The soul of Singapore
Shopping, restaurants and the arts; the Lion City is in the throes of a cultural renaissance…
It’s long laboured under a reputation for soullessness but in recent years, the Lion City has got its buzz back. Once renowned for strict police and corporate goings-on, its edgier neighbourhoods and historical buildings enjoying a renaissance with top notch restaurants, chic bars and cool boutiques springing up on every corner. The hardest thing now is knowing just where to start.
That said, shopping is a good place for Singapore is full of retail therapy havens – some more aggressively mall-like than others. Orchard Road is the epicentre and worth a trip if you’re looking for international designers and run-of-the-mill fashion. Better is Orchard Central which is home to a few local designer boutiques – try Black Market for local fashion, design and art. Then, there’s the wonderful Haji Lane in the Arab Quarter, which overflows with interesting shops and an even more interesting clientele. Soon Lee is a pretty little shop that is crammed to the rafters with quirky buys, including pieces by local label Chalk. For second hand steals, head to Dulcetfig just down the road.
Towards the financial district, Ann Siang Hill Road is an increasingly creative hub where shops selling fashion give way to design emporia, branding agencies, trendy cafes and boutique stores. Stop for a drink at 40 Hands Coffee before carrying on to Books Actually to sort out any intellectual cravings and Nana & Bird for cool independent labels across lifestyle and fashion.
All the shopping is likely to leave you hungry and here, Singapore really comes into its own. With a diverse population, its no surprise that the food scene is too, with everything from Asian street food to the gilt-edged dining room and carefully-cut finger sandwiches served up in it during afternoon tea at the chi-chi Raffles hotel. Regardless of what you choose, it’s all worth embracing. Covered street corners and markets are a good place to start, although don’t expect a peaceful meal: Think communal tables and humidity. More relaxed is the East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre, which serves up raw fish salads and tasty chilli crab. Go at dusk to catch the sun setting over the water. Further into town, Lau Pa Sat, Singapore’s oldest wet market, was recently refurbished and now hosts food stalls from all over the world. Head to the adjacent Tan Boon Street for more satay than you’ve ever laid eyes on before.
This sort of heritage isn’t unique to Tan Boon Street, with reminders of Singapore past dotted all over the city. But much has been gentrified and nowhere more so than Singapore’s China Town, No longer just an enclave of dubious looking karaoke bars and outright sex shops, it boasts pretty turn-of-the-century houses and a quaint street market. Head to the equally historic Duxton Hill for cocktails at Tippling Club, sake at Inaho’s Kitchen and Peranakan cuisine at The Blue Ginger. Return the next day for a taste of Italy at Latteria Mozzarella Bar or a hearty brunch at Group Therapy Coffee.
Just around the corner, Potato Head on Keong Saik Road entertains its cool clientele with a different theme on each floor including an open bar (the equivalent of a chefs table for cocktails) in a cosy lounge and a vintage-chic roof terrace that feels more New York than Asia. Across the road The Library serves up top-notch cocktails in a not-so-secret but fun speakeasie setting. For a taste of Singapore in days gone by, try the light and marble filled Tiffin Room for a champagne fuelled high tea or the Long Bar, also at Raffles, for a legendary Singapore Sling.
There’s more still when you venture away from the city. Singapore is a stone’s throw from some of South East Asia’s most pristine islands. So much so, that a trip to the city really isn’t complete without leaving it. Nikoi Island, a whirlwind three-hour speedboat journey away, is a place of coral reefs, sundowners and relaxation. The treehouse-like villas are deliciously romantic – think swing chairs, sun-bleached fabrics, bamboo, outdoor showers and sea breezes – the main pool is sunk into the jungle and the staff dole out first class Indonesian smiles and hospitality. But the same could be said for Singapore itself, a newly friendly place that has much to like. Forget all thoughts of big business and corporate dullness: with shopping, restaurants and cultural treasures galore, the new look Lion City has much to recommend it.