Where to find Hong Kong-like hang-outs in Singapore

Next time you’re in Singapore, you could check out the places on this list, which might remind you of some of your favourite venues back home

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 5:19pm

If you’re taking a trip to the Lion City any time soon, you may already have shopping on Orchard Road, riding the Singapore Flyer, sipping a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel and tasting some famous chilli crab on your list of things to do. But unless you want to end up in Boat Quay or Clarke Quay (think Lan Kwai Fong or Wan Chai), the secret to hitting the tastiest and trendiest places to eat and drink in Singapore is knowing where to go.

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Unlike clustered Hong Kong Island, where you can saunter through SoHo and take your pick of places, or venture farther down the road to Sai Ying Pun if need be, Singapore’s buzzing enclaves of eateries and watering holes are spread out. The city state boasts a diverse variety of small, unique places in pockets situated in various neighbourhoods that are frequented by locals and expats alike. Here is a guide to select Singaporean hang-outs and similar Hong Kong spots, so you’ll feel right at home as you wine or dine. It can also serve as a handy guide to Singaporeans visiting Hong Kong.

Let’s start with breakfast. If you’re a fan of an American-style diner experience akin to that of The Diner in Hong Kong, with its burgers, booths and bar stools, then Clinton St Baking Company is the place for you. There is no Clinton Street in Singapore– it takes its name from the New York original and is conveniently located near the Raffles Hotel. Make sure to order a Bellini with fruit puree, as well as the blueberry pancakes, which are light and come with maple butter. The bakery’s buttermilk chicken (available after 11.30am) is also delicious. The portions here are big, so it’s worth ordering to share.

If you like the vibe at Hong Kong’s Classified – airy, open-fronted and relaxed – then Club Street Social is the perfect lunch spot for you. Also not situated where its moniker might suggest, it’s on Gemmill Lane, just a stone’s throw from the popular Club Street area, close to Chinatown. Its farro “risotto” with spinach, lemon and goat’s cheese is healthy but hearty, and it also offers a range of breakfast options. For dinner, the pumpkin soup with feta dumplings is a must. An industry hang-out, where other chefs and bartenders in the area spend their time when they’re off duty, you won’t be disappointed in the food or selection of drinks.

Head around the corner and you’ll find Ding Dong, a livelier, brighter (above-ground) version of Hong Kong’s Ho Lee Fook, with a much bigger bar area and colourful vintage posters from around Asia that wallpaper the interior. You won’t be disappointed with the fun and playful atmosphere (ring the giant “Ding Dong” bell as you leave to show them you’ve had a good time), speedy service or the menu, which casually deconstructs the dishes. You’ll find yourself munching on items such as dehydrated cherry tomatoes and shallot powder, but without the pretentiousness you might find in other places doing similar dishes. Try the Vietnamese Scotch egg, and wagyu beef char siu (it competes with the ribs at Ho Lee Fook), or if you can’t decide what to order, ask them about their “Feed Me” menu, and the staff will put together a sharing or tasting menu to suit your tastes. Although your cocktails won’t all be served in a bubble tea cup, the Ding Dong Daiquiri does come in a plastic slushie cup.

Yardbird in Hong Kong and Neon Pigeon in Singapore are birds of a feather. Both serve succulent Japanese cuisine and great cocktails, and the atmosphere is usually buzzing. Neon Pigeon describes itself as a modern, urban izakaya, and derives its name from two influences: Neon refers to an affectionate name given to Tokyo, Neon City; and Pigeon brings to mind that urban vibe – pigeons being a common sight in cities around the world. With its underground vibe and fantastic menu, you’ll leave well sated. The good thing about Neon Pigeon is you can book a table in advance, but the service is not as good as Yardbird’s.

For Caribbean food in Singapore, Lime House is your spot. While it doesn’t sit beachside, like Limewood in Repulse Bay, it makes up for it in character. Situated in an old shophouse just off colourful Keong Saik Road, its shuttered facade is deceptive – inside, it’s decorated in reggae colours with multiple posters, and has a delectable choice of Caribbean delights on the menu. This is a pure Caribbean experience, unlike the fusion fare at Limewood, but the cheerful atmosphere and superb cocktails match up to one another. Similar to Limewood, there’s also a separate drinking space. Upstairs, you can step back in time at Bago (rhymes with sago) – a fantastic rum bar with a distinctly nostalgic Caribbean island feel.

If you’re after more rum in Singapore, head to Sugarhall. With its rope and wood decor, it will be the pirate’s life for you here. Chow down on charcoal-grilled fare and indulge in a glass or more of rum from a selection of more than 100 in stock. Try one of its exclusive rums from the “Flagship Voyage” collection; we recommend the Sugarhall x BBR Caroni 1997, 17 years old. With its creative rum cocktails, reggae, ska and vintage Latin beats, and convivial atmosphere, it’s the Rummin’ Tings of Singapore and a great place for a night out with friends.

A real gem in Singapore is hidden in a 1960s shophouse facade. 28 Hongkong Street is a word-of-mouth venue that serves unbeatable drinks with hand-cut ice and organic ingredients. Similar to Hong Kong’s Quinary, in terms of clientele, decor and sophisticated, New York lounge feel, but with the private ambience more akin to Ham & Sherry’s Back Bar or other intimate speakeasies, this is a great choice if you’re on a date. 28 Hongkong Street focuses on artisanal spirits, and also classic cocktails and its signature reinterpretations of them. These guys don’t miss a beat and you’re sure to notice their attention to detail in your cocktail. For molecular cocktails like those Quinary might serve, check out Operation Dagger in Singapore.

For a bar with views that can rival those of Ozone or Aqua, but with a less “clubby” feel and more of the calm classiness of Cafe Gray, you’ll feel at home at LeVel 33 in Singapore. The terrace boasts unparalleled views of Marina Bay Sands, and although it’s on the 33rd floor, there’s a functioning microbrewery at the heart of operations. Try the aptly named signature cocktail Skylight, with vodka, spicy mango syrup, fresh lime, sugar and soda. Be sure to book ahead, because much like Sevva or Armani bars in Hong Kong, LeVel 33 is located in the central business district and is a popular watering hole after work.

For the day after all that boozing, the go-to brunch place of choice in Singapore is P.S.Cafe. It’s a great “default” option and fab for families – think Oolaa in Hong Kong. With superb coffee and a wide selection of cakes on offer, there are brunch dishes to suit every palate. Be sure to check out the daily specials board. Although the range isn’t as extensive as Oolaa’s, the flavour and quality of the food make up for it, and this place also comes up trumps in terms of character. The outlet on Harding Road in Dempsey Hill is set in an old army barracks, backed by jungly green foliage, gigantic trees, and a lawn for children to run around on. While it doesn’t take brunch bookings at weekends, and tends to get very busy, it does provide lounge chairs for you to bide your time if you have to wait for a table.