Al­most France in sul­try Sin­ga­pore

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Asia - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

My third-floor So Lofty her­itage-wing cham­ber comes with 3m-high ceil­ings, vo­lu­mi­nous pro­por­tions, wall mould­ings, par­quet floors, mir­rored and gilded fur­ni­ture, and an il­lu­mi­nated faux-sky­light rem­i­nis­cent of a clerestory dome.

I could be in a Haussmann-era apart­ment in Paris were it not for the view from the bal­cony re­cess. Step for­ward and be­hold Robin­son Road in sul­try Sin­ga­pore, and not, say, Av­enue de l’Opera in the 1st ar­rondisse­ment.

Sof­i­tel is the French ac­com­mo­da­tion group Ac­cor’s top-tier mem­ber; Sof­i­tel So is its life­style-driven off­shoot, with an em­pha­sis on art and de­sign. It all makes for a con­vivial brand that has been steadily spread­ing its pretty wings from Mau­ri­tius to Bangkok, with more open­ings in store. The 134–room Sof­i­tel So Sin­ga­pore launched last year in a centrally lo­cated 1920s build­ing, all col­umns and ar­cades, which pre­vi­ously housed the TAS telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­tre. Its re­vival has in­cluded sump­tu­ous in­te­ri­ors by Sin­ga­pore-based French designer Is­abelle Miaja. Fash­ion world su­per­star Karl Lager­feld con­trib­uted sig­na­ture touches such as a (Sin­ga­pore) lion em­blem and chic black Chanel uni­forms for front-of-house “am­bas­sadors” (the young women carry cross-strap shoul­der bags and look ever so slightly like pert tram con­duc­tresses hop­ing to sell you a ticket to St Ger­main des Pres).

The sense of French trans­plant seems a bit odd at first (in the ac­com­mo­da­tion in­dus­try, how of­ten does fu­sion sim­ply mean con­fu­sion?) but soon be­comes en­joy­ably dif­fer­ent. There’s a stash of en­cy­clopae­dia-sized mag­a­zines in gue­strooms with ti­tles such as Vie and a guide to French ex­pe­ri­ences in Sin­ga­pore; de­tails are thought­ful and well-con­sid­ered, in­clud­ing a mini-bar com­part­ment con­cealed in a wardrobe that con­tains com­pli­men­tary snacks and soft drinks, espresso ma­chine and pods, and a pay-as-you-go stash of other goods.

Then there is the group’s Sof­i­tel MyBed, which gets my vote as the world’s most squishy, com­plete with marsh­mal­low-soft mat­tress top­per. There are Ap­ple­based “guest tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions” on tap, cov­er­ing an iPad to work ev­ery­thing from auto cur­tains to dis­play­ing the in-room dining menu on the telly screen; this lowtech guest is en­thralled by a nifty row of all man­ner of charg­ers for iOS de­vices. Oh, and the mar­bled bath­room is a stun­ner, com­plete with a soaker of a tub, all con­tained (in So Lofty rooms) within a par­tially glassed and cur­tained cube. Pump packs hold creamy unguents scented with a woody, rosy fragrance.

Then there’s a minia­ture Eif­fel Tower popped on the escritoire and treats laid out for ar­riv­ing guests in­clude dark chocs, boxes of tiny pap­pad­ums and sweet Chi­nese dumplings. Lager­feld’s Chanel ret­ro­spec­tive book, The Lit­tle Black Jacket, is popped along­side a cof­fee-ta­ble tome on Sin­ga­pore his­tory. (Note that big­ger and more char­ac­ter-filled gue­strooms are in the Her­itage Wing, con­nected by a glassed atrium to the So Comfy and So Cosy stu­dios of the So Hip Wing.) A ho­tel of this pe­tite size doesn’t have the swish-bang fa­cil­i­ties of a big prop­erty. There is just one restau­rant, Xpe­ri­ence, on the ground floor, with French-trained chef Anne-Ce­cile De­genne at the helm; the ex­panse in­cludes a small mir­ror-backed bar area, and a bright-blue boudoir cor­ner where you can (sort of) dine in bed at the chef’s ta­ble.

The buf­fet break­fast se­lec­tion is limited but of above av­er­age qual­ity (es­pe­cially the French cheese and char­cu­terie) and dishes at other meals can be cho­sen ac­cord­ing to de­sired size (rather like fash­ion fit­tings, from XS to XL) and are aimed to share, with a long list of wines by the glass. Dur­ing my visit ear­lier this month, a sig­na­ture three-course din­ner menu is priced at $S75 ($70), plus 10

CHECK­LIST

Sof­i­tel So Sin­ga­pore, 35 Robin­son Road, Sin­ga­pore; +65 6701 6800; sof­i­tel.com.

TAR­IFF

Dou­ble rooms from about $S279 a night; check web­site for packages and Hot Deals (from $S238).

GET­TING THERE

About 20 min­utes by taxi from Changi air­port.

CHECK­ING IN

A cool crowd; young cor­po­rates and Asian ur­ban­ites.

BED­TIME READ­ING

Grab your gue­stroom copy of So Chic: Es­sen­tial Guide to French Shop­ping & Dining in Sin­ga­pore; who knew the city is home to Parisian ballet shoe ate­liers, Proven­cal home­wares shops, bistros and bi­jouter­ies.

WHEEL­CHAIR AC­CESS

Yes, and one adapted el­e­va­tor.

STEP­PING OUT

It’s a few steps to Boo Tat Street where food hawker stands spring up af­ter 7pm; walk­ing dis­tance to Raf­fles Place, Chi­na­town and Ann Siang Hill.

BRICKBATS

The front en­trance (with re­volv­ing doors) is not easy to dis­tin­guish; it looks like the restau­rant en­try and the front desk is set right back and up sev­eral steps. The self­con­sciously groovy lan­guage used in stylish ho­tels does get a bit weary­ing. Why a “city guru” and not just a plain concierge?

BOU­QUETS

Anne-Ce­cile De­genne’s food is ter­rific; speedy Wi-Fi; ex­cel­lent ser­vice by well-in­formed staff. per cent ser­vice and 7 per cent GST, and in­cludes choices such as foie gras and truf­fle duck-meat siew mai dumplings; lob­ster and scal­lop risotto with a laksa base and co­conut and lime foam; and a zesty lemon and marsh­mal­low combo. Other sets of two or three cour­ses cost from $S40-$S50 and De­genne’s culi­nary touch is sure and spicy, with lib­eral in­clu­sions of chilli, kaffir lime oil, dashi broth and pep­pery herbs.

Tip: Use your check-in bev­er­age voucher to kick off pro­ceed­ings with a #35 cock­tail, in­volv­ing Tan­queray gin, co­gnac, triple sec, var­i­ous botan­i­cals and fruit liqueurs and a hit of pan­dan syrup. On the level six rooftop is a long pool with green-gold tiles, HI-SO bar, pot­ted palms, cur­tained ca­banas, and clus­ters of ca­sual ta­bles and chairs. It’s a con­vivial spot for a tra­di­tional Sin­ga­pore Sling while look­ing up at seg­ments of a city sky­line that seems per­ma­nently topped with build­ing cranes. Ap­par­ently it is HI-SO Ladies Night ev­ery Wed­nes­day with DJ mu­sic, a com­pli­men­tary glass of Ruinart cham­pagne for the gals and fizzy pours all night at $S15 a pop. So, so civilised. Bonne sante.

Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of Ac­cor.

So Lofty room, top; Sof­i­tel So Sin­ga­pore, mid­dle; golden-tiled rooftop pool, above left; and the bed con­cept at Xpe­ri­ence restau­rant, above right

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