Have eighteen years passed since we were last in Singapore? Seriously? I’m not even entirely sure why we were stopping over. Maybe to get up to Vietnam? Anyway. Virtually two decades later and there we were again, sweating it out in that insane humidity. I can say one thing; Singapore looks a lot different today than it did in 1994. For such a tiny island country it sure wants to be noticed with its avant garde architecture.
This time around we breezed through town at the end of two weeks in Vietnam, staying for a few nights to prolong our holiday just a little longer.
Our flight from Hanoi hit the tarmac just in time for dinner so once checked into the hotel our feet hit the spotless and cigarette butt-free pavement in search of food. Just to familiarise ourselves we headed straight for Boat Quay, I know tourist central, but we were starving and just couldn’t be bothered schlepping around in that ridiculous humidity all night.
Boat Quay is just as I remembered, with people touting free jugs of beer should you choose to eat at their restaurant. Well, it worked for this pair. The menu at Kinara sounded pretty good and seeing we hadn’t eaten Indian for several weeks it was our top pick from a rather ordinary and predictable selection on the waterfront.
The onion bhajiya (6) was nothing special, greasy battered onion rings with spices so scant they went unnoticed. Definitely had better. The saag gosht (22.5) was pretty good; mildly spiced spinach and lamb perfect for dunking the garlic naan. I loved the chicken tikka karara (21), fresh out of the tandoor, succulent, spicy and generous in size. Great with a rapidly warming Tiger beer.
When we first planned on visiting Singapore I already knew the hotel I wanted us to stay at. Marina Bay Sands. This is one impressive piece of architecture. Three 55-storey hotel buildings topped with a 340 metre long SkyPark and guest-only 150 metre infinity pool.
Our room was quite nice but pretty standard for such a large hotel. Downstairs in the lobby and ground floor atriums it feels more like an airport than hotel, with hoards of people blindly shuffling about oohing and ahhing. Also downstairs, the $45 breakfast buffet was a bit of a shit-fight with a couple of hundred people wanting to eat at the same time, creating queues at many of the food stations.
Want to stand and wait 15 minutes for an omelette? Not me. Love the concept of the roof-top swimming pool where you can wade up to the edge and admire the city views below. Also loved that a third of the pool was allocated just for adults, making for a more peaceful swim away from the screaming little people.
Coffee was high on the priorities and after sussing out the options on Beanhunter I already had a bunch of cafe’s I wanted to try. The small designer enclave around Ann Siang Hill is not only home to designer clothing and lifestyle outlets but, more importantly for me, home to Shots.
It may not get a good wrap on Beanhunter but on this particular visit I couldn’t help but be impressed with the macchiato and piccolo latte (4.2) we had. Great roast, great service and nice gallery-like space.
The heart of Singapore’s Chinatown is a mere block away from Ann Siang Hill, which was good for us as I had plans of lunching at one of its hawker institutions. Not a great fan of the area around Sago Street which is congested with stalls selling tourist tat, sadly distracting from those beautiful old heritage shopfronts. What a dump. Time for another coffee?
Ticking another one from my coffee wish-list is Oriole Coffee, a few minutes walk up from Chinatown. These guys mean serious business about coffee. They roast onsite, they seem to really know their stuff and, well, their coffee is pretty damn special.
A communal table sits in the centre of the room beneath a cluster of vintage lampshades, a couple of seats off to the side, a glimps into the roasting room and even coffee accoutrement up for purchase. Sandwiches and other tidbits grace the menu, if you’re interested, but for us it was all about the bean. Twice we visited Oriole, enjoying every caffeinated drop.
Ok, onto some food. Maxwell Road Hawker Centre – home to more than 100 food stalls, many of which weren’t open on this particular visit, and home to some pretty good local edibles. Seeing queues of people snaking from food vendors is always a positive indication about something. Good food, maybe?
Tian Tian Chicken Rice looked like an obvious contender for a serously cheap feed on Hainanese chicken rice (3.5). Freakin’ deliciously moist chicken breast, albeit skinless, and a rocking grass jelly & soya milk (1.2) drink from a nearby beverage counter.
Over at Marina South Delicious Food I couldn’t help but try the banana leaf fried kway teow (4) loaded with fresh clams, preserved meat and fish cake. It’s available in three sizes so I thought I’d go the medium and order a side of crispy prawn cracker (1.2) but in actual fact the medium was more like what I’d call large.
They don’t mess around with the portions at this food stall. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the prawn cracker thanks to it being a little stale and soaked with oil. Pity we didn’t hang about and try a few more places.
Back onto the coffee trail, an uninspiring wander around the highly commercialised Orchard Road district led to this little caf tucked away in a back street beneath a residential building. Flat whites (5.5) can be found on the coffee menu, for those Aussies that like drinking them, and an ok macchiato (3.8) for me.
Nice bean even if my cup was topped up a little too much with milk. When a cafe heats its muffins in a microwave, like the one we had, it tends to create the impression of them not being all that fresh to begin with. Nobody likes a hot and soggy muffin, do they?
After chatting to head chef Ryan at the Tippling Club he suggested we try his mates restaurant, Esquina. Funny he should mention it as we stumbled past it the day before whilst looking for Oriole Coffee.
Brit chef Jason Atherton puts his hand to modern Spanish at this corner tapas bar, churning out bite and share-sized plates and boards to anyone willing to queue for it.
Arriving just before midday secured us a couple of the tractor seats up at the bar, no bookings you see, and front-row view of the kitchen as it whipped up lunch to the first sitting. As much as I like front row seats, I’m not that keen when a chef scolds his staff infront of his customers. Perhaps the graceful behaviour of Gordon Ramsey rubbed off a little with Atherton.
Food-wise, I couldn’t ignore the baked bone marrow (25) perched on a rubble of spiced salt. It’s beautifully fatty and flecked with snails. The bright green smear of parsley and horseradish pesto helps cut through the richness of this winning dish.
Equally delicious is the bbq mackerel (21) with roasted almond romesco and vibrant aioli. The fish is aromatic and oily as it should be and is a great match with the thick tomato sauce. From the handful of dessert options I curiously chose the watermelon salad (12.5) with basil sorbet. I’m always keen to try the less conventional desserts and this one really fit the bill.
Diced watermelon and roughly chopped basil sit in the bowl with a scoop of basil sorbet that has been drizzled with olive oil, turning it a nice teal colour. Gazpacho is then poured over the watermelon, making for a sweet, savoury and lightly spiced dessert. Brilliant.