LINGER IN SIN­GA­PORE

Though small in size, this city is big in char­ac­ter, brim­ming with sump­tu­ous sleeps and eats.

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It was like de­scend­ing into a liv­ing art­work as I en­tered the lobby of the Fair­mont Sin­ga­pore on my first night in town; one painted with high en­ergy and bright lights, a blur of chic and colour­ful peo­ple.

Poised wait­staff tended a sea of dra­matic ‘in­stal­la­tions’, each pur­pose­built to serve one of a re­splen­dent as­sort­ment of culi­nary treats. Bil­lows of cool steam spilt to the floor as dry ice leant an all-new tex­ture to mousse filled bites of choco­late, savoury eggs sat sim­mer­ing in dec­o­rated fish tanks and a buf­fet ta­ble was coated with the shim­mer of oys­ters.

Glam­orous peo­ple min­gled, danced, wined and dined: hote­liers and high rollers, so­cialites and me­dia, Will Smith, Justin Tim­ber­lake, Brit­ney Spears…

... Make those par­tic­u­larly savvy im­per­son­ators of Will, Justin and Brit­ney.

I did many a dou­ble take – noth­ing re­ally seemed too far-fetched here – as the evening’s con­vinc­ing en­ter­tain­ment took to the stage, per­form­ing for a glit­ter­ing crowd armed with smiles and cam­eras.

It was a fit­ting rev­elry for a de­light­ful cause: the Fair­mont had just stepped out to re­veal its fresh new makeover, with an en­tirely re­vamped North Tower dressed in dark woods, deep pur­ples and an au­then­tic ve­neer of cul­ture, along with a sleek new Anti:dote bar with its warm lights and an even warmer at­mos­phere en­snar­ing guests and lo­cals alike, and – the crème de la crème – its lobby.

Like magic, the lobby had been com­pletely re­stored to or­der by the time I de­scended for break­fast the fol­low­ing morn­ing. It gave me a per­fect chance to bask in its lofty, bright in­te­ri­ors and art­laden walls, each cre­ative piece drip­ping with his­toric and cul­tural ref­er­ences. The crown­ing delight comes as you look up and gaze upon the 800 Lasvit crys­tal baubles that drape weight­lessly to form the most ma­jes­tic of chan­de­liers I’ve ever seen.

I, like far too many, had con­sid­ered Sin­ga­pore a stopover des­ti­na­tion. How­ever, the more I was im­mersed, the faster I found rea­son to fall head-over­heels in love.

A foodie’s favourite

Ask any­one – the staff, your driv­ers, lo­cals on the street – how to spend time like a na­tive, and chances are they’ll tell you: eat and shop. Sim­ple. How so many main­tain such trim fig­ures here is be­yond me. But with this in mind, I hap­pily adopt an ‘eat, shop, love’ mantra.

Break­fast at Fair­mont’s Prego is a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion. Fam­i­lies and groups, trav­ellers and Sin­ga­pore­ans, all con­verge on the buf­fet that gives you a taste of it all: con­ti­nen­tal meats and cheeses, the sig­na­ture scent of a fry-up, fluffy pas­tries, Asian-style sashimi, rice dishes and In­dian cur­ries.

How­ever it was at lunch, on the 70th floor of the Swis­sô­tel The Stam­ford, that I hit the jack­pot. Here, nested upon its lofty tower, is JAAN.

Re­cently ranked the 100th best restau­rant in the world, our ap­petites were swiftly whet­ted with wafer-thin wal­nut crack­ers dis­played like branches from a log-like stump, savoury mac­arons that melted on the tongue, mush­room tea and se­same sponge with smoked eel. The Chef de Cui­sine, Julien Royer, took time to en­sure we were as di­vinely con­tented as we ought to be, ami­ably re­gal­ing us with foodie facts.

Seven cour­ses fol­low, cre­at­ing a jour­ney of taste and tex­ture that winds through a menu of smoked or­ganic eggs (lit­er­ally smok­ing from an egg car­ton dis­play), the most divine play on car­rots and asparagus, span­ner crab and sea urchin, and straw­ber­ries. It’s light on the palate, like a kiss from spring.

Hooked by his­tory

You’ll eas­ily for­get this is such a young na­tion, only gain­ing in­de­pen­dence in 1965. Each sub­tle nu­ance of the Fair­mont – the dé­cor, uni­forms and de­signs – min­gle to cre­ate an in­tox­i­cat­ing flood of

“TO HAVE BEEN YOUNG AND HAD A ROOM AT RAF­FLES WAS LIFE AT ITS BEST. – JAMES MICH­ENER”

cul­ture; from the shawl of Per­anakan, Malay and In­dian tex­tiles (the na­tion’s three for­ma­tive cul­tures) draped around my neck on ar­rival to the stat­uesque staff dressed in Pun­jabi suits, elab­o­rate cheongsam and saris.

While sub­tle reprisals of his­tory were in abun­dance, a fu­tur­is­tic play­ground waited out­side my win­dow: the curves of the Sin­ga­pore Lyric Opera, Ma­rina Bay Sands stoic be­side the so­lar-pow­ered, alien Su­pertree Grove, and lights aglow in the ma­rina district. Big ad­vance­ments seem to lie on all pos­si­ble hori­zons.

It’s not only in con­struc­tion that ‘big things’ loom. Styles and trends are modernising at a light­ning pace, too. My dizzy­ing ro­mance lead me to the chic graf­fiti-lined bou­tiques found along Haji Lane and into well-groomed back­streets for cof­fees. With bags a lit­tle heav­ier, I check into a suite at Raf­fles Sin­ga­pore.

A Sin­ga­porean icon

A wise James Mich­ener once said, “To have been young and had a room at Raf­fles was life at its best”, and I’m pinch­ing my­self at the for­tune of be­ing among those ranks. Wan­der­ing the white-arched, green-trimmed colon­nades in my soft golden robe and white slip­pers (mak­ing my way to the rooftop pool that sinks in among a tow­er­ing cityscape) I feel akin to a mod­ern Rud­yard Ki­pling... or any num­ber of the more no­to­ri­ous guests who have walked these en­claves be­fore me.

Raf­fles is, quite rightly, a Sin­ga­porean icon – and even more so, a pin­na­cle in ho­tel ex­cel­lence. Its gleam­ing white ar­cades, attentive staff who smile a “wel­come home” to me each time I re-en­ter the grounds, and lus­cious gar­dens that en­velop 25 per cent of the prop­erty, make it an oa­sis amid the city’s bus­tle. Din­ner at the Tif­fin Room, with the an­tique name­sake Tif­fin boxes pristinely poised and lin­ing the shelves, was a def­i­nite high­light, de­liv­er­ing a buf­fet of fault­less In­dian cui­sine.

I bliss­fully tuck into a feast of rich tomato soup, pa­neer cur­ries, len­til dhal and but­tery soft naan, all ac­cented by dol­lops of cool yo­ghurt sauces and the sweet tang of chut­neys. Af­ter­wards, our party con­tin­ued through the grand ho­tel to the Long Bar, be­cause one can­not come to Sin­ga­pore with­out sam­pling a Sin­ga­pore Sling. Don’t be de­terred by the peanut shells lit­ter­ing the floor here; it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of times when im­pe­rial masters, clad in linen, would snack on nuts and – void of bins – fling the husks to the floor. Em­brace it and fol­low suit.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, and upon my farewell I wave a re­luc­tant hand to Raf­fles’ stoic Sikh door­man, his white ap­parel and tur­ban as­sur­ing he is likely one of the most pho­tographed men in his pro­fes­sion the world over.

I can’t help feel­ing that ev­ery­thing is in or­der here. Noth­ing seems un­ruly. Peo­ple seem con­tented. Ad­vance­ment lies ever-poised on the hori­zon. And, while my time with this na­tion may be over too soon, I smile to think I’m leav­ing it in the safe hands of proud lo­cals who adore it.

With Sin­ga­pore Sling still sweet on my lips, I boarded the Qan­tas flight home. I’d fi­nally made Sin­ga­pore my des­ti­na­tion, and my lat­est love.

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01 Raf­fles’ colon­nade walk 02 JAAN’s Zuc­chini Trum­betta

03 Fair­mont’s new lobby 04 Pool­side bliss at Fair­mont 04

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