Singapore is an interesting place. For so long, it was either hawker or haute – there weren’t many options in between. But recently that’s begun to change. Although some of the best eating in the city is still done at the hawker centres, they’re not the only option when it comes to a cheap(ish) feed. A whole string of mid-range restaurants has opened up, and we made it our duty to hit up as many of them as possible when we were over there for Pinot Palooza.
Here’s how we spent our first 48-hours in Singapore.
7pm – Dinner at Meatsmith SG
Aside from a quick stop at Hotel 1929, it’s straight to Meatsmith for dinner. It’s the day before Thanksgiving and that special turkey dinner won’t wait. In the name of research we order a few of the regular menu items to start (spicy jalapeno poppers; hot smoked sausage; Memphis-rub pork cheeks, cubed and skewered with pickles), but joy turns to regret in our mouths once we see the sheer volume of food that makes up the Thanksgiving feast. Thick slices of turkey, covered in gravy so robust it could be congee; barbecued spiced corn, house-made cranberry sauce, salads, pimento mac and cheese, and potato mash
10pm – Cocktails at Smoke & Mirrors
We’re invited along to Smoke & Mirror’s second birthday bash. This cocktail bar is on the roof of the Singapore National Gallery, and the view you’re afforded of the Marina Bay Sands complex and the durian-shaped domed rooftops of the Esplanade Theatre is one of the best in the city. We’re getting tired now, so it’s just one (or maybe two) Spicy Sling before bed.
11.30pm – Sleep at Hotel 1929
We uber back to our home-away-from-home, Hotel 1929. Owned by the Unlisted Group (who own Aussie boutique hotels such as The Old Clare), the rooms at Hotel 1929 are small but beautifully designed, and the hotel is great value for Singapore. It’s also incredibly well located.
9am – Breakfast at Geylang East Market and Food Centre
Our friend and local tour guide, Chew, who we met while we were over in Singapore for the Pinot Palooza launch last August, took us to her parents’ stall at the Geylang East Market for breakfast. Their stall, ‘Original’, specialises in laksa, chicken curry and prawn head soup, but that wasn’t all we ate. Chew sent her dad off to collect a range of dishes (fried carrot cake sticks, chive pancakes, steamed rice noodle rolls and more) from the wider hawker centre for us to try, effectively building us a custom hawker degustation. Would recommend you try to do the same.
11.30am – Marina Bay Sands / Pizzeria Mozza
After breakfast we ubered to the Marina Bay Sands resort complex. The Marina Bay Sands resort consists of a 2500+ room hotel complete with infinity pool, a convention/exhibition centre, a shopping centre (called The Shoppes) with a Venetian-inspired canal running through the centre, a museum, two theatres, skating rink, casino, two floating Crystal Pavilions, and about 10 “celebrity chef” restaurants, including those by David Thompson, Gordon Ramsay, David Myers, Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud, Tetsuya Wakuda and more.
We checked out a few of the conference and ballrooms as potential event spaces, and got an insight into the sheer scale of the venue. We then left the convention and exhibition centre and walked through the shopping mall complex, popping into an expensive (but incredible) wine store, a sneaker shop and finally to Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza (we wanted to try at least one celebrity restaurant!).
Still full from breakfast and conscious of the next meal, we kept it light with a place of Prosciutto di Parma, white bean bruschetta, and two Peronis. The food was good quality, and there’s definitely a market for this style of restaurant in Singapore, but at almost $100 for such a bullshit order, we think we’ll stick to the hawkers.
MRT to Chinatown
There’s an MRT station inside Marina Bay Sands, and while we’re generally allergic to public transport we thought we’d save a few bucks by catching the train. We’re all about that per diem.
Kim Joo Guan
We get off the MRT at Chinatown, and find ourselves in proximity to Kim Joo Guan, specialists in bakwa, or dried BBQ pork slices. We grab one for the road and set off for Maxwell’s Food Centre, but it’s hot so we detour through the the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, which makes us feel cultured AF (also it’s air-conditioned).
3pm – Hainanese Chicken Rice at Tian Tian, Maxwell’s Food Centre
Maxwell’s is another hawker centre, similar to Geylang, and home to Tian Tian. If Singapore has a national dish it’s Hainanese chicken rice, and one of the best (or at least the best known, thanks Anthony Bourdain) is found at Tian Tian. 3pm is the perfect time to arrive – no line. We recommend it.
4pm – WINE RVLT
We uber to Singapore’s newest (and coolest) natural wine bar, which is run by somms Alvin Gho and Ian Lim, and chef Manel Valero. The bar doesn’t actually open until 5.30pm so we just catch up with the boys over a quick bottle, and plan to return for a proper session later.
5.30pm – Super Loco
Next we’re off to see Jason Jones. We think we’re meeting him at Lucha Loco (we’re not) so we head there first, pull up a seat inside the garden bar and ask for him, only to be told he’s at his other venue, Super Loco at Customs House. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT; THEY ARE VERY SIMILAR. We head over and are joined by Damian North from Journey Wines for Margaritas, chips with four different dipping sauces, tacos and tostadas.
9pm – Employees Only
Next, we uber to the Singaporean offshoot of the New York original for the house specialty, a Ready, Aim, Fire. The place is busy so we don’t stick around too long, but it’s definitely worth a return visit.
10pm – Blackwattle
We’re not hungry but it’d be rude not to check out one of Singapore’s newest restaurants, Blackwattle, seeing as we’re walking past it. Downstairs is pretty busy still so we head upstairs to the bar for a couple of drinks and a few snacks (read, three savoury dishes, two sweet and a cheese course). It’s all ridiculously good but the stand out is the Reypenaer Gouda with fermented pear relish and lavosh, paired with a glass of Yukinobousha Yamahai Honjozo sake. Far out.
12pm – Sleep at Hotel 1929
Back to the hotel to sleep (and charge our mobile phones, of course).
8.30am – Breakfast at Tong Ah Eating House
We go to Tong Ah in the morning because it’s only 80 metres from Hotel 1929, but while it’s good we’re sure there are a million places across the city that are just as good. So if you can’t get to Tong Ah, don’t stress, but do try to have the traditional Singaporean breakfast of kaya toast, soft boiled eggs and kopi (coffee) somewhere if you can. We’re noobs on our first visit and need to be shown the proper way: crack the eggs into the provided bowl, add what we later learn is light and dark soy sauces, white pepper and stir. Dip the toast in and eat. So good and so cheap.
10am – Bump in for Pinot Palooza
Not relevant to you now, but this is the time where we need to head to the Annexe Studio and bump in for the following day’s Pinot Palooza event. In this time slot, may we suggest the Gardens by the Bay? Don’t write them off believing they’re too touristy – the Gardens are truly a marvel.
1pm – Lunch at Cheek by Jowl
You must go to Cheek by Jowl at some stage, and if you’re flexible with time then lunch represents the best value. At lunch, five courses will only set you back $58, which is insanely cheap for Singapore (remember, a plate of ham and a beer cost us $100 at Marina Bay Sands). Chef Rishi and manager Manuela take the best care of us and we end up with about 12 courses, each equally incredible. One of the best meals, ever – not just in Singapore. Try to sit at the bar.
6pm – Cocktails at the Tippling Club
Sensory experiences are high on the agenda at the Tippling Club. When the team was in Singapore in August, it was all about scent. This time, it’s taste. Called Dreams & Desires, we’re presented with a bag of house-made gummy bears, each representing different flavour profiles. We eat them and order our cocktail based on the gummy bear we like the most. Very cool.
7pm – Dinner at Burnt Ends
The one we’ve been waiting for. The space is built around the open kitchen which is a hive of activity, all custom ovens and grills and smoke and fire, and chefs flinging food from all angles. Dan warns us not to tell the chefs that we’re hungry, but we do anyway, and it’s a barrage from start to finish. Snacks are the star here, and a warning on price: food at Burnt Ends is expensive, so if you’re worried about how much you’ve got to spend, order from the menu rather than just asking to be fed.