With a slew of new openings and developments across town, Southeast Asia’s roaring city-state offers many surprises for even the most jaded repeat visitor.
Singapore’s conservation areas remain a sought-after address for more intimate, design-led properties. Taking up a row of 1950s Art Deco shophouses, Hôtel Vagabond pays tribute to Little India’s colorful history and the buildings’ former tenants (one of which was a brothel) with bold designs by Jacques Garcia, who is best known for his work on Hôtel Costes in Paris and the NoMad Hotel in New York. Inside, the eclectic decor includes animal sculptures, ceiling-high brass climbing vines, and a combination of soft furnishings in vivid scarlet with monochromatic pictures that lends a fin de siècle feel. The year-old heritage hotel also has a focus on creative exchange, hosting artists who mingle with guests and run workshops under an artist-in-residence program.
Housed in a former police station built in 1928, Hotel Indigo Katong welcomed its first guests in July. The brightly colored interiors reflect the spirit of the Peranakans, a community associated with the surrounding neighborhood of Katong. Vintage touches extend to the guest rooms, where the cast-iron base of a Singer sewing machine— once a common fixture in most Singaporean homes—supports the sink and vanity table.
Another eye-catching property is M Social Singapore, which opened this June in Robertson Quay on the north bank of the Singapore River. Targeting millennials, the hotel is designed by French doyen Philippe Starck, whose creative genius is evident in the juxtaposition of illuminated marble floors with clashing geometric tiles, and a mysterious peanut-shaped sculptural motif placed throughout the premises.
The recently anointed two- Michelin-starred French restaurant Odette remains the talk of the town after making its debut at the National Gallery late last year. Helmed by the feted Julien Royer, who named the venue after his late grandmother, Odette’s enduring appeal is highlighted by dishes such as the Challans guinea fowl served with bite-sized foie gras croquette and celeriac risotto—the latter a childhood recipe learned from the chef’s grandmother.
Salted and Hung has been a hit with the carnivorously inclined since it opened on Purvis Street in June. Australian chef Drew Nocente, who has been curing and smoking meats since boyhood at his family’s farm in Queensland, vacuum-packs cuts before curing them on-site, a process that yields more intense flavors. Pig head terrine and duck prosciutto are among the sizeable selection of in-house charcuterie, while the kangaroo tartare with pickled beetroot is highly recommended. For seafood enthusiasts, a respite from the meat-heavy menu can be found in the gin-cured mackerel served with horseradish crème, nori, and radish.
Created by the same family behind Li Bai at the Sheraton Towers, Full of Luck Club shows how a Cantonese fine-dining restaurant can be chic but cheeky. Here, the Chinese predilection for money luck symbols is reflected in the randomly printed lottery numbers on receipts, name cards, and fortune cookies. Dishes such as beef hor fun are updated with truffle oil and wagyu beef, without missing on wok hei—a complex, smoky flavor that literally means “breath of wok” and is the hallmark of good Cantonese cooking.
At M Social Singapore, executive chef Bryce Li pulls off East-meets- West flavors with finesse at Beast & Butterflies, where Philippe Starck–designed interiors set the scene for an unconventional menu. A crowd-pleaser is the German pork knuckle served with Thai dipping sauce and Chinese pickled cabbage.
Amid a welter of new watering holes, Employees Only is the one not to miss–it’s the first overseas venture by the New York speakeasy that helped to kick-start the craze for craft cocktails. Besides importing key staff including co-founder Igor Hadzismajlovic and principal bartender Steve Schneider, the venue also retains the Art Deco theme and signature drinks such as Amelia, a blend of Aylesbury Duck vodka, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and blackberries.
Le Binchotan is another standout. This French-Japanese izakaya only opened in September, with mouthwatering fusion cuisine and delicious cocktails by chief bartender Sugar Ray Ruban. Sake My Cucumber is a sweet and spicy concoction of sake, cucumber, fresh mint, Chartreuse, and sparkling water that seems innocuous at first sip, but soon goes straight to your head.
Previously a pop-up store for independent Singaporean design brands, K+ has found a permanent 370-square-meter home in the Scotts Square mall as of July. K+ Curatorial Space isn’t just a showcase of locally made lifestyle products, books, furniture, and apparel—it also includes a gallery for emerging artists, alongside a co-working space that doubles as a venue for art school exhibitions and pop-up bazaars.
The rebirth of two of Singapore’s most iconic buildings as the National Gallery Singapore last November was probably the city-state’s most publicized recent opening. The old city hall and former Supreme Court now host an extensive art collection, not to mention a handful of glamorous restaurants and bars.
However, nature-lovers looking for a low-key escape from the concrete jungle should head out to the Southern Islands. Though established in 2014, Singapore’s first marine park received a boost last year with the opening of the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John’s Island. The gallery promotes the biodiversity of Singapore’s waters, which contain 250 species of hard corals along with the Neptune’s cup sponge, once thought to be extinct until two were rediscovered nearby.
Sean Lee, CEO OF Hu’u Group/Summer Empire
“Unknown to many tourists, let alone locals, the Sembawang beach area in the north of Singapore bears testimony to an important period of British rule. It once had a naval base that served as a cornerstone in the island’s defense against the Japanese. Modern-day reminders of that era include Beaulieu House, a colonial mansion with Victorian-style cast ironwork around its patio and patterned floor tiles typical of houses built in the 1910s. It’s now a restaurant serving local favorites like salt-baked kampong chicken.”
Angela May, culinary designer at Angela May Food Chapters
“I like the Duxton Hill conservation area, which is replete with beautifully restored shophouses flanked by tall leafy trees. Here you get to taste a smorgasbord of international cuisine, from French to Mexican to even Singaporean tze char which is Chinese home-styled dishes cooked upon order. My favorite hangout is the tapas bar Sabio. I could while away an entire evening here, enjoying slivers of jamón ibérico and pan paired with a robust red, and chatting with the convivial crowd made up of friendly regulars and strangers.”
This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“City Guides: Singapore”).