Cool and classy

Miche­lin meals and gin slings in a slick me­trop­o­lis

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

FIRST UP: Sin­ga­pore’s in­ter­na­tional gate­ways are re­li­able guides to what lies ahead in the is­land city-state. Changi Air­port has been judged the world’s best; it’s ef­fi­cient and to­tally mind­ful of trav­ellers’ needs. Like­wise, Sin­ga­pore Cruise Cen­tre and the newer Ma­rina Bay Cruise Cen­tre of­fer a smooth, warm welcome and are help­ing the city take the lead in a boom­ing pas­sen­ger-ship mar­ket. Sin­ga­pore, which has grown by a quar­ter in the past 50 years thanks to land recla­ma­tion, has a dra­matic sky­line, is safe, clean and so easy to ne­go­ti­ate (even the Sin­ga­pore and Aussie dol­lars are pretty well at par­ity, rul­ing out those com­pli­cated con­ver­sions). There’s no graf­fiti or chew­ing gum, and ex­press­ways lined with trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion hide the un­sightly. Too reg­u­lated, not “au­then­tic” enough? Maybe, but there’s still rough and tum­ble in colour­ful dis­tricts such as Chi­na­town and Lit­tle In­dia. Sin­ga­pore sits just north of the equa­tor, so on any visit it will be hot and hu­mid. Be mod­est with out­door walk­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and mas­ter the ex­ten­sive public trans­port sys­tem with a Sin­ga­pore Tourist Pass or hop in a cab (in­ex­pen­sive and delicious air-con al­ways on). I have a guide, Jane, who is in­formed and ir­rev­er­ently witty, to show me the sights. More: yoursin­ga­pore.com; jane­myguide.com.

ARTA WITH A PAST: No two ways about it, Na­tional Gallery Sin­ga­pore is a must do. Just over a year old, it oc­cu­pies two colo­nial build­ings, the for­mer Supreme Court (1939) and City Hall (1929), now linked by a dra­matic glass atrium. His­toric spa­ces have been pre­served — court­rooms, de­ten­tion cells, the cham­ber in which the Ja­panese sur­ren­dered in 1945 and Lee Kuan Yew was sworn into of­fice head­ing the first gov­ern­ment af­ter in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. But the fo­cus is on the fab­u­lous gal­leries and an 8000-work col­lec­tion of Sin­ga­porean and South­east Asian art, from tra­di­tional to con­tem­po­rary. Un­til March 26, see the ex­hi­bi­tion Artist and Em­pire: (En)coun­ter­ing Colo­nial Lega­cies, com­bin­ing works from Tate Bri­tain and re­gional col­lec­tions. Linger in the gallery, which has di­verse din­ing op­tions (in­clud­ing up­mar­ket Odette), reg­u­lar con­certs, talks and chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties. The view from the rooftop is sen­sa­tional, tak­ing in the sweep of the cer­e­mo­nial Padang, with Sin­ga­pore Cricket Club at one end and Sin­ga­pore Recre­ation Club at the other. More: na­tion­al­gallery.sg.

W WELCOME HOME: Alvin Yapp is an en­thu­si­ast. In his home-cum-mu­seum in the neigh­bour­hood of Joo Chiat, Alvin leads us on a lively ex­plo­ration of Per­anakan cul­ture and his val­ued col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture, or­na­ments, porce­lain, fab­rics, beaded shoes, jew­ellery, cos­tumes, letters, pho­to­graphs; mind the jars as you climb the nar­row stair­case. Per­anakans are the de­scen­dants of Chi­nese who set­tled in the Malay ar­chi­pel­ago. Mostly males (who left wives in China), they mar­ried Malay women and dur­ing Bri­tish rule took on very English ways. The In­tan (mean­ing rose-cut di­a­mond), as Alvin’s mu­seum is known, dis­plays side­boards that would en­hance any stately home, dec­o­rated with an ex­plo­sion of Chi­nese fig­ures. His mum has been pre­par­ing af­ter­noon tea with delicious Per­anakan sweet treats. And then Alvin, by re­quest, takes to his pi­ano and plays Waltz­ing Matilda and Some­where Over the Rainbow. Wacky, but so en­ter­tain­ing. Ad­mis­sion is by ap­point­ment. More: con­tac­tus@the-in­tan.com.

LONG SHOT: Raf­fles Ho­tel, the grand prop­erty dat­ing from 1887 (you know, Rud­yard Ki­pling, Som­er­set Maugham, Noel Coward, Liz Tay­lor, Wil­liam and Kate, that lot), will be closed in phases from mid-year for a re­fur­bish­ment and, in any case, the lobby is gen­er­ally open to guests only. We pass the busy Tif­fin Room, where High Tea is be­ing served, on the way to the Long Bar, where just over 100 years ago bar cap­tain Ngiam Tong Boon con­cocted the Sin­ga­pore Sling. It’s time for a master­class in mak­ing the pink cock­tail — Gordon’s gin, Dom Bene­dic­tine, Coin­treau, Heer­ing cherry liqueur, pineap­ple juice and much else are lined up, but it comes at the end of a long day so my in­gre­di­ent mea­sure­ments are erring on the side of “let’s go for it”. The pineap­ple and cherry wedge should sit just-so on the shoul­der of a char­ac­ter etched on the tall serv­ing glass; well slung as it were. I get this bit right and love my unique mix, ac­com­pa­nied by sa­tays. Back to my ho­tel for a snooze. Slings will be served in the Bar and Bil­liard Room while the Long Bar is be­ing re­fur­bished. Mas­ter­classes are of­fered in groups. More: raf­fles.com.

THET BEST FOR LESS: There can be few Miche­lin­starred places on Earth where a meal leaves you with change from $10; two are in Sin­ga­pore. At Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noo­dle (ac­tu­ally lo­cated at 466 Craw­ford Lane #01-12) the sig­na­ture dish is bak chor mee (noo­dles, tossed through black vine­gar, with minced pork and liver slices). Owner chef Tang Chay Seng is in the kitchen on a Sun­day morn­ing, con­tin­u­ing the tra­di­tion dat­ing from his fa­ther’s street stall in the 1930s. Not far away in the Chi­na­town Com­plex, the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noo­dle stall is serv­ing up, well, what its name states. Chef Chan Hon Meng has opened a new restau­rant, Hawker Chan, with kin­dred menu at 78 Smith Street (once a no­to­ri­ous red-light thor­ough­fare, now the heart of bustling Chi­na­town) and he too is in the kitchen on a Sun­day. The catch is that long queues form for these out­lets. For a quicker bite, Sin­ga­pore has about 6000 street food stalls, of­ten in pur­pose­built hawker cen­tres, with hy­giene stan­dards strictly en­forced. More: yoursin­ga­pore.com.

TOPT TA­BLES: Of celebrity chefs, Sin­ga­pore has quite a few bol­ster­ing its rep­u­ta­tion for in­ter­na­tional fine din­ing — think Joel Robu­chon, Wolf­gang Puck and Aussies Tet­suya Wakuda and Luke Man­gan. But Sin­ga­porean Ig­natius Chan has led his restau­rant Iggy’s to a reg­u­lar spot on The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list in re­cent years (No 18 in 2016; the 2017 awards take pace in Mel­bourne on April 5). Lo­cated in the Hil­ton Ho­tel on al­ways-classy Or­chard Road, Iggy’s is an in­ti­mate din­ing room and the per­fect spot for culi­nary theatre; at one point a win­dow lights up re­veal­ing the kitchen and its mas­ter­ful staff at work. Chan ex­plains each dish on a tast­ing menu, with pro­duce from Europe, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia, and paired wine. Yes, please, to Cheeky Sir, a de­lec­ta­ble cut of beef with green as­para­gus and pearl onion. But rarely have I been in a more beau­ti­ful din­ing space than The Clif­ford Pier, part of The Fuller­ton Bay Ho­tel. Once an im­mi­grant ar­rivals ter­mi­nal, the 1933 pier has a roof struc­ture of gi­ant arched trusses. Re­pur­posed as a restau­rant (land recla­ma­tion puts it kilo­me­tres away now from where a big ship could dock), it is dec­o­rated dur­ing my visit for Chi­nese New Year with red lanterns and vi­brant flo­ral ar­range­ments. Add a glam­orous chanteuse and an ex­otic menu (fried car­rot cake with sweet soy prawns) and you’ve got a magic night out. More: ig­gys.com.sg; fuller­ton­ho­tels.com.

STORYS OF THE FALL: Em­bed­ded in Fort Can­ning Hill, not far from Or­chard Road, lies the Bat­tleb box, part of the Malaya Com­mand that de­fended Malaya and Sin­ga­pore in World War II. In the small

Gar­dens by the Bay, main; The Clif­ford Pier at The Fuller­ton Bay Ho­tel, above; glass atrium of Na­tional Gallery Sin­ga­pore, be­low

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