The tiny island nation of Singapore is famous for its hawker centres and, more recently, temples of haute cuisine rivalling those of Hong Kong or Tokyo.
‘Singapore’s restaurant landscape has transformed dramatically since my first days here seven years ago,’ says Ivan Brehm, chef of one-Michelin-starred Nouri.
Julien Royer of Odette, ninth on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, agrees. ‘We have so many different nationalities, religions, cultures and people; it makes it a very interesting melting pot, he says. ‘The food scene has improved a lot, and the bar scene in Singapore is crazy good.’
In other words, if the Singapore Sling is still the first local cocktail that comes to mind, you’re overdue for a visit – and one of your first bar-hopping stops should be Native. The most creative of Vijay Mudaliar’s cocktails pays tribute to local Peranakan culture by featuring a jackfruit rum infusion, laksa leaves, pandan, goat’s milk and blue pea flowers, traditionally used as a food and cloth dye.
It’s just one example of how Singapore inspires its chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs to push boundaries and, as a result, offer a steady stream of exciting concepts. Rishi Naleendra closed Cheek by Jowl in early 2019 to open two fresh restaurants, and anticipated debuts are on the way from Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic (both within the Raffles Singapore hotel).
‘The high tide raises all ships,’ says Atlas’ head bartender Jesse Vidas, echoing industry sentiments that greater exposure on the world stage only strengthens Singapore’s restaurant and bar offerings.
Indeed, for the first time, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants award ceremony is being held in Asia – and Singapore will play host on 25 June 2019. (In another win for inclusivity, this is the first time there will be an even split of male/female industry voters.) The Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards for 2019 and 2020 will also take place in Singapore, as will the World’s 50 Best Bars awards in 2021.
Chef Kirk Westaway sees the choice as validation that ‘our little red dot on the map has really cemented its position as a fertile landscape for all F&B concepts, especially fine-dining ones’.
What does it take to be among Singapore’s best restaurants and bars? Let’s dig in.
Singapore’s Best Restaurants
Singapore’s only Japanese restaurant with two Michelin stars, Shoukouwa serves refined sushi to those lucky enough to snag one of eight seats at its hinoki wood counter. From there, chefs expertly prepare fatty blackthroat sea perch from Tsushima; spicy, earthy matsutake mushrooms from Hokkaido; and rare, seasonal delicacies such as silky, milky fugu shirako (puffer fish milt). Premium junmai daiginjo sakes from breweries such as Sawaya Matsumoto, Hakurakusei and Masuizumi are the perfect pairing.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Odette, a blush-pink and brass-accented space in Singapore’s National Gallery which captured two Michelin stars within a year of opening in 2015 as well as the top spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list. Credit goes to Julien Royer – and his long-time sous chefs – for modern cooking inspired by his childhood in the south of France. What’s fresh and seasonal shines, whether it’s rosemary smoked egg, heirloom beetroots or tender Brittany pigeon. ‘Because I’ve been in Asia for more than 10 years, it is French cooking in its DNA, but we slowly have incorporated Asian influences,’ says Royer.
Jaan by Kirk Westaway
On the 70th floor of Swissôtel The Stamford, this restaurant’s killer views are rivalled only by the exquisite decor. Since 2015, Jaan has shifted its culinary focus to modern British cooking, as interpreted by Devon-born Westaway. He gives the classics a light, refined take and starts every meal with a cup of warm, roasted potato soup. A new menu showcases Westaway’s favourite springtime dishes – white asparagus carpaccio and saffron and black truffle pasta – along with delights such as a Scottish kombu (seaweed) and Devon cheddar cheese.
Waku Ghin is Sydney-based Tetsuya Wakuda’s only international outpost. This means you’ll see the self-effacing Wakuda regularly at the Marina Bay Sands restaurant. Botan shrimp served with ochre tongues of sea urchin and a lavish dollop of Oscietra caviar; and pink-centred cuboids of seared Omi A5 wagyu beef are among the faithfully rendered specialities. Wakuda sources many products himself, from the sake to the seemingly simple, yet unforgettably flavoursome muskmelon that only Waku Ghin’s diners – and Japan’s royal family – get to enjoy.
The Botanic Gardens make an apt setting for one-Michelin-starred Corner House, whose chef Jason Tan embraces ‘gastro-botanica’ cuisine. What that means is an unabashedly vegetable-focused menu, including his signature Cévennes onion dish (where he interprets the allium four ways) or his ever-evolving Variation of Tomato course. While he asserts that ‘prettiness’ in his presentation is not a priority, diners faithfully photographing every plate suggest otherwise.
Ivan Brehm, of Brazilian and European heritage, specialises in what he calls ‘crossroads cooking’ at Nouri, which made its Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants debut in 2019. In the convivial open kitchen, chefs prep the ‘familiar mixed with the unfamiliar’ to create dishes like vermilion carabinero prawns and aged carnaroli rice accented with kanzuri (snow-fermented Japanese red chilli peppers). A must-try is the wild rice stem, dressed in a spiced buttermilk that has analogues in Normandy and the Middle East.
The list of chefs to emerge from Les Amis – Justin Quek, Jason Tan and Janice Wong to name just three – is a veritable who’s who of Singapore greats. The first standalone French restaurant when it opened in 1994, it showcases ingredients sourced from France and prepared with exacting Gallic techniques. An epic wine list, discreet service and elegant interior have paved the way for many business deals. ‘We aim to be like a crisp white shirt,’ says executive chef Sebastien Lepinoy, ‘understated, but oozing sophistication that will never go out of style.’ Last but not least come the desserts, created by Cheryl Koh, who also oversees Tarte by Cheryl Koh.
Singapore’s Best Bars
Atlas is a gilded, art-deco fantasy with an equally eye-popping collection of gin: more than 1,200 varieties, displayed in an eight-metre-tall tower. You can sample the obscure (Moldovan gins) and the aged (a London dry gin dating to the 1910s). Come for the gin, stay for the prestige whiskies (20 Karuizawa single malts) or 250-label-strong champagne collection, which includes Heidsieck & Co Monopole. The same as that served onboard the Titanic, this champagne was salvaged from the Baltic Sea and requires abyss-depth pockets at S$190,700 (HK$1,090,000) a bottle.
Native became infamous as the bar that got Singaporeans to swallow foraged weaver ants (combined with rum, tapioca and coconut yoghurt). Vijay Mudaliar’s newest standout cocktail also celebrates what’s native, namely Peranakan culture, which inspired a jackfruit rum infusion with laksa leaves, palm sugar, goat’s milk and a jelly of coconut pandan and blue pea flowers. Local ingredients like mango, turmeric and cinnamon also pop up on the new menu. To really mix things up, try the Red Light District, a dragon fruit libation with tongkat ali, a (ahem) performance-enhancing medicinal root popular in Singapore’s notorious Geylang area.
Subterranean bar Operation Dagger’s industrial interiors, anchored by a bar fronting pharmaceutical bottles and an installation of thousands of bulbs lit up like a glowering storm cloud, are the backdrop for founder Luke Whearty’s ever-changing inventory of smoke-emitting, homemade-tinctured, sometimes downright wacky creations. Try the Egg, with salted egg yolk liqueur; or hot+cold, comprising cold pineapple-accented tequila blanco topped with warm chocolate and coconut foam. Some things shouldn’t work, but they just do.
28 HongKong Street
Fads don’t fly with 28HKS. Hidden behind a nondescript 1960s shophouse facade, it bucks trends by eschewing social media and relies instead on the reputation of its artisanal spirits, a rigorous 25-drink menu, plus off-menu classics and American comfort food like deep-fried mac and cheese balls. The drinks are top shelf while the hip-hop soundtrack is like its service – genuinely forthright and louder as it gets later, making this one of the best places for a nightcap.
Gibson mixes up seriously good cocktails with a sense of humour – look behind the bar and you’ll see that the jacket and bowtie-clad bartenders also wear shorts. Cocktails draw on regional ingredients like the homemade Philippine mango fermented in the style of a Pedro Ximénez sherry (Mango PX); Malaysian white guava paired with tequila and ulam raja (a local medicinal plant); and a coconut-infused Botanist gin sorbet with sparkling sake (Always Summer). Be sure to try the Gibson, which features a specially commissioned vermouth from a Kansai sake brewery, and the piquant condiments: a pickled pearl onion, pickled wasabi leaves and smoked quail egg.
Hailed Best Bar in Asia at 2018’s World’s 50 Best Bars, the Manhattan at the Regent Singapore hotel can also boast of having the world’s first in-hotel rickhouse, where more than 100 oak barrels age whiskies and other spirits. The America Whiskey Embassy programme features 200 varieties, including rare collectibles like Pappy van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Years. The solera-aged Negroni has traditionally been a top seller, though the bar’s new trolley service (where staff mix a punchbowl tableside) and the adults-only Sunday Cocktail Brunch (featuring Thai sticky rice in liquid form) are also top draws.
Tippling Club has forged a path for inventive cocktail pairing since its British chef-owner Ryan Clift’s 2008 arrival and it now ranks seventh among Asia’s 50 Best Bars. Clift works with head bartender Andrew Loudon on entertaining concepts such as a ‘perfume’ menu, which Clift says ‘focuses on igniting one’s senses’. Developed with perfume house International Flavours and Fragrances, the cocktails are a mashup of rose, osmanthus and sandalwood flavours, designed with the top, middle and basenote structure of a classic fragrance. July 2019 will see the duo launch a new madcap menu inspired by the peach melba dessert and other renowned dishes from chef Auguste Escoffier.