The new Peranakan posh
The East Coast Road address of the new Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong provides a clue to the colourful history of this refreshingly un-touristy precinct. A century or so ago, the building would have sat among coconut palms and posh weekend mansions near the seafront, but decades of land reclamation has resulted in Katong, which is in Joo Chiat, Singapore’s first declared Heritage Town, being marooned in modern-day suburbia.
Just 10 minutes from downtown, Katong retains many signposts to the past, however, such as a smattering of gleaming white colonial piles and rows of colourful pre-World War II two-storey shophouses and terraces centred around bustling Joo Chiat Road, named after an entrepreneur dubbed the King of Katong who made his fortune in pepper, nutmeg and coconut plantations.
The Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong proudly takes its cue from the precinct’s Peranakan (Straits Chinese) heritage with 131 guestrooms housed in a new tower rising behind the old Joo Chiat police station. (Indigo is a boutique brand operated by the InterContinental Hotels Group; no two hotels are alike and each is designed to reflect the character of its immediate neighbourhood.).
Cloaked in a living wall of green, the hotel’s discreet entrance opens onto a small but stylish lobby where the reception desk is a beautiful Chinese table, the wall is plastered in a montage of oversized Peranakan ceramics and a pop art-style installation of colourful water jars sets the mood. During check-in, the friendly young team offers a welcome cup of tea or locally roasted coffee.
The snappy interiors are by local firm eco.id Architects and Design Consultancy with each of the 30sq m guestrooms styled as a Peranakan home in miniature, saturated with colour and injected with loads of fun. Rarely do hotel guestrooms make you smile the second you swipe your key and push open the door.
Behind the king bed is a wall-size sketch by local artist Don Low depicting Katong street life; the coffee table doubles as a board for carrom (a traditional game) and the marble bathroom vanity sits atop a Singer sewing machine base, referencing local industry. The minibar is housed in a contemporary, purple-lacquered cabinet with ceramics on the top shelf and a good selection of local coffee plus premium brews and blends by luxury Singapore brand, TWG Tea. There are jars of old-fashioned sweets (the chewy-creamy White Rabbit candy from China is addictive).
The open-plan layout works well ensuring the spa-style bathroom situated at the end of the room at the window still affords privacy. The shower is tucked behind the mirrored screen and affords long city views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The wet area is lined with colourful Peranakan-inspired tiles, and stocked with Australia’s Biology Smart Skincare products.
This is a Gen X, Y and Z kind of pad so of course Wi-Fi is gratis and guestrooms are paper and compendium-free; everything, including the room-service menu, can be found on the smart TV. And all those important extras are covered, including towelling robes, iron and board and good reading lights.
The hotel’s public spaces cover a rooftop pool, hi-tech 24-hour gym and a groovy pavilion-cumlounge linking the tower with Baba Chews restaurant, housed in the old police station.
A la carte breakfast is served here; try localstyle kaya toast filled with butter and a jam made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves, which seems a curious combo but is very popular.
After five, Baba Chews is all cocktails and Peranakan-style dishes. Room-service options also include Peranakan favourites, such as a delicious burger twist on ayam buah keluak (braised chicken with black nuts).
InterContinental’s Indigo-branded properties across Asia are in mainland China, Hong Kong and Bangkok. The opening this June of Katong presages a rapid expansion in the region, with nine hotels on the drawing board, including a resort in Bali’s Seminyak.
86 East Coast Road, Katong Square, Singapore. Tel: +65 6723 7001; hotelindigo.com/Singapore.
From $S198 ($186) plus taxes.
GETTING THERE: Located en route to downtown, 15 minutes from Changi airport. Low-cost carrier Scoot flies an all-Dreamliner fleet between its Singapore hub and Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Perth airports.
CHECKING IN: Anyone keen for a taste of oldworld, low-rise Singapore.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.
BEDTIME READING: Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy by Shamini Flint is the ideal read given the hotel has its own police station, where “guests” once included members of the notorious Joo Chiat Gang.
STEPPING OUT: Grab a copy of the hotel’s neighbourhood walk map taking in the pretty Peranakan shophouses along Joo Chiat and Koon Seng roads. Local Nonya (Peranakan) cuisine is a highlight, especially the famous Katong laksa. Controversy still rages over who invented the dish but most agree the best is to be had at 328 Katong Laksa on East Coast Road. Check out Kim Choo Keuh Chang for rice dumplings, and Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, an old-fashioned Hainanese coffee shop for hot kaya buns or curry puffs. Across the road from the hotel, the charming Rumah Bebe stocks beautifully embroidered shoes and traditional sarong kebaya. To learn more about Peranakan culture, book a tour of the Katong Antique House with local historian Peter Wee; 208 East Coast Road.
BRICKBATS: Some taxi drivers are still unfamiliar with the hotel’s location so you’ll need the address in writing.
BOUQUETS: No detail has been overlooked in this eco-building designed by local firm Ong & Ong; intricate metal “fins” on the tower’s exterior inspired by traditional Peranakan screens shield guestrooms from the eastern and western sun and the little window overhangs amplify the sound of the late afternoon rain.
Christine McCabe was a guest of Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong and Scoot.
Clockwise from left: stylish lobby of Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong; Baba Chews; hotel entrance; a decorative guestroom