Far from just a refuelling point, the city-state is bursting with fantastic food and slick shopping. What’s not to love?
FLYING BUSINESS CLASS on Singapore Airlines means both priority baggage and disembarkation, so I am into my waiting car in less than 10 minutes and walking into the reception of my hotel just 29 minutes after landing; time is of the essence if you’re doing Singapore for one night only. I have exactly one day and one night here — a true stopover, in which I intend to cover all the bases. The key to such a short amount of time is to choose two things that matter and let the rest just unfold. I definitely need to start with some local art to understand a bit about where I am, then I’ll hit a hawker centre to hunt down some Hainanese chicken, a spot of shopping will follow, and then a Singapore sling in the birthplace of the drink. Done.
Singapore is a work in progress; my driver, Jonathan, informs me that the rate of construction here turns it over and makes this a brand new city every three years. I’m staying at the Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay, a new hotel with a warm, inviting vibe and textural interiors with touches of copper as a nod to the coins local river traders once used. It’s homey — and home is a big issue in Singapore.visit propertyguru.com.sg and you’ll discover that a neat two-bedroom apartment runs at about $2 million.with space at such a premium, it makes sense that my hotel room is on the compact side. But smart design with floor-to-ceiling windows, high ceilings and a hidden bathroom make the space feel more generous.
The hotel is situated in a hotspot on the Singapore River, which makes walks before sun-up easy. Located near the equator, Singapore
is a dark-morning kind of place; at 7am, the sun is nowhere near the horizon, and the time difference means my body is registering 10am. But hanging in the room isn’t what a weekend in Singapore is all about. Sequestered in the same building is the new private members’ club 1880. Hard to get into and hugely desirable to be part of, the club is a who’s-who, though management stresses that its Membership Committee values “character over notoriety”.as you step out of the mirrored escalator tunnel and through the arched glass doors, you are met by a 1.5-tonne rose quartz crystal. It was shipped from Madagascar and hoisted up the three levels to act as the reception desk. (Reportedly, the crystal’s sister and brother now reside in the home of Robert Downey Jr.) It’s the first indicator that this place has good vibes — there is definitely some new-age goodness (and general high-end networking opportunities) headed your way at the beauty bar, lounge, Leonie’s restaurant and cafe-cum-cocktail-lounge The Double.
Next stop: National Gallery Singapore, the biggest permanent collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. Housed within two beautiful colonial buildings, the old Supreme Court and City Hall, the gallery opened in 2015 to share works that span the Malay kingdom, British colonialism, traditional life on the river and the bohemian wave of the 1930s.while you’re here, try Odette, a two-michelin-star restaurant with a modern French menu — but book before you arrive in Singapore, as tables are notoriously hard to nab. Or go downstairs and try National Kitchen, owned and run by star chef Violet Oon. Hainanese chicken is next on my list, so I head to Tiong Bahru, a neighbourhood that was once infamous as the location of choice for wealthy businessmen looking to set up their mistresses in love shacks, now undergoing rapid gentrification. Gourmet stores and specialist gelaterias sit alongside the most famous hawker centre in Singapore. Go here for Hainanese chicken rice.this is democratic eating, with chic locals and tourists all jostling together on plastic seating for this Peranakan delicacy. A quick trip down Orchard Road is advised — just to check in on tax-free opportunities.take your passport for Gst-free purchases at some high-end stores or a 10 per cent international-visitor discount. There’s something very clever about establishing yourself at a hotel that has a great happy hour.after a day in a new city, having an hour on a rooftop to relax into a gin & tonic and a cheese plate is heaven.the Club Intercontinental lounge (accessible to guests in Club rooms or suites) boasts a patio from which to take in the sunset and plot dinner using the nifty Take Me Withyou, a smartphone loaded with restaurant and shopping tips.the storied Raffles Hotel is undergoing a renovation, so my Singapore sling is out, but this is a gin town, so a gimlet will do nicely. While Singapore is bursting with options, it’s comforting to know I can venture downstairs for a great dinner.we eat in Publico Ristorante and choose the house specialities: flash-fried calamari and cauliflower; house-made spaghetti with lobster; and a pizza laden with mushrooms and truffles. One of the biggest trends in Singapore’s bar and food scene is transformable rooms, a by-product of the scarcity of space. By day, Publico Deli serves up New York-style Reubens and coffee, while at 6pm, a sliding partition reveals Marcello, an Italian-style speakeasy. By 6.30am, the space has been returned to its cheery daytime glory to serve pancakes and fruit for breakfast, before my short cab-ride back to the airport and onwards with my journey.
Odette at National Gallery Singapore.
Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay penthouse study. Left: National Gallery Singapore. Above: Publico Ristorante.