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Feasting in Singapore

Bamboo Clams Custard Buns
Published in Verve Magazine | April 2010

THE WORLD AND ITS MOTHER, which includes readers of this discerning magazine, go to Singapore to shop. That’s something we all know. At the end of a mall โ€“ maul day, body exhausted with the weight of shopping bags and eyes glazed by the depth of one’s willingness to give into desire, greed and other sins, the world and its mother eats cheap food in one of the numerous food courts. This is supposed to be fun, girls?

Well, I went to Singapore for four glorious days just to eat and drink and eat and drink again. I gained not a single kilo, yet consumed some seriously glorious food.

Taste Paradise

When the owner walked over to my table to welcome me, I wasn’t sure of the gender. Eldwin Chua looks androgynous in a way that only young Singaporean and Thai boys can. Trendy long hair swept to a side and lean body poured into a funky suit, Eldwin could pass for the city’s hautest mannequin. Instead, this 32-year-old who started with a roadside coffee shop 10 years ago, is the city’s most envied symbol of successful culinary entrepreneurship. Taste Paradise may be a kitsch name, but this fine dining restaurant in the glitzy Ion Orchard shopping mall has turned competitors green with envy.

Few restaurants in Singapore have such a unique decor. The ambience is a judicious blend of ancient Chinese eateries and the ultra-mod. What looks like piano keys run across the ceilings but represent a dragon’s body. Without an actual head. Hmm. Why not a dragon’s head, Eldwin? “So that wherever you are sitting, you can imagine yourself at the head,” states he with

deadpan expression. He means it. Just like when he says that his parents never come to eat in any of his successful restaurants because they come from such poor backgrounds that they would die of embarrassment.

Eldwin’s take on modern-day Singaporean cuisine, which can include Chinese, Thai and Malaysian influences, comes creatively out of his fertile, fecund mind. The steamed Shanghai pork dumpling (Xiao long bao) was stuffed with creamy foie gras! I fell in love with the next course, a healthy slice of pan-fried foie gras with peking duck reduction. So, it was kind of logical for me to request a roasted duck itself. Surprise, surprise. Unlike everywhere else in the world, here the roasted duck crepe has skin stuffed inside instead of meat. Crisp and crunchy with a homemade sauce.

My lunch which commenced with a Century egg (supposed to be a loo years old, but luckily is not!) and lime sherbet appetiser, lasted for nearly four hours. It also included the classic green shark’s fin supreme broth. Ecology-conscious Eldwin uses a vegetarian substitute sea fungus instead of real shark. Having sampled crispy-fried deboned lamb ribs in Beijing-style the night before at One on the Bund (read below), I wanted to sample Eldwin’s take on this classic Chinese dish, which is served only in these two restaurants. Verdict? Equally yummy. The final course was braised vermicelli topped with simmered crab meat, so silky that it glided over my palate. Dessert? Chilled mango puree and steamed custard bun.

In only 10 years, this teetotaller, non-smoking, non-graduate has gone from a one โ€“ room shanty to the owner of eight restaurants, some as cheap as Singapore dollars 50 for two. How has he done it? The Capricornian says, “I am only fulfilling my destiny. It’s a miracle!”

One on the Bund

A miracle is quite clearly needed for Calvin Yeung. This self-taught interior designer and chef, is a famous Hong Kong restaurateur whose first project overseas is in Singapore. On 10,000 square feet of prime property in Clifford Pier, sits his stunning restaurant inside an impressive colonial-style edifice. Giant-sized statues line the high-ceilinged corridor which leads to mysterious dining areas. For sheer decor imagination alone, this restaurant deserves a Michelin,
if not for the food. One on the Bund serves Chinese cuisine with a modern twist. Signature dishes include bamboo clams in rose wine and chilli padi (red pepper), duck tongue cooked in lotus leaf, crispy lamb rib with scallion sauce. Everything’s good, but just not brilliant at that price. I found the hand-written menus on wooden tablets heavy and pretentious. On a Friday night, the cavernous restaurant was three-quarters empty. It’s a must-visit, if only for a drink to admire the electric atmosphere.

Jade at The Fullerton

With an architectural ambience that competes with the Raffles Hotel, The Fullerton scores an ace with its incomparable views. One side overlooks the meandering river and Boat Quay. The other sweeps your vision over Clifford Pier, Singapore Flyer and the upcoming Integrated Resort. I lunched at the hotel’s superlative Jade restaurant, packed to the gills on a Thursday afternoon with bankers and politicos. Trio of steamed dim sum (including abalone siew mai), an outstanding spicy-and-sour seafood soup with silken tofu, sauteed diced chicken with blueberries in black pepper sauce was a clear indication as to how traditional Chinese food has been globalised. Ditto for sauteed prawn with honey peach. Unforgettable flavours, aesthetic presentation, impeccable service and a really knowledgeable sommelier. Top marks. Don’t forget to book a table.

Sentosa Spa Resort

I could have easily forgotten time in Sentosa, which interestingly enough, is now advertising its charms as a destination separate from Singapore. A bit like, come to Disneyland Paris without visiting Paris!

This stunning hotel sits on many happy acres of land on the island of Sentosa, of which only 37 per cent has been built upon. In land-crunched Singapore that’s as lucky as you can get. Its idyllic setting reminded me of the halcyon days of Goa’s Taj Village in the ‘8os. The main hotel has many dining options but I wanted to experience organic Chinese cuisine. So off we went in a caddy-cart to the hotel’s spa resort, five minutes away. In the aptly-named The Garden restaurant inside the sybaritic spa surrounds, this is what I feasted on: Qi revitalising salad of mung beans, shitake mushrooms, snow peas and red dates dressed in orange truffle vinaigrette. Baked gold band snapper with Thai lime and lemongrass coconut foam. Soya milk panna cotta dessert topped with fresh raspberries. Overeating has never been so healthy!

Singapore Flyer

Reams have been written about the experience. Indian tourists rave about it to their friends. Yes the Singapore Flyer ride is a must-do, even for those petrified of heights. I went one step further. I tried out the world’s first full-butler dining experience in the skies. French bubbly accompanied the appetising entrees of scallops and other seafood. The next round when our cabin came to ground zero, the butlers brought in chicken sea bass topped with X.0 sauce and roast duck confit. My verdict? Average food but a memorable dinner, because hey, on a spinning wheel what goes up โ€“ must come down!

A FINE LEGACY

The St. Regis name is now carried by the prestigious St. Regis Singapore. 299 luxuriously-appointed guestrooms and suites, all generously-proportioned with plush furnishings evoke a sense of timeless elegance. Taking its cue from the artistic heritage of The St. Regis Hotel in New York, The St. Regis Singapore also houses one of the finest private art collections in Asia. Over 100 original paintings and sculptures by world-famous artists such as Columbian artist Fernando Botero, French painter Marc Chagall, American architect Frank Gehry, have been painstakingly selected to complement the elegance of the hotel’s graceful interiors. The St. Regis is the only hotel in Singapore to offer butler service to all guests and they are oh-so-efficient. The hotel’s award-winning signature restaurant, Yan Ting, showcases authentic Cantonese cuisine in a contemporary setting.