’s Lupa and there seems to be a new restaurant opening every month. All serve excellent food, but here is a list of my favourite local haunts

1. Sang Kee Seafood Restaurant
A local brought me here and I’ve been back ever since. It is famous with the HK people so make reservations and reserve the famous dishes as they run out quickly. Must try: soya sauce prawns and salt baked chicken, the congee is good and they have many types but I like the fish.
1F/2F Hip Sang Building, 107-115 Hennessy Rd, Wanchai

2. Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant
This is a good place to have dim sum and the char siew is a must try
1F 353 Lockhart Road, Sunshine Plaze, Wanchai

Wellington Street is a street perpendicular to LKF and has lots of good food. Yung Kee is probably the most famous on the street, and their specialty is roast goose. Prices are a bit steep and I found their goose very oily and not miles better than other normal shops. I do like the better valued take away and dried Chinese sausages to bring home. Wong Chi Kei Congee & Noodle has excellent beef brisket noodles and crab congee. And further up the road, Tai Cheung Bakery makes the best egg tart.
Yung Kee 32 Wellington Street
Wong Chi Kei Congee & Noodle G/F 15 Wellington Street, Cental
Tai Cheung Bakery 32 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central

3. Sen-Ryo
The quality of the fish at this conveyor belt sushi joint is very good and the prices are very reasonable. I load up on the otoro sashimi and uni, both high quality stuff. There are not many tables so try to go during off peak times as the queues during peak periods are very long and a wait up to an hour is normal.
Shop 3099-3100, Podium level 3, IFC mall, Central

4. Hui Lau Shan Desserts
I need to get my mango fix at this place. They serve all sorts of mango desserts with sago or pudding or with glutinous balls. Many outlets around the island but I usually go to Causeway Bay opposite Sogo

La Tour d’Argent

We had lunch at La Tour d’Argent in the summer of 2008 with H’s parents. This was our first foray into the French gastronomy scene and to be honest, it was intimidating. I am writing this 4 years after our visit, so much of the experience is hazy and not too detailed.

This place is an institution, founded in 1582 and its reputation precedes it having served royalty and politicians. The restaurant used to have 3 stars but lost them and now is comfortably sitting on 1 star. The dinning hall is very grand, with big chandeliers and heavy draping. A few of all the waiters were dressed in tailcoats which seem a little extreme to me, and the service was bordering on the line of pretentious. It made us uncomfortable, though I have to say we were probably too immature to embrace it then.

Tour d’Argent is famous for 2 things – pressed duck and their wine cellar. The wine list arrived in the form of a 3 inch thick book and their cave under the restaurant is a treasure chest of close to 500,000 bottles. An auction in 2009 saw the restaurant selling 4% of their bottles to pay for the refurbishment of the restaurant. The wine prices are a bit silly, but it is expected of a restaurant of this standing.

The pressed duck is the speciality here and each duck is tagged with a serial number. Every customer that orders the dish will receive a postcard with their duck number attached. The duck is served in a sauce of duck blood and bone marrow (hence pressed duck). I remember it tasted delicious as I was oblivious to the preparation and it was only after lunch that I felt queasy when I found out about the blood sauce.

The restaurant boasts breath taking views of the Seine and Notre Dame so reserve tables by the windows if you can. I can imagine it being very romantic at night with Paris lit up, but its equally beautiful in the day if the weather is sunny.

There is also an épicerie on the ground floor where you can buy some of their in house pâté or confiture.

15 Quai de la Tournelle