Here’s ten top places to get your fill…
1 Hawker centres abound but The Maxwell Centre, one of the biggest, is a good place to start your cheap eats journey. If being on trend is your thing, join the ever-long queue that snakes from the fragrant hatch of Tian Tian to get your Hainanese chicken rice fix. But all the stalls and all the food here is good. Grab a seat (sharing tables is the norm here), grab a selection and dig in.
2 It’s cocktails a la cloak and dagger indeed at painfully cool Operation Dagger in Ann Siang Hill. Tucked down in a basement with no signage to speak of save a geometric symbol scrawled above the door, the bar staff here work away like lab scientists to bring the punters creative and unusual cocktails. My drink of sesame hooch with cucumber and lime tasted rather like an alcoholic salad dressing, in a good way, while my companion’s dark chocolate red wine concoction was a simple, genius shortcut to bliss.
3 Peranakan culture was born from Chinese-Malay intermarriage, and the cuisine (often referred to as Nonya, meaning “mother”) is a delicious hybrid. Young chef Malcolm Lee, owner of Candlenut, learned from his grandmother and is rather bravely both preserving and updating the cuisine. We loved Lee’s tasting menu, an absolute feast of his riffs on Peranakan classics. Especially tasty was the red snapper topped with a thick, rich sambal and slow-cooked meltingly tender Wagyu shortribs in a black gravy made with buah keluak nuts. Lee uses the same nuts in an intriguing, cream-less Valhrona chocolate ice cream.
4 The best laksa in town is a matter of great debate and the dish itself is broadly split into Chinese and Peranakan versions. Many would point you to 328 Katong Laksa for an example of a great Nonya version. Proprietor and ex-beauty queen Lucy Koh has legions of fans and still works away in the shop filling bowls with thick round vermicelli, prawn and clam meat, tofu strips and the all-important spicy coconut gravy, topped with laksa leaves. It’s $7 and delicious.
5 Bak Kut Teh is pork bones in a spicy pork broth and the Singaporean version is especially garlicky and peppery. Piping hot and served with steamed rice, this is utter comfort food and we loved the version at Song Fa in Chinatown. Pig’s intestine is a popular side dish but we preferred steamed gai lan, chicken feet and pig trotter. The latter, braised in a five-spice gravy, is wonderfully unctuous.
6 Farm to table isn’t a concept you’d imagine being particularly viable in this chock-full city but they manage to pay it more than lip-service at Open Farm Community in Dempsey Hill, where the glassy, classy dining room looks out to the vege plantings and tropical fruit orchard that provide the kitchen. The chefs get creative here and we loved especially loved our entrees of chilled avocado soup with Morton Bay Bugs, and a vegetarian take on steak tartare with fermented carrot as the star.
7 Singapore is all over good coffee now and there are some great cafes focusing on single origin and soft brew and filter techniques as well as espresso (flat whites: tick). My favourite fix was at Chye Seng Huat Hardware (CSHH) in Jalan Bessar. It’s hip, cleverly hiding behind its original hardware store façade, but not pretentious, full of families and young couples out for Saturday brunch. The almond croissants are to die for.
8 For the best view with your drink head up to the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands. It’s not the highest bar in town – that gong goes to Altitude which was closed due to rain when we tried to go – but the view out over the hotel’s infinity pool to the skyscrapers and then the harbour beyond is breathtaking.
9 Cake fiends should head to historic Fort Canning, (Malay royal burial ground, site of Raffles’ residence, the place where the British surrendered to the Japanese army in WWII). And now home to great cake, at the foot of the hill at The Fabulous Baker Boy. There serve about a dozen varieties and I fell in love with the evocative local flavour of the pandan and gula melaka layer cake.
10 The prettiest food hall by a country mile is Lau Pa Sat, built in the late 1800s – like a number of Singapore’s landmarks, using solid iron frames shipped from Glasgow. The sturdiness is countered by delicate filigree work and a fancy clocktower. It’s a dame of a spot in which to nibble on succulent, smoky sticks of satay.
*This is a modified version of my story originally published in The New Zealand Herald in 2017.