March 13, 2007

(February-March 2008) For us, Raffles Hotel in Singapore has always held great allure, so naturally we decided to stay there. Since we were using Singapore as our hub, we spent a few nights there upon arrival from Nice and then four nights before our departure back to Nice. 

singapore_0515.JPGThe hotel is a landmark, and evidently was close to being torn down to make way for one more high-rise. However, taste prevailed and the hotel was declared a National Monument in 1987. Shortly thereafter, it closed for about two years for massive renovation and reopened in 1991. All the suites are on the second or third floors of the main building, maintaining privacy for the residents as the first floor is given over to restaurants and shops.

The ceilings are high; and the wooden floors and shutters have been preserved so the atmosphere is classic colonial. The bathrooms, however, were totally renovated, and the electronics are quite high tech.

As a city, Singapore is justly famous for its food, so we expected to find restaurants galore. Not quite. Oh, there are lots of basic but nonetheless delicious ones, but if you want an up-scale Asian meal you have to search hard. Our first night, fresh off a 13-hour flight, we didn’t want to travel any more so we decided to try the Royal China in Raffles, very up-scale, and one of the two out of their 18 or so restaurants in the hotel that is not managed by them.

The menu is extensive and the waitress warned us off our original thoughts with a grimace, followed by “you wouldn’t like that.” She then steered us to four or five dishes that proved to be fantastic, especially the fried eggplant with a crunchy covering.singapore_0272.JPGThe next day we were ready to venture forth in the evening, having spent the day wandering around to get our bearings.

 The books and the concierge all agreed that we had to go to My Humble House, a misnomer if there ever was one. Since the Chinese New Year was to begin in two days all the tasting menus were titled New Year Menu and differed only by price and the number of people needed to order it.We settled on the New Year Menu at SGD$108 (about US$75) per person rather than the SGD$60 (all the others required 4, 6 or 8 people) or the SGD$68 Vegetarian.

There were six courses, all with imaginative names like The Sea Calls with Good Fortune which was shark’s fin soup. All the courses were fish or seafood and there was no rice served. It was well worth the price, with everything tasting unusual but wonderful. The atmosphere was sophisticated and trendy, with a great view out over the city from its location on the second or third floor of a high-rise on the river.

Another night we ate in Raffles Courtyard Restaurant because the concierge, who had already given us great advice, told us that they had just stolen a chef from another restaurant and they were serving the best seafood in town. And so they were. We both shared the famous Sri Lankan black crab served with chili sauce, and had both steamed and fried buns to dip in this sauce. The taste was great but it was a lot of work to get to the meat. Probably the best dish we had the entire stay in Singapore, maybe even on the whole trip including Indonesia and Cambodia was the Beijing duck at Min Jiangabout a 15-minute taxi ride from midtown. It was brought out and carved at our table (SGD$40 for a large half duck) and then taken out of sight to be served in three different stages. First came the crispy skin to dip in sugar, then the meat to roll in a pancake with scallions, cucumber, pickled cabbage and daikon.Finally, they presented a dish of chopped meat with onions and herbs and spices that we rolled in lettuce leaves. It was better that any so-called Peking duck we have ever had and the three presentations were each superb.Our search for restaurants took us to one called the Majestic which turned out to be in a modern (think SoHo Grand), Chinese hotel not far from Chinatown. The mixed appetizer plate was inventive, with crispy frogs’ legs, wasabi prawns, pork fingers and a salad of bean sprouts. Their Peking duck, at SGD$55, was displayed at the table in pieces and then all plated at a nearby counter.

It was OK, but after the one at Min Jiang it paled, especially since it was more expensive. Gary had to try Durian ice-cream just to get a taste of that infamous fruit. He still tasted it the next morning.

singapore_0264.JPGOur last gourmet meal was at a Vietnamese restaurant we had seen en route to the Asian Civilizations Museum. The concierge did not know it when asked, but we learned that it been known under another name at its former location in a complex across from Raffles.

Now known as Viet Lang, it occupies lovely space in the Annex Building of the Old Parliament House. The food was classic Vietnamese. The chef was very good, but the service was a little spotty.


One Response to “Singapore”

  1. blueheeler Says:

    Nice restaurants. But if you really missed out eating at our hawker centres (cheap food, street-style), then you’ve missed out a significant part of S’pore cuisine.

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