GRAVITY-DEFYING ACTS ARE WITNESSED DAILY ON Singapore’s famed Orchard Road. Shoppers with impossibly slim physiques of size minus zero trot on equally impossibly high heels carrying giant-sized bags full of goodies. If the world is still in ouch mode due to the economic recession, I don’t see any signs of it. Jaw-dropping sights also include huge Christmas festoons, gee-gaws and cutouts decorating the main roads leading to Temptation (which should replace the name Orchard ) avenue.
I’m staying at luxury hotel St Regis just around the corner from Orchard. Every morning I wake up to the welcome sight of a green canopy view of the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens. Every evening I witness processions of different nationalities that inhabit Singapore, dressed up to the nines attending the many banquets, weddings, receptions being hosted. In other words, whatever rumours you may have heard to the contrary, happen to be untrue.
What is true, however, is that eating out in Singapore has gotten better. Which has led me to indulge in a four-day orgy of gorging myself at cutting-edge restaurants. Along the way, other delights are sampled too. Here then were my seven sins:
1. JADE AT FULLERTON
With an architectural ambience that competes with 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 (read sidebar). I lunched at the hotel’s superlative Jade restaurant, packed to the gills on a Thursday afternoon with bankers and politicos. A trio of steamed Dim Sum (including Abalone Siew Mai), an outstanding Spicy and Sour Seafood Soup with silken Tofu and Sautéed Diced Chicken with blueberries in black pepper sauce was a clear indication how traditional Chinese food has been globalised. Ditto for Sautéed Prawn with honey peach. Unforgettable flavours, aesthetic presentation, impeccable service and a really knowledgeable sommelier. Top marks. Don’t forget to book a table.
2. TASTE PARADISE
When the owner walked over to my table to welcome me, I thought he was a model! 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, Chua could pass for the city’s hautest mannequin. Instead, he is the most envied symbol of successful culinary entrepreneurship. Taste Paradise may be a kitsch name, but this fine dining restaurant in ION Orchard has turned competitors green with envy. The steamed Shanghai Dumpling (Xiao Long Bao) was stuffed with foie gras! 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 lasted for nearly four hours, also included the classic Green Sharks Fin supreme broth. Ecology conscious Chua uses a vegetarian substitute sea fungus instead of real shark. In only 10 years, this teetotaler, non-smoking, non-graduate has gone from a one-room shanty to owner of eight restaurants, some as cheap as Singapore Dollars 50 for two. How has he done it? Dead-pan face, this Capricornian says, “I am only fulfilling my destiny. It’s a miracle!”
3. 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 primetime property in Clifford Pier, sits his stunning restaurant inside an impressive colonial-style edifice. One on the Bund serves Chinese cuisine with a modern twist. Signature dishes include BambooClams in rose wine and chili padi (red pepper), Duck Tongue cooked in lotus leaf, crispy Lamb Rib with scallion sauce. Everything’s good but not brilliant at the price. I thought the hand-written menus on wooden tablets heavy and pretentious. On a Friday night, the cavernous, high-ceilinged restaurant was three quarters empty. But it’s a must visit, if only for a drink to admire the electric atmosphere.
4. SENTOSA SPA RESORT
This stunning hotel sits on many happy acres of land on Sentosa Island of which only 37 per cent has been built upon. In land-crunched Singapore that is as lucky as you can get. Its idyllic setting reminded me of the halcyon days of Goa’s Taj Village in the ’80s. 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. So in the aptly named The Garden restaurant inside the sybaritic spa surrounds, this is what I feasted on: Qi revitalizing salad of mung beans, shitake mushrooms, snow peas and red dates dressed in an 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.
5. SINGAPORE FLYER
Reams have been written about the 3 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 fullbutler dining experience in the skies. French bubbly accompanied the appetising entrees of scallops and other seafood. For 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 comfit. My verdict? So-so food but a memorable dinner,
because hey, on a spinning wheel what goes up must come down!
Still rocking till the wee hours of the morning. No moral police here. Just tourists and locals alike letting their hair down and getting spirits up. Early evening, before dinner, my favourite is still Long Bar. It’s the historical bar where the Singapore Sling is supposed to have originated and its elegant Raffles Hotel location with 1920s Malayan plantations ambience brings an unqualified smile to my soul. No visit to Singapore is complete without a late night out at Harry’s Bar on 28 Boat Quay. Live bands, hip crowd, delish food and the river flowing gently by is what makes the bar so every special. Other trendy joints? Check out Eski Bar on 46 Circular Road, the very expensive Equinox on Stamford Road and cozy Hideout on Circular Road with its top floor location and a great vibe. On weekends, most bars are open up to three am and I have never seen anyone misbehave or get stroppy.
7. THE SPAS
I had two absolutely mind-blowing massages to get rid of my jet lag. At the Esthetics Day Spa, voted as Singapore’s top spa and located inside the massive ION Orchard Mall, two masseuses took turns to de-kink my tired muscles. One pampered my head and shoulders. The other performed an extremely professional reflexology on the soles of my feet.
Ninety minutes later, I was a new bionic man! On the final day before catching my flight out I got another reflexology treatment at the Aramsa Spa. Aramsa is located in the national park in the surrounds of Bishan Park II and is founded on the belief that nature is the greatest healer.
The big buzz is all about the Integrated Resorts Complex slated to open in 2010. At the Marina Bay Sands, this complex will not only have hotels and casinos, but also feature six international celebrity chefs who will open their restaurants. Who are they? Santi Santamaria of the three-Michelin-starred Can Fabes in Spain; Tetsuya Wakuda of the French-inspired Japanese restaurant Tetsuya’s in Sydney; Guy Savoy, whose eponymous restaurant in Paris also has three Michelin stars; Mario Batali of New York’s Babbo; Daniel Boulud of New York’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel and Wolfgang Puck of the famous Spago. Singapore is salivating and so am I.
The fine legacy of the St Regis name is now carried by the prestigious St Regis Singapore. Two-hundred and ninety-nine 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 and 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. I ate extremely well at the hotel’s award-winning signature restaurant — Yan Ting, which showcases authentic Cantonese cuisine in a contemporary setting.