Eight places in Singapore tailor Kevin Seah raves about – for eating, drinking, culture and shoe shining
From the best cigars, the rarest whiskies and finest wines to delicious street food and the world’s best shoe shine, craftsman Seah gives his tips on the top places to go in Singapore
Kevin Seah is Singapore’s finest bespoke tailor. But it’s not just the quality of his sartorial craftsmanship that sets Seah apart from his contemporaries.
Seah fully embraces his Southeast Asian roots, and blends the best materials and savoir-faire of the East and West. His favourite destinations in the city state blend European tradition, local savvy and “New Asian” creative thinking.
Mason & Smith Shoe Shine Bar
“John Chung is a very dedicated, sharp guy – totally dedicated to his craft, the shoeshine. I first met him about five years ago, he was a young guy, passionate about what he was doing and I thought I’d give his service a try. I was highly impressed, and eventually I offered him a space at my shop.
“Though he’s out on his own now, it makes me proud to have seen him grow up to be the world shoeshine champion, a title he collected this year. He’s like a younger brother, and he’s doing a brilliant job.”
La Casa Cubana (a.k.a. Jimmy’s)
“Where else in this country can you find the best cigars, the rarest whiskies and fine wines? Though it’s officially named La Casa Cubana, the place is more commonly known as Jimmy’s, after the owner. Jimmy is a very passionate guy.
“If you go there you’re bound to get an education on where the cigar you’ve ordered is from, its full history, provenance and tasting notes; same with the wine. Jimmy’s is an institution, I go there to be educated by Jimmy. He’s such a generous guy, teaching and sharing his wisdom.”
“They make you feel like you’re so welcome, it’s almost like you’re in a close friend’s home. The service is always perfect, they take care of you, take the time to learn what you like to eat. And the food is proper, authentic Italian – beautiful but not pretentious.
“Every time I go, I walk out happy. It’s all about the experience, which is totally comforting. In a way it’s the opposite of walking into some church-like Michelin star place where you often get a bit overwhelmed, intimidated, and feel like you need to speak in hushed tones. At OSO, you can’t help but feel comfortable. You can just relax and have a good time, enjoying great food and wine.”
National Gallery of Singapore
“First of all, the architecture is amazing – they spent half a billion [Singapore] dollars modernising the buildings, which used to be the City Hall and Supreme Court. And I’m really fascinated by Southeast Asian art.
“The National Gallery has a terrific collection, from traditional to contemporary, and I often find myself being inspired for my own work by a line or motif or a combination of colours I see in a painting there. There are a lot of very good Singaporean artists who may not be famous worldwide, but they create very inspiring work, a lot of which takes you back to the old days, the ‘Old Singapore’ we grew up in.”
“I find this place really interesting because it represents the new movement of wine, focused on natural, New World style wines, which takes you away from that wine snobbery a lot of people have, where they only drink vintage French wine. The stuff you get at Wine RVLT shows you can get just the same pleasure drinking 2015 New Zealand organic wine, or even an Eastern European wine made by really passionate people who want to break away from tradition.
“Those winemakers, their approach is similar to what we’re doing – understanding and respecting tradition but breaking away from it a bit and giving it a modern spin, making it less snobby. That’s what we do with a suit.”
“What attracts me to Auld Alliance is very similar to what I love about Jimmy’s. The owner, Emmanuel Dron, has got the best selection of whisky you’ll ever find, certainly in Singapore, maybe the region, I dare say the world. And again, you don’t just go there for a drink, you go for an education.
“Emmanuel has just written a book, an encyclopaedia of whisky, which I recently ordered – it’s huge, it weighs 12 kilos! He spent years and years of research, going to distilleries, talking to collectors, getting photos, studying labels. He knows what’s legit just by looking at the label. He’s like an obsessive Japanese otaku, but French. My whisky education came from him.”
“The whole interior is just mind blowing. You won’t find another bar that looks like this. It’s worth visiting purely to take in the decor alone. But they also have one of the largest collections of gin and vermouth you’ll find anywhere in the world, and they serve outstanding cocktails.
“So it’s got everything – an amazing ambience, a unique aesthetic, and they serve very good drinks. For anything from a business meeting to a date, this place is a winner.”
“For local food, I always take visitors to Newton Circus hawker centre. You can try every single variety of Singapore street food there. Go there late at night, soak up the smoke and the heat – that’s proper Singapore style.
“And pretty much anywhere you order from, you’ll get proper hawker food. I personally favour the sambal stingray, barbecue squid, and of course, you can’t miss the signature Singapore chilli crab.”