Singapore has always been a food lover’s paradise. The island city nation ( roughly the same size as San Francisco) is a melting pot of cultures with people from all across the globe streaming in to make this little nation their home. There are three dominant cultural influences here- Chinese, Malaysian & Indian. There’s also a huge presence of Indonesian, Phillipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Japanese influences. I hope it will not come as a surprise if I suggest that the best way to soak in these cultures is by sampling their food. This is best experienced by a visit to a local food or ‘hawker’ centre which will leave you will be astounded by the plethora of food( expect everything exotic)- Dim sums, Fish Otah, Rendang curry, Fried Tempeh, Otah, Rojak, Chicken Adobo, Gyoza, Chahan, Yakitori, Chicken rice, Roti Paratha, Murtabak and even Thunder Chicken rice…there is an endless choice of food which can sometimes leave you spoiled for choices.
I have compiled a list of interesting neighborhoods to eat and drink based on my experiences here
Hawker or Food Centers
As mentioned in the introduction, its important to visit the hawkers centers to understand what the locals eat. Typically located in the heartlands or near HDBs (government housing) they food here is cheap and you will only find locals! There are so many cuisines up for grabs that it will leave you wondering where to start. Singapore hawker centers maintain generally a good hygiene levels and most of the food is nutritious focusing on use of Chinese spinach, p(b)ok Choy & bean sprouts. Here are my picks
Maxwell Road Hawker Centre(nearest MRT Tanjong Pagar)- all time favorite. I can’t seem to get enough of the Tian Tian stall’s Chicken Rice. Other must try’s include the Century Egg porridge( which I sadly gave a miss) available at the many stalls there. There’s a tiny Poppiah stall serving up this delicious Malayasian street treat for $1 each
Old Airport Road Hawker Centre ( nearest MRT)- an old haunt for most Singaporeans, a recent renovation has thrown it back into the limelight. Oyster omelets, Fried Char Kway teow, Hokkien mee, Fish Otah & finally Chilli Crab are the specialties here. The stalls worth visiting here are: Katong Ah Soon Fried Oyster & Mattar Road BBQ Seafood for Chilli Crab
Lau Pa Sat( MRT Raffles Place)– this historical food court in the heart of the business district and Chinatown is a must visit during the night, where a section of the road is closed off to make way for live stalls serving up some of Singapore’s best Satay’s and Roti Parathas!
* Avoid Newton Centre which has become another tourist trap- over priced and average
Yum cha( MRT- Chinatown, #20 Trengannu St, Off Temple St) – located in the heart of Chinatown yet frequented almost entirely by locals. This place is fantastic. Every afternoon they have a dim sum buffet offering just about everything. Must try the following dim sums: Steamed prawn and asparagus dumplings, Steamed scallop pea shoot dumpling, Pan fried Chives and meat dumpling.
Din Tai Fung( Marina Bay Sands Shopping centre, Paragon Orchard, Wisma Atria Orchard, 313@ Somerset)– I’m not a fan of chain restaurants but Din Tai Fung is an exception. They have an impressive selection of dim sums and their convenient location in big malls, make it hard to miss.
Lei Garden (MRT Sun Tech city, 01-14 Chijmes) an institution. Specializing in Cantonese cuisine, Lei garden is your best bet for a perfect Sunday Dim sum brunch, their atmospheric location in Chijmes and fantastic food will keep generations coming back for more. Must try: BBQ Pork Ribs, Homemade bean curd, Steamed Cod with asparagus and special sauce, Steamed scallop dumplings and finish your meal with Mini Egg tarts
CLUB STREET AND ANN SIANG HILL (nearest MRT-Chinatown)
This quaint, narrow street is lined with upscale bars, restaurants, boutiques & design houses and runs all the way up to the Ann Siang Hill. Relatively quiet during the day, it’s a different world altogether in the evenings, as every bar and eatery packs up to full capacity and the lively crowds spill over to the street. Frequented by the locals and expats that work in the neighboring CBD( Central Business District), Club Street reminds me a little of Notting Hill in London except that its relatively non-touristy. Here are some of my picks of places to eat and drink
Lolla( # 22 Ann Siang Road)- Clean and almost industrial like in decor, this newest entrant to the happening Club street believes in keeping it simple. The small understated menu offers small plates of delicious food inspired by Spain( Tapas culture as seen a resurgence in Singapore) We absolutely loved their food and here’s my must try list: Duck fat fried potatoes, Spanish tortilla with smoked eel, Scallop carpaccio and finally the Razor clams with chorizo. The place usually packs up as it is relatively small so reservations are a must
La terraza Rooftop bar of the Screening Room( #12 Ann Siang Hill)– one of the best rooftop bars in Club street offering great views of the business district and Chinatown. This place remains as popular as it was over 3 years ago( when we visited it last) Go there during happy hours
B28 in Club Hotel( #28 Ann Siang Hill)- run by American Mike Soldner. This place was formerly known as the Mault Vault and operated out of the basement of the Screening Room. True to its original vision- B28 has an endless range of single malts and whiskies sourced from all across the globe. Designed in plush leather upholstery and dark wooden tones, this place has a feeling of a gentleman’s club. Go there between 5.30-8.30pm on weekdays to enjoy free pulled pork sandwiches with every cocktail( priced at SGD 15 each) there’s live jazz to enjoy on weekends
La Cicala Bar ( #49 Club street) another new entrant. Following the current “tapas” rage that has hit Singapore, this place serves up Spanish and international tapas. Their charming Spaniard manager willkeep the ladies coming back for more 😉 Pity though that their Bombay Sapphire cocktails are so-so and their Spanish selection of wines rather non-existent. Must try their char grilled asparagus & Gambas al ajillo
Club street Social( # 5 Gemmill Lane)- I have been told that this place is this unofficial hang out place for all in the F&B industry. I’ve been told that their paninis are delicious and cocktails innovative
Trattoria Cugini ( #87 Club street)Heartwarming Southern Italian food and fantastic pizzas. This is the place to go to for your Italian food fix! Must try their freshly made squid ink fettuccine with seafood, fresh pea, mullet roe and dessert platter
Brasserie Gavroche( #69 Tras Street, MRT- Tanjong Pagar) Ok this isn’t in Club street or Ann Siang hill but this little French gem in Tras Street( around 15 minutes walking distance) deserves a visit. Helmed by the ex chef of St Regis-Frederic Colin, the place exudes the vibe of an upscale Parisian café. This place is my top breakfast/ brunch pick: their Pain au chocolate is to die for as are the Eggs Benedict and Creamy egg casserole with mushrooms and bacon
DEMPSEY ROAD- The Expatriate Enclave ( Nearest MRT- Botanic Garden or Orchard Road)
This place will always be extremely close to me. It was love at first sight when we stumbled here in early 2007- the charming black and white bungalows reminiscent of the glorious British past and lush green tropical foliage (located just off the Botanic Gardens)immediately drew us in. It was perhaps this that led us to signing in the lease for our restaurant which we ran for 3 years till the rents made it financially unviable for us to continue. I am happy to know that it still continues to remain a popular haunt for many people that live in the surrounding posh neighborhoods. Frequented by a largely expat population this diverse patch has a great selection of lively restaurants and bars to frequent. Here are my top picks
Tippling Club and House(#8D Dempsey Road) still remains a hottest place to have a drink. Possibly amongst the pioneers to introduce the concept of mixology( relatively unheard of in Singapore 5 years ago) Award winning mixologist Matthew Bax continues to push the edge and creates hand crafted cocktails. The décor is industrial with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the forest, the large open plan set up of the main dining area allows guests to peep and pry into the bartenders’ concoctions. Must try ‘Juniper Sling’ and ‘Valley of Nine Villages’. The HOUSE its sister concern is a lot more casual and a great place to unwind for lunches. Their truffle fries are an absolute must try!
Jones the Grocer( Block 01-12 Dempsey Hill) occupies the centre stage on top of Dempsey Hill. A popular Australian concept with branches now in Dubai, Jones the Grocer is a great place to head to for brunch. The large store is dedicated to matters of the stomach=food. From artisanal marmalades to dukkah to dips and fresh meats and cheese to cookbooks, expect to find anything and everything related to food. At the centre of the store, is a communal like café serving breakfast all day and yummy desserts.
P.S Café( #28B Harding Road)- love it or hate it, this place has always had mixed reviews. One thing’s for sure though P.S Café is still the most popular café for brunch. Décor is fantastic with floor to ceiling windows and comfy seating. I’ve always been blown away with their stunning flower arrangements that greet visitors on arrival. Their desserts are absolutely gigantic and sinful!
Wine company( Blk 14 Dempsey Hill) we’ve shared many great memories here, which was the place we’d head to after getting slammed with a hard day of work. Décor is simple, dim lights and a large al fresco area at the back looking out to a tropical forest. Wine company has a great selection of wines from South Africa and pricing is relatively reasonable ( expect to pay anywhere upwards of $ 50/ bottle) and cheap bar food ( $ 6-18 SGD)
Jumbo Seafood( Blk 01-16 Dempsey Hill) A seafood institution, Jumbo was our haunt for our monthly Black pepper crab craving! Established in 1987, Jumbo opened its doors in Dempsey in 2008 and remains as popular as ever. I love their Black pepper crab and Stir fried Fish with spring onions and ginger. You absolutely have to wash it down with as Tiger beer draught.
Red Dot Brewhouse( Block 25A Dempsey Road) Perhaps amongst the first of many microbreweries to open up in Singapore. Red Dot embraces the great outdoor concept where you can see the massive steel vats, every now and then you catch a whiff of the fermenting grain. Their handcrafted brews are a must try. We love their Green monster(contains spirulina) and Lime wheat beer
JOO CHIAT AND GEYLANG DISTRICTS- the PERANAKAN stronghold
Formerly a red light district, Joo Chiat and Geylang area witnessed a massive cleanup drive in the early 2000’s and now it’s a charming street lined up with crumbling antique shops, design boutiques, bakeries and laid back bars and restaurants. This area was formerly a Peranakan or Nonya enclave (Straits born Chinese lived here) and a walk down the narrow streets will reveal the beautiful Peranakan shop house architecture which is fast disappearing in Singapore. There are a few “massage” parlours that remain but I feel that adds a gritty authentic touch to an otherwise almost perfect city
Smokeys BBQ American Smokehouse and Grill( # 73 Joo Chiat Place)- run by a Californian, this place serves up the best Beef brisket and Slow pulled pork sandwiches in Singapore & the buffalo wings with a blue cheese dip is absolutely sinful!
Garden Slug( #55Lorong L, Telok Kurau)- recommended by friends who always enjoyed heading there for a beer with their dog, this is simple place serves up unpretentious food. Must try: Mindy’s chicken pasta which has a thai touch to it thanks to the lime leaf butter, Wagyu Burger is also delicious!
Fat Boy Burger( # 465 Joo Chiat Terrace)- the Ultimate Burger Bar, the catchy restaurant lives up to its reputation of offering lean, mean, burger monsters! You can customize your own burgers and wash it down with a root beer float!
No Signboard Seafood ( 412-416 Geylang Road) The weird name came about when they first started serving food in Geylang without any sign board. Considered by many to be the original creators of the Singapore Chilli crab, they have a gamut of seafood dishes to choose from. Their signature dishes are: White Pepper Crab, Hokkien Styled Steamed fish and Crispy cereal crayfish.
Chilli Padi( # 12 Joo Chiat Place)- a tiny place serving up delicious traditional Peranakan food. Must try: Sambal Ikan and Nonya Assam curry.
Bread Project( #174 Joo Chiat Road)- I’ve been told by friends that this place is a gem. Must tries include the Bostock: where almond cream piped between two slices of crunchy soft pastry and Chocolate concha
Chezcake Bistro( #328 Joo Chiat Road)- specializing in everything to do with cheesecakes. What more can a girl ask for? Must try: White Oblivion cheesecake and Green tea with red beans cheesecake.
One Fullerton, Fullerton Pavilion and Collyer Quay
I would recommend heading here if you want to get a 180 degree view of the Marina bay area with Esplanade, Merlion and Marina Bay Sands. Its comparatively less crowded and makes a great place for sundowners!
Catalunya( Fullerton Pavilion, # 82 Collyer Quay)- helmed by the former team of the legendary El Bulli Spain, this place is a must go to for cocktails ( Most of us wouldn’t be able to afford the food) Incorporating molecular gastronomy techiniques each cocktail is a masterpiece. Expect to pay anywhere between $ 20-30 SGD for a drink though. Must try cocktails: Pasian’s Favourite( comprising of cumquats, rosemary sticks, luxardo, gin mare, lime juice, grapefruit juice and honey) and Stairway to Heaven( Bacardi’s 2012 Cocktail of the year paying homage to Led Zeppelin)
Overeasy( #01-06 One Fullerton)- a modern funky bar and diner inspired by the diner culture of the 1970’s, their all day breakfast is great. Part of the Lo & Behold group ( White rabbit and Loof) one can expect uber cool decor, drinks and service
Society Bar( #01-11 One Fullerton)- this was the hottest bar in 2011 for sunset drinks and I’m happy to report that it remains ever popular. Reasonably priced food and drinks continues to draw people in. It’s located in a quieter part of the one Fullerton stretch which is just nice if you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore