LINGER IN SINGAPORE
Though small in size, this city is big in character, brimming with sumptuous sleeps and eats.
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.
01 Raffles’ colonnade walk 02 JAAN’s Zucchini Trumbetta
03 Fairmont’s new lobby 04 Poolside bliss at Fairmont 04