Let me start this blog post in earnest – I am in no rush to return to Singapore now that I have been. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time there or wouldn’t recommend going to anyone that hasn’t been. It is definitely a very unique and fascinating place, full of contrasts and contradictions. It is a prime example of a country going through rapid economic expansion and rising consumerism, of a society split between the super-rich and those that serve them, but is also a vibrant melting pot of different cultures- Asian, European, Indian and everything in between.
In parts, it reminded me of Dubai with its many, many shopping malls and overwhelming sense of superficial status symbols, always trying to build the shiniest new skyscraper or parading around the newest designer handbag (not too far from the image of those “crazy rich Asian”) but then there are pockets of local communities that let you delve into a totally different culture such as Little India and Chinatown while you are only a stone’s throw away from a fancy shopping mall.
The culinary offering is as diverse, you can dine for a couple of Singaporean dollars in a communal hawker centre or spent a small fortune at one of the many Michelin starred restaurants in Singapore. I personally found prices to be quite high because of the more upscale spots I visited (especially when it comes to drinks as they have a very a high alcohol tax), but have to say that the quality of food served and service I experienced was on the whole above average.
I would say Singapore is the perfect pit stop on a trip to Bali, especially as you will be more than happy for a break after a gruelling 13 hour flight from London (special mention should go to Norwegian Air here who got me there safely and at a great price even if it meant bringing my own blanket and buying provisions at Pret with the lack of anyway usually gross plane food as part of the price of my plane ticket).
You can see and do most things in Singapore in a couple of days and I have to admit the city is truly trying its best to make it as appealing to potential visitors as possible, creating entire sights like the Gardens by the Bay from scratch to make any stay as fun as possible. I have my issues with the place for sure but I am very happy to have experienced Singapore and have a few tips for any future visitors below that presented the highlights of my short time there.
The minute I landed bright and early at 6am in the morning, pretty much having lost an entire day to the flight and the eight hour time difference, my friend Amanda, who kindly let me stay with her and her family, knew just the thing to perk me up and took me to one of the most popular places, Ya Kun Kaya, to enjoy a typical Singaporean breakfast which conveniently also happened to be at Changi airport (although they have a few branches dotted within Singapore). Kaya toast may have sounded a little odd as concept to start with, creamy sweet coconut jam (the Kaya) and a slice of cold butter sandwiched between crust free toasted bread, but it is weirdly addictive and comforting especially as I have also had a thing for cold butter on bread. Traditionally it is also enjoyed with a side soft boiled eggs and soy sauce on the side though I have to say it was a little too early in the morning for me to deal with that flavour combo though I did give it a go. I can see why people love this as sweet breakfast and would totally eat this in London (sans the eggs)
Crystal Jade Garden is Michelin starred and rightly so, serving some of the finest dim sum in Singapore. The interior might not be the hippest or most refined, think flashy 80s, but the big round tables filled with families are a good indicator of how good the food served here is. I was taken here by my friend’s family who I was staying with for lunch, so we grazed on lots of different dim sum variations that they picked, as well as some outstanding lobster noodles (made from lobsters which are displayed in aquariums as you walk in to attest for the freshness of the food here). Another highlight were some amazing truffle mushroom dumplings and a rather odd but nonetheless delicious dough ball of some kind, filled with fiery crab meat. It may not be the cheapest lunch venue but if you want fail-safe, high class and authentic dim sum this is the place to visit in Singapore!
Violet Oon is somewhat of a celebrity chef in Singapore (think oh her as their Nigella), famous for her modern and innovative take on Peranakan cuisine (a tantalising mix of Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese culinary influences). That isn’t the sole reason why this relatively new restaurant is so popular and well regarded, no, it also has a rather outstanding and unique location, being housed in Singapore’s National Gallery, a beautiful colonial building from which you can admire and see across all of Singapore’s impressive skyline. It gives the restaurant a very grand and old school feel and there was something quite magical about being in a museum after hours when the crowds are gone, an eerie quiet transcending throughout the museum corridors adjacent to the restaurant.
The restaurant itself is stunning too, opulently decorated in black and gold tones, and the service we experienced matched this, flawless from start to finish. Again, this wasn’t a cheap meal AT ALL but it offered me a unique insight into a totally unfamiliar cuisine, presented to me to an haute cuisine standard. We shared a variety of dishes between us, with every dish complex in its flavours and rather spicy (be warned!), with my favourite being the dry Laksa and eye catching Kuay Pie Tee, julienned bamboo shoots and turnip poached in a prawn bisque and served in a deep fried “top hat”, topped with prawns, chilli sauce and a sweet fruit sauce. The desserts were another highlight, with my black glutinous rice with coconut ice cream being like nothing I had ever tried before but nonetheless an instant flavour sensation (and that is something considering that I usually hate rice pudding). I highly recommend the National Kitchen as your one splash out dinner in Singapore as it offers a unique and refined take on local dishes, outstanding service and a setting you won’t find anywhere else.
PS Cafe frequently featured in the best places to go for brunch in Singapore as I conducted my foodie research ahead of the trip and the many appetising Instagram posts I found featuring their food quickly enticed me to head there, slightly worse for wear, on my Sunday morning in Singapore. Sadly, the photogenic dishes I had seen all over Insta, particularly their insane looking truffle fries, were a little bit of a social media mirage - looking better than they actually tasted. Don’t get me wrong the place itself is super nice, in a more quiet and leafy area of Singapore with a lovely cafe vibe but for the pretty high prices you pay here the food was only in parts great.
The French toast for example was fantastic, filled with peanut butter and served with cream and berries- it was huge, delicious and one of the best I’ve ever had. However, my truffle fries, costing a hefty 17 dollars, may have been big portion wise but lacked any real truffle taste and weren’t too dissimilar from some bog standard frozen ones with some cheap cheese thrown on top. Maybe I was unlucky on the day and as I said I’d go back for the French toast but just don’t be too deceived by the appetising food pics you’ll see about the place on the internet because at the end of day it all comes down to the taste!
It’s a cliché and touristy thing to do and it may not have been the best (or cheapest) cocktail of my life but it is one of those things that has to be done. Singapore is of course famous for this cocktail and there is no better way to enjoy one then when taking in the impressive man made skyline so indicative of Singapore’s rapid expansion. And Ce La Vi is a nice enough place to do exactly that. You pay entry at this rooftop bar that is part of the Marina Bay Sands complex but can redeem it against a Sling, which will set you back around £12, and can then sit back and take in the amazing view.
Only hotel guests are able to use the infinity pool but I had a fabulous time on one of their outdoor sofas one afternoon sipping on my Sling (which is nice, a little too sweet and not a drink to have more than one of). I have a feeling this place can turn a little Euro trash as the night commences so do as I did and come for an afternoon cocktail to beat the crowds and embrace being a tourist for once just a little!
They sound weird, they are weird but they are also somehow one of the best things I have ever tasted. Right now, they are the most hyped snacks in Singapore and a packet will set you back a fair bit (around £4-5) but oh boy do I wish I had filled my suitcase with them to bring back to the UK. What are they exactly you may ask? Well they basically taste like egg yolk which is the best part of an egg anyway yet also have a slightly salty and sweet note to them that makes them incredibly moorish and are speckled with curry leaves as finishing touch. I have been dreaming of them ever since so PLEASE pick up a bag whilst in Singapore and while you are at it send me a bag too!
SIGHTS TO SEE
Quite simply put there are a hell of a lot of shopping malls in Singapore, all shiny marble and containing just about every luxury brand you can think of. Now, I am not a massive fan of shopping malls, neither in London where I avoid Westfields like the plague, nor when I am on holiday, so I am not going to put any of them on my to-see list. They are all super modern and well-kept but then again they are just shopping malls which could be standing just about anywhere in the developed world, so instead you can find below the sights that left a lasting impact on me and which I highly recommend!
I loved the buzzing atmosphere and older architecture in this part of town. It also was the perfect place to experience a hawker centre in full force during lunchtime (if you are wondering a hawker centre is an open-air complex housing various food stalls selling a variety of super affordable food, enjoyed at communal tables in the middle of these spaces) with hordes of hungry locals queuing and enjoying their food. I could have watched for hours and found it the perfect place to soak in a completely different vibe than the more fancier side of Singapore that I also experienced.
Again, this part of town stood in great contrast to the skyscrapers dominating the timeline when I visited. It is filled with colourful buildings and Hindu temples and I loved how starkly it contrasted from the Chinatown I had just walked from in terms of the cultures at home there. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you are after some authentic Indian food and spices!
I walked past this by complete accident but as former history student (and total secret nerd) I jumped at the chance to learn a little more about Singapore’s history. The museum entry is free and the downstairs exhibition presents a beautiful and easy to digest walk through the entire rather interesting history of this sovereign city state, from first discovery to independence from Malaysia in 1965 to how public housing has become their answer to a shortage of places to live for their population. There is a small element of propaganda to the whole thing, very much staying away from any negative elements, but I still found very insightful plus the whole place is wonderfully air conditioned so the perfect spot for when the early afternoon sun becomes too much.
GARDENS BY THE BAY & SUPER TREE GROVE LIGHT SHOW
Singapore wanted to become the “city in a garden” and realised this dream quite convincingly by opening this stunning man made horticultural project. There are three cutting edge gardens, temperature controlled domes, housing flora from around the globe as well as a breath taking indoor waterfall with rainbow (for this section you have to pay an entry fee), and of course the famous “super tree” structures which light up and “dance” to classical music every evening at 7:45pm and 8:30pm. It does all have a slight element of Disneyland gone botanical about it but like most of Singapore it is perfectly planned and executed, clean and highly photogenic and definitely like nothing I had ever seen before.