The lion's share

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am


The dim sum brunch at Jiang-Nan Chun in Singapore's Four Seasons Hotel is a popular weekend ritual. For S$58 (HK$355) a head, you'll get Peking duck, a choice of fish and meat mains and an unlimited amount of dim sum from about 100 choices. This is dim sum at its refined best - all made to order, so no stickiness or sogginess - under the new head chef, Alan Chan, a Hongkonger who has lived in Singapore for 10 years.

So far the record number of dishes tried was 60, set by a group of 11 teenagers.

When Singaporeans are eating breakfast, they are thinking of lunch, and when they have lunch, they are thinking about what to eat for dinner - not to mention all the snacks in between.Whether their insatiable appetites have spawned a glut of eateries or the other way around, there is an impressive choice on offer round the clock in the Lion City. You could start the day with toast and kaya (a custard-like spread made with coconut milk, egg, sugar and pandan leaves) at a corner coffee shop; eat cheap, safe street food for lunch and have dinner at a celebrity chef restaurant.

Singaporean food is a diverse and delicious display of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian as well as European cooking - indicative of all the cultures that have settled here. And the influx of influences continues - last month New York food gods, Dean & Deluca opened a deli full of alluring European and US artisanal produce at Orchard Central mall, a few floors down from the Asian Food Channel studios, where cooking classes covering Asian and Western cuisines are held regularly.

Some cultures have yielded delicious fusions: the Peranakan and Nonya, as the descendants of Malay - Chinese intermarriages are called, have a distinctive cuisine combining Chinese ingredients and local spices.

The Blue Ginger in Chinatown serves the best Peranakan food in town at very reasonable prices. All their dishes have an incredible depth of flavour, be it ayam buah keluak (braised chicken with tumeric, galangal and lemon grass with earthy Indonesian black nuts), chap chye masak tilek (cabbage with mushrooms in a prawn stock) or a rich and spicy beef rendang.

While brightly painted, shuttered shophouses in Chinatown or Little India provide their own ethnic cuisines, the many food or 'hawker' centres around town offer a mix of everything under one roof.

Named after the street hawkers who went through the city's health and safety clean-up, these centres make Singapore one of those rare places where you can eat street food without fearing the effects. (The stalls are even given a cleanliness rating.) Everyone eats at them. If they don't, they send their drivers to pick up food to eat at home.

Locals mark one of the tables with a box of tissues they've brought with them while they go in search of the best-looking dishes.

Some hawker centres are better than others but the ones on Maxwell Road and Old Airport Road are the locals' favourites. (See Power of 10 sidebar.)

At the other end of the scale, Marina Bay Sands is a symbol of the new Singapore. It's a gigantic, eye-catching structure that has given a point of interest to the skyline and brings in money through its hotel, shops and casino. Inside the mall is a signpost for 'Celebrity Restaurants', which leads to Daniel Boulud's Bistro Moderne, Wolfgang Puck's Cut and Mario Batali's Mozza (where you'll find the best pizza in town).

Two floors up, rubbing shoulders with Guy Savoy and overlooking the casino, is Waku Ghin. This Japanese restaurant is truly exclusive, with just 25 covers and two seatings a night; it only serves a 10-course tasting menu, which costs S$400 per head.

This is Sydney-based chef Tetsuya Wakuda's first foray outside Australia and zoomed to 39th in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list in April.

Diners come here for the sea urchin with marinated shrimp and caviar, crab legs steamed on a salt bed and wagyu beef (with, perhaps controversially, wasabi hand-grated on a piece of shark's fin) both cooked before you on a teppanyaki counter. The chefs are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The price is punchy, but the ingredients, preparation and service are all faultless. And the restaurant has just started a lunch service on Fridays which comprises a six-course menu at half the price.

Away from this celeb enclave, at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which looks as though a cruise liner has been shipwrecked on top of three skyscrapers, is Justin Quek's restaurant, Sky on 57.

A Singaporean of Teochew descent, Quek is proud to be the only local chef to helm a restaurant at Marina Bay Sands. His impressive menu includes foie gras braised in soy sauce in the same style as Teochew braised duck and xiao long bao filled with foie gras and truffle consomme. The tasting menu ends with beef noodles - a classic late-night, post-drinking snack at the hawker centres. Quek's version comes with wagyu beef and the alcohol included - a spritz of Johnnie Walker Blue Label added to the broth before you.

On the other side of the bay at Jaan, two things are important: the 70th-floor view and the food. The room is deliberately low key, and the tables are lit by spotlights, so in between staring at the skyline, you can concentrate on the food. Chef Andre Chiang has moved on to open his own restaurant, but the cooking here is still excellent and delivered with all the flourishes associated with French fine dining. Standouts include a 55-degree smoked egg - which is cracked and poured into a dish in front of you, a nod to how eggs are served in the coffee shops - and an incredible two-day confit beef short ribs.


The Blue Ginger
97 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6222 3928

Swissotel Singapore
2 Stamford Road
Tel: 9199 9008

Jiang-Nan Chun
Four Seasons Hotel
190 Orchard Boulevard
Tel: 6831 7220

Sky on 57
Marina Bay Sands
Sands Skypark Tower One
Tel: 6688 8857

Waku Ghin
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 8507


Best 10 eats for S$10 (HK$61) or less

Killiney Kopitiam, the original kaya toast joint, is still going strong. Served with two soft-boiled eggs and a cup of kopi (coffee with condensed milk).
20 branches - original location: 67 Killiney Road; tel: 6734 9648

For pan-fried foie gras at S$7 a serving, head for Saveur. It started out as a hawker stall but now is a full-service, if modest, restaurant.
5 Purvis Street; tel: 6333 3121

Hainanese chicken rice is best prepared at Tian Tian. The chicken is wonderfully soft, the rice well coated in chicken stock and the chilli sauce has lime juice not vinegar.
Stall 10, Maxwell Food Centre, 2 Murray Street

Locals will tell you that Sin Huat Seafood has been over-popularised by Anthony Bourdain, so go to Hua Yu Wee Seafood for chilli crab (above). Its chilli sauce is not too sweet or spicy. 462 Upper East Coast Road; tel: 6442 9313

Laksa (below) has many stalls vying for the top spot, but a favourite is 328 Katong Laksa. Its coconut milk with chilli, galangal and minced shrimp is a winner.
216 East Coast Road; tel: 9732 8163

Hill Street Tai Hwa is the best place in town for bak chor mee - al dente noodles, minced pork in a chilli vinegar sauce.
466 Crawford Lane; tel: 6292 7477

No 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow specialises in char kway teow - flat noodles fried in lard and black sauce with bean sprouts, egg and cockles. Zion Road Riverside Food Centre

Nam Sing makes traditional hokkien mee - fried egg noodles in prawn and shrimp stock - wok-fried before the addition of the stock.
Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Road; tel: 6440 5340

Skewers of chicken are marinated in lemon grass, grilled and then dipped in roasted peanut sauce at Rosaraihanna Soto & Satay.
Golden Mile Food Centre, 505 Beach Road

Rumours abound that the Sultan of Brunei sends a private jet to pick up nasi lemak at Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak. Whether that's true or not, the dish of coconut rice, egg, fried chicken and sambal paste is superb.
Adam Road Food Centre

Note: Singapore's IDD prefix is +65