The new Per­anakan posh

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRIS­TINE McCABE

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.

CHECK­LIST

86 East Coast Road, Ka­tong Square, Sin­ga­pore. Tel: +65 6723 7001; hotelindigo.com/Sin­ga­pore.

TAR­IFF:

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

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