It’s taken eight years for my husband to persuade me that going on holiday on home turf would be just as fun as jumping on a plane to some unknown faraway destination. I repeatedly branded the whole idea of a staycation as only for boring people who lack imagination – a total waste of precious adventure time – until it was suddenly my brilliant idea (ring any bells?).
Our once-a-year quick getaway from normal life (kids, dog, job, etc etc) to luxe life is precious. As time is limited to 48 hours from front door to front door, I finally admitted that an extra half-day spent squeezing in another delicious lunch rather than sitting in an airport lounge was really rather appealing – and I’m so glad we did it. It’s awesome being a tourist in your own town. That said, Singapore is an easy destination to get to if you don’t happen to live here.
Though we’ve built up a trusty black book of favourite haunts over the nine years we’ve lived here, I suddenly realised that rather like my sourdough starter, Singapore just never stops evolving. In order to make a proper dent in the city that never sleeps, we decided to split our break in two. This might seem mad for such a short amount of time, however, I have for many moons followed a life rule that if you want a holiday to seem longer, you must divide your time between two or more very different experiences! Singapore offers so many varied vibes and eating experiences, and this way we were able to enjoy a bit of everything.
Where to stay: Chinatown and Duxton Hill
In a nutshell, our first night could be described as “heritage-style boutique luxury”. We stayed at Six Senses Maxwell, a stunning renovation of 14 shophouses right in the heart of Chinatown and a short hop from a ridiculous amount of bars and restaurants. Designed by Frenchman Jacques Garcia, the hotel opened in 2018, and the combination of Garcia’s rich and comforting interior design with the Six Senses’ attention to detail is a winning one. There’s also the option to use the facilities at sister hotel Six Senses Duxton, which is just up the road (their chilli crab omelette is highly recommended for breakfast).
Six Senses Duxton
As with many high-end hotel groups, the linen is top notch, the beds are dreamily comfortable and there are lots of appealing options for drinking and dining. However, what really sets Six Senses apart from others is their genuine and impressive commitment to being eco-friendly and sustainable. I was impressed to hear that every Six Senses hotel around the world has a dedicated Sustainability Manager, whose job it is to make sure the hotel runs as eco-efficiently as possible as well as offering guests ways to rebalance their minds, bodies and spirits, should they wish to, during their stay.
This particular hotel has built an “earth lab” on the roof, offering everything from bath-bomb-making classes to making your own hydrosol water! You can borrow bikes and take advantage of their free yoga classes in a nearby garden. We also enjoyed our free session with a qualified TCM (traditional Chinese medicine practitioner). All the kitchens are zero waste and use as much local and sustainably sourced food as possible, and the hotels are carbon neutral too. Water is filtered by the hotels, leftover soaps are sent off to be melted down and delivered to third-world countries and all the rooms are designed to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible (in 2018, the 18 Six Senses hotels around the world saved 1.7 million plastic bottles). They have worked with Singapore’s National Parks Board to create an edible garden, as well as encouraging non-stinging bees to make their homes in some of the native plants grown along the walls.
The hotel is situated in the beating heart of Singapore’s food scene – with Keong Saik Road, Duxton Hill and Club Street all nearby – where there’s a fabulous merging of tradition and trend and a plethora of eateries to try for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner (also to suit a variety of budgets).
Where to eat: Chinatown and Duxton Hill
Starting with local food, hawker style, lunchtime is busy but worth the queues at Maxwell Food Centre, just across the road from the hotel. There are many stalls to choose from, but if you fancy trying Singapore’s famous Hainanese chicken rice, this is the place to be. Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice was made famous by Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay, however, if the queues are too long or the stall is shut, I recommend trying Ah-Tai, a few stalls along. Roast duck noodles are also recommended, along with the white carrot cake and char kway teow with cockles.
Once you’ve had your fill, make sure to pop into Singapore City Gallery at The URA Centre just opposite the food centre. It holds a gigantic walk-around model of Singapore that will blow your mind as well as an exquisite drawing of Singapore made from memory by British artist Stephen Wiltshire, when he flew over the city by helicopter in 2014. It’s also free.
No visit to Singapore is complete without a stop at one of its famous dumpling houses. There are dumpling sellers all over town, Din Tai Fung being the stalwart that everyone knows and loves. However, closest to Maxwell is Jing Hua Xiao Chi on Neil Street and Yum Cha on Trengganu Street. Our favourite, however, is a little place called Swee Choon further away on Jalan Besar. It’s worth the ride just to watch the chefs stretching noodles by hand and then dumping them into a massive pot of boiling broth.
If you have time and space left after lunch, pop into Aussie spot The Lokal and share a portion of their incredible sticky date pudding. You won’t be able to move afterwards, but it is worth every calorie!
Post-siesta (an essential when on staycation and after that pudding), a visit to Yixing Xuan Teahouse on Tanjong Pagar Road is highly recommended. Owned by Vincent Low and his charming family, visitors can either book a more formal workshop to learn the art of tea appreciation and tasting or just pop in and get acquainted with some of the most exquisite teas you will ever taste (as well as learning the secret to achieving the best skin with tea). You can also buy tea to take home.
If you’re ready for a slightly stronger libation, I suggest beginning with a cocktail at smouldering Cook & Tras Social Library within Six Senses Maxwell, followed by a wander outside to soak up the warm evening buzz. The streets come alive at night, and it’s a fabulous area for a sophisticated bar crawl before dinner. Tippling Club is just around the corner, and their cocktails are some of the best in town, offering really unusual combinations of flavours designed around popular historical dishes. We also loved Anouska Hempel’s stunning art-deco Yellow Pot Bar at Six Senses Duxton, where the signature chrysanthemum cocktail is reputed to be delicious.
If hot restaurant tickets are what you’re after, the area around Duxton Hill is chock-full of fabulous new eateries, as well as being home to some of the longest-standing restaurants that have hung around for good reason. There are so many options for lunch and dinner within a 10-minute drive, or even walk, of this area. Here are just a few recommended gems:
DON HO: with a relaxed vibe and providing a feast for the eyes, this place is great for groups and couples alike. Fruity cocktails and modern Australian sharing plates packed with flavour.
The Coconut Club: a new kid on the block, but so popular that visitors are queuing out the door. Supposedly THE place to try Malaysian fried chicken and coconut rice (nasi lemak).
The English House: a taxi ride away, but worth visiting for its colonial vibe, is Marco Pierre White’s fabulous restaurant, tucked away within a renovated Singapore shophouse. The breakfasts are some of the best in town, and if you like a traditional Sunday roast, this spot’s Bloody Mary followed by roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and Eton mess can’t be beaten.
Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House: Travis Masiero has nailed this place, offering generous servings of New England classics alongside impeccable service and a wonderfully relaxed and convivial atmosphere.
Fleur De Sel: chef-owner Alexander Lozachmeur’s restaurant shot to the top of my list of must-go places having tried the eatery’s S$108++ set dinner. Staff are attentive yet unobtrusive and the food is delicious. If it’s on the menu when you visit, make sure to try the homemade pasta with braised rabbit.
Burnt Ends: this BBQ joint has been on the scene for a few years now, winning a place on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef-owner Dave Pynt wows visitors with his wood-fired cooking, perched on counter seats around the open kitchen. Everything we tried was fabulous and the menu changes daily.
Yellow Pot: head here for beautiful Chinese food in a stunning location at Six Senses Duxton. Ask to dine at one of the hotel’s small private dining tables. The roast duck with homemade plum sauce is highly recommended, as are the spicy short ribs.
Yellow Pot’s braised duck spring rolls
Yellow Pot at Six Sense Duxton
Where to stay: Marina Bay
The second half of our staycation was more “James Bond waterside glam” at The Fullerton Bay Hotel in the heart of Singapore’s arts and cultural district. It’s bigger, bolder (not necessarily better, although we absolutely loved our stay here too) and has some of the best views in the entire city; the bay-view rooms are stunning. The hotel is huge and luxurious, with beautiful bathrooms and balconies overlooking the bay, perfect for watching the night-time laser show. You might also like to watch the nightly show that takes place within the magnificent super trees at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s nature park built on 101 hectares of reclaimed land.
The location is perfect for exploring; have a walk along the waterside, then take your pick of places to visit, depending on your likes. The Asian Civilisations Museum, National Museum of Singapore and Peranakan Museum are all within easy reach, as is the Esplanade arts and theatre complex. The hotel also offered us one of their maritime tours, which I highly recommend taking in order to understand the incredible change that this area has undergone over the years.
Where to eat: Marina Bay
There are lots of options for eating and drinking at the hotel itself. Highly recommended and hard to beat for a sunset tipple is the softly lit Lantern bar on the roof of the hotel, next to the pool. French restaurant La Brasserie is faultless for an easy and delicious dinner option in swish surroundings.
Kinki within Customs House is bang next door to the hotel and offers a funky vibe in the evening and a delicious Japanese bottomless brunch on Saturdays. There are other fantastic restaurants here too, including Longtail for Southeast Asian fare and Italian spot Caffe Fernet.
Spago (Wolfgang Puck’s rooftop restaurant) at the top of the landmark Marina Bay Sands hotel is our latest favourite find. The S$48++ set lunch is one of the best value in town and comes with fabulous views (giving you the chance to take a sneak peek at the famous rooftop pool). The food is exquisite with Head Chef Greg Bass running the kitchen, and the bar next door is a great spot for happy-hour cocktails and incredible bar snacks.
Boat Quay is also an easy walk from the hotel, and there are many options to try there, from popular Indian restaurant Our Village for good-value northern Indian food to stylish Braci, an innovative Italian restaurant that has long been a local favourite for date nights, with one of the most romantic rooftop bars in the area.
Some might say that a visit to Singapore is not complete without at least a glance at the historic Raffles Singapore hotel, but give the touristy Long Bar a miss and instead have a drink at the recently opened Writers Bar. La Dame de Pic is a new restaurant within the newly renovated hotel, but Chef Anne-Sophie Pic is the third generation of Michelin-star holders. Her inventive menu and stunning, elegant dining room are well worth the pennies and short taxi ride (see Foodie’s review).
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