Where to eat, what to do - and where to shop - if you find yourself with 24 hours in the Lion City, Singapore.
PS: Thank you to my best friend, Rana - the big-haired lady behind Singapore's favourite fashion blog Bonjour Singapore - for her super shopping tips and for acting as my personal food guide when I paid Singapore a visit this summer.
9.00am: Dive into some coffee and kaya toast at Killeney Kopitiam
The service may be curt, the coffee may slosh over your cup before it gets to your table, and you may have people hovering over you in the hope you'll relinquish your seat, but one bite of a warm toast slathered with butter and coconuty kaya jam will make you see why Singaporeans can't do without their favourite breakfast treat at this cafe, the oldest kaya toast joint in the city. For a more laid back experience, Hanis on Wilkie Road also does a mean caramel toast version.
In and around the area: The sorbet-coloured shop houses of hip Haji Ali for some one-of-a-kind designer finds; the quirky blog shops of Bugis Village for some great bargains.
12.30pm: Crab by the coast
Head out to Singapore's East coast seafront for a taste of the city's most famous crustacean delights, Singaporean Chilli Crab or Pepper Crab. It may be spicy and messy, but there are few better ways to spend an afternoon in Singapore than digging into a massive mud crab doused in fiery, flavour-packed sauce.
In and around the area: Head back to the city centre's most famous shopping address, Orchard Road, for some mega mall-hopping; go souvenir shopping for ceramics, chopsticks and hand-waving kitties at the colourful crazy warren that is China Town; traipse the rainbow-hued streets of Little India for on-trend ethnic jewellery.
6pm: Hit the hawker centres
Other Asian cities may snigger at Singapore's super-sanitised street food stalls but your tummy will be grateful... From the popular and practical Maxwell Road Hawker Centre to the gorgeous Victorian cast-iron splendour of Lau Pa Sat, Singapore's hawker centres are landmarks in their own right and a food lover's dream! No matter where you choose to head, some must-tries on the menu include laksa, chicken rice and as many versions of dim sum as you can get down.
In and around the area: Catch a HiPPO tour from Clarke Quay and take in the city at a more leisurely pace or wander down to Gardens by the Bay for the spectacular Super Tree Grove Sound & Light Show.
10.30pm: Toast the city from the top of MBS
Grab a cocktail at Ku De Ta, perch by the railing and take in Singapore's sparkling skyline from atop one of its most iconic landmarks - the megalithic Marina Bay Sands.
In and around the area: Cross the water to pay a midnight visit to Singapore's most legendary resident - the Merlion statue - responsible for the island's Lion City moniker.
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Two words come to mind when I think of the evening I spent at the Rillette Bar at Le Bistrot du Sommelier.
Duck and wine. Both very good words in my lexicon of culinary experiences.
Especially when said duck arrives in the form of foie gras (yes, I know how it's made and I feel bad, but I'd be the world's biggest hypocrite to say I don't LOVE it!) ... and said wine comes in the form of a balloon glass filled with a smooth French red, courtesy of Max Fedkiw - the man who puts the word sommelier in Le Bistrot du Sommelier.
Le Bistrot might serve French cuisine but it is just the sort of place you would like to end up in on a rainy tropical night. It's cosy, rustic, unpretentious, stripped back to plain wooden furniture and hearty plates of food.
I stopped here for what was meant to be a light bite - but the foie gras with fig jam and the duck rillette on the menu sounded too tempting to ignore, so all pretenses of a restrained meal quickly flew out the window.
Paired with crusty slices of bread, piquant gherkins and a fresh green salad, our choices were inspired. Smooth and rich in both texture and taste, it all went down very easily despite the more-than-generous portions.
The rest of the menu looked equally tempting - top of my list were the trotters stuffed with sweetbreads (might have to come back for that). But after the rather indulgent feast of fattened duck liver and potted meat, we resisted the urge to be greedy and decided to go straight to dessert; one order of creamy crepe mille feuille bursting with berries and vanilla custard, and a palate-cleansing lemon sorbet starred with mini meringues.
The team behind the restaurant - Max Fedkiw (Sommelier of the year 2011) and Chef Patrick Heuberger (Chef of the year 2008) - unsurprisingly, have some serious fans within the Singapore dining scene and the place can get quite full, so make sure you make a reservation as early as you can... especially if you are only in the city for a few nights.
Definitely one of my top meals in Singapore and I can't wait to head back for more!
Who would have guessed that one of my most delicious lunches in Singapore would turn out to be a burger.
Cough, choke!! A burger? In Singapore? Arguably the culinary capital of South East Asian cuisine??
Yes, it's true. In the face of numerous hawker and street food offerings that brought together the best of Chinese, Malay and Indian flavours in an utterly delicious and uniquely Singaporean-style melting pot, I pick a burger as one of my most memorable meals in the Lion City.
But this wasn't any ordinary burger. It was probably one of the best I've ever eaten!
For starters, it wasn't made of beef. Or chicken. Or lamb. Or fish. Or even beans.
It was made of pork. And chorizo. And bacon. Can you see how this could only end well?
And it wasn't patted into shape and slapped onto a grill by any old greasy-spoon line cook either. This burger had the stamp of approval of a three-starred Michelin chef - Bruno Ménard.
The setting of my gourmet burger experience was a quirky little place tucked into the bottom of Pacific Plaza, just off Orchard Road, called &Made - so-called because it sounds like 'hand-made' being said by an oh-so-Fwench chef. (Yes, a little self-indulgent, but clever all the same.)
&Made has the clean, bright look of an old-fashioned American diner crossed with the cosiness of a cafe - all black and white with pops of red, and a few 8-bit icons of burgers, sodas and (not quite sure why) owls thrown in for good measure. The menu is concise and I didn't have much trouble deciding - pretty quickly - on lunching on a 3 Little Pigs burger, truffle fries and a tall, refreshing glass of osmanthus sancha iced tea.
Ménard's 15 years in Tokyo definitely make their presence felt in his choice of garnishing for the porky patty - Japanese cabbage, spongy shiitake mushrooms, slightly tart Shibazuke pickles and yuzu-kosho mayonnaise married perfectly with the smokey notes of the chorizo in the moist, yet crumbly burger. Mmmm. I can almost taste it!
And... if you visit Singapore anytime in the near future, I highly recommend stopping by to taste it for yourself!
I'm convinced I ate the equivalent of a whole roasted pig during my time in Singapore and Bali. And if I had made a few more trips to Singapore's buzzing China Town, I'm convinced my consumption of porky delights would have near doubled solely on account of one little shop - Bee Cheng Hiang.
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't heard of it before I went to Singapore. I had. The lovely Didi of D is for Delicious had mentioned it as a must visit and that suggestion was quickly seconded by a friend who lives in Singapore. But it hadn't been top of mind until I actually got to China Town. And ever since then, it's pretty much stayed rather high on the list of stuff I daydream about...
What exactly is the subject of these daydreams? It's the incredibly delicious, greasy, smoky strips of pork - generously smeared in spices and what I guess is honey - that's sold at Bee Cheng Hiang as Gourmet Bakkwa - basically, barbecued bacon on steroids.
Bee Cheng Hiang has been churning out Bakkwa - sheets of spiced minced pork barbecued to the consistency of jerky - since 1933, along with other delicacies like pork floss. But the incredibly addictive Gourmet Bakkwa (which is made from pork belly rather than mince) only made an appearance in 2003, with Chilli Gourmet Bakkwa being introduced to the menu in 2005.
If I lived in Singapore, I can guarantee this would be the downfall of any well-laid diet plans.
The greasy packet of Gourmet Bakkwa I picked up in China Town was devoured almost completely the very evening it was bought. The rest of my days in Singapore were spent trying to resist the urge to snack on what was left of it - an urge that was present even after the most delicious and generously-sized meals. Somehow, the sweet and spicy caramelised strips of pork seemed exactly the sort of thing that was perfect any time of day or night - post lunch, pre-drinks, post-clubbing, pre-breakfast...
And the aroma... mmmmm... just one sniff of those smoky notes was enough to make my (weak to be begin with) self restraint completely evaporate!
Let's just say if I could bring back one thing from Singapore, a giant greasy packet of Gourmet Bakkwa is what that one thing would be :)
Bee Cheng Hiang can be found across Singapore and in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines and South Korea. I'm guessing any hope of a franchise coming to Dubai would sadly only be wishful thinking...
I may have done my pre-trip research on where I wanted to eat - and exactly what I hoped to be chomping down on - during my sojourn in Singapore, but as always, it was the unexpected finds that have stayed longest in my memory.
So in tribute to the places in the Lion City that will definitely have me going back for seconds, here's post 1 in my four-part Top 4 in Singapore series:
It was part accident and part design that I found myself at Catalunya - the stunning glass-domed restaurant perched on the waterfront at The Fullerton Pavillion.
Having realised a little too late that pretty much all of Singapore had fled the island over the long Eid (sorry, Hari Raya) weekend, my friend and I found ourselves walking rather aimlessly up Club Street only to be greeted by one closed bar after another.
So we abandoned our idea of a cocktail evening in favour of visiting Mr Merlion down by the waterfront. Which is when my friend remembered the awesome floral cocktail she had tried at Catalunya a few weeks ago and decided its inventive list of drinks would be perfect for two ladies at a loose end on a quiet night in Singapore.
Catalunya has an impressive pedigree of people involved in its creation - many of whom have earned their culinary stripes at elBulli - my never-to-be-fulfilled dream dinner destination.
Sadly as we turned up just past midnight and had already eaten, trying out some of the dishes on the menu may have to wait until another trip to Singapore, but their cocktail list was equally enticing.
My friend went straight for the delicate Asian Flora - a sake-based drink laced with honey and mixed with lime and apple juice, vodka and cointreau, served with a fragrant marigold balancing on the rim of the glass.
I, rather uncharacteristically, stayed clear of the sweeter cocktails and picked what looked like quite the lethal combination of absinthe, tequila, chocolate and angustura bitters, cinnamon syrup and Italian vermouth - intriguingly called Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy.
Both drinks turned out to be as good as they sounded.
The midnight cocktail hour was made even better by the absolutely charming staff who opened up the dining area just for us so we could sit overlooking the water rather than at the bar... and let us stay there without once trying to hurry us on our way even when everyone else had long gone.
I'll definitely be making my way back the next time I'm in town :)
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