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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 eight years ago,’ says Ivan Brehm, chef of one-Michelin-starred Nouri.
Julien Royer of three Michelin-starred 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.
Touch down in Singapore, and one of your first bar-hopping stops should be Native. The most creative of Vijay Mudaliar’s cocktails pay tribute to local Peranakan culture with cocktails infused with pandan, dragonfruit 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, while Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic made their Singapore debuts in 2020 with BBR by Alain Ducasse and La Dame de 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 was held in Asia – and Singapore played host on 25 June 2019. (In another win for inclusivity, it was the first time there was an even split of male/female industry voters.) It also hosted the Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards for 2019 and 2020.
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 monkfish liver with uni; fatty blackthroat sea perch from Tsushima; and rare delicacies such as golden ikura (Yamame trout roe). Premium junmai daiginjo sakes from breweries such as Hakurakusei 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 2020 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 Hokkigai clams. ‘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 dishes – squab pigeons and saffron pasta – along with delights such as pear turnover with whisky caramel.
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). 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 and retained a place on the 2020 list. In the convivial open kitchen, chefs prep the ‘familiar mixed with the unfamiliar’ to create dishes like strawberry and kimchi served with an oscietra caviar, and the beef marmalade, accompanied by a bueh keluak mole sauce.
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 1,300 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). Ranked 18th on 2020’s 50 Best Bars list, Vijay Mudaliar’s standout cocktails also celebrate 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.
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 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 150 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 are also top draws.
Tippling Club has forged a path for inventive cocktail pairing since its British chef-owner Ryan Clift’s 2008 arrival. As of 2020, it ranks 17th among Asia’s 50 Best Bars – and made its debut on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Clift works with head bartender Andrew Loudon on evocative concepts, from the menacing sounding Blood & Sand (Old Perth whisky, vermouth, cherry and orange) to The Campfire, including gin, citrus and hickory.
This article was originally published in June 2019 and updated in November 2020