Singapore is fast becoming the food and beverage destination of SE Asia. During my first visit 10 years ago, I discovered that Singapore offered great SE asian cusine (Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Thai cuisine) at its many government-regulated and clean hawker centers. Singapore even offers its own traditional dishes: chicken rice made famous by Bourdain's visit to Maxwell's hawker center, or the very popular chilli crab.
However, good cocktails were hard to come by in Singapore. Restaurant bar Tippling Club had just opened, but there was nothing else of importance until 2011, when NY-style cocktail bar 28 HongKong Street opened its doors, sparking a cocktail bar revolution in the South East Asia city state, which now sees 6 bars on the coveted World’s 50 Best Bars list, third only to London (8) and New York (7). That’s hard to believe for a city once famous for the ultrasweet Singapore Sling at Raffles.
Here is a list of my best experiences while in Singapore organized under categories Cocktails, Coffee and Food.
1880 is an all-in members club in Singapore conceived by Marc Nicholson, who grew up in a family where strong opinions were encouraged. 1880 goes against the grain of a traditional members club, encouraging diversity. The goal of 1880 is to stimulate new conversations that have a positive impact on the world. You can read more about Marc’s inspirations for building 1880 in this article he penned. 1880 features a co-working space, spa, yoga studio, cinema, restaurant and cocktail bar. It even features grooming facilities - perfect for the vagabond in me who often forgets to trim his hair and beard. The club is located within a 22,000 square foot space on the third floor of city’s latest development project, Quayside at Robertson Quay, next to the Singapore River.
The access point to 1880 is via the Hotel InterContinental with a beautiful escalator surrounded by mirrors with psychedelic lights. It's like being inside a huge kaleidoscope, and the hallucinogenic effect is the perfect gateway for the magic that awaits inside 1880 upstairs. Thanks to Rachel Ling for the awesome video and Eric Chomicz for the beautiful photos of the escalator and private phone booths at 1880.
1880 has a slick interior design with furniture and styling by Timothy Oulton and construction by SpaceMatrix. Timothy Oulton explains on his web site: “In conceiving 1880’s overall design, we want to respond to the fact that its members are incredibly dynamic and their lifestyle involves a lot of travel, irregular work hours, late nights and early mornings. 1880 promises to be that space in between, offering an antidote to these pressures, a place to decompress, a space for inspiration."
The flagship bar at 1880, which is open Friday and Saturday night and for special events, is hidden behind thick black drapes, making you feel like you’re entering a privée within the already exclusive club. Called "The Double", it features a bar counter made entirely of a five meter long log! You can also get a cocktail from the members lounge area which is open toujours. The members lounge features a backbar with a breathtaking dragon design carved into the wall.
Although there aren't hundreds of bottles lining the back bars, you will only find the top quality products at 1880. This underscores their philosophy - Simple, but of the highest possible expression. My favorite cocktail is Meadow, an easy drinking but meditation worthy cocktail featuring Gin, lemongrass, pandan, yuzu and carbonated Ceylon Souchong. The food is also awesome - don't miss the burger, which Rusty assures me is the best in Singapore! They also have great oysters and finger food.
Let’s rewind back to 2008 when chef Ryan Clift opened Tippling Club. The star chef launched during difficult financial times but he persevered, inspiring a new global trend combining high end gastronomy with superb mixology. Bartending elite such as Luke Whearty, Joel Fraser, Zachary De Git, Yugnes Susela and Kamil Foltan, have all worked closely with chef Ryan Clift over the years. At the helm the past two years is Joe Schofield, who has created some of the most unique menus on the planet. Last year, Schofield and Clift visited International Flavors and Fragrances labs and came up with the imaginative menu “Sensorium” based on perfume sticks placed on a cocktail strainer. These relatable scents are designed to trigger memories which help you in selecting your cocktail, which give you a similar sensorial experience as the perfume stick.
This year Schofield has come up with the world’s first edible menu named “Dreams & Desires” based on gummy bears. The cute gummy bears are served in a paper bag and by nibbling on these tasty treats, he hopes to evoke our innermost dreams and desires through taste. Each gummy bear and twin cocktail is named after a particular dream or desire and is infused with the associated flavors. With Joe Schofield moving back to England with his brother Daniel (of Coupette London), we look forward to see what’s next for Tippling Club under the guidance of the next head bartender Andy Loudon.
Manhattan Bar at the Regent is an elegant hotel bar designed by the team at 28 contains the world's only rickhouse, where Philip Bischoff and his team barrel age cocktails. You will even see signature barrels, with cocktails that have been formulated by the biggest names in the cocktail world. At Manhattan, they even have a stylish ingredient lab, where you see an amazing assortment of exotic ingredients that the team is studying for the cocktail menu. The highlight of the bar however is bar itself, where each bottle is individually lit, making for a dramatic experience each time you enter Manhattan Bar.
Asia's Best Bar for two years in a row, Manhattan has won over the hearts of the voting community thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Philip, Roland, Susan and the best and most tightly-knit bar team in the world headed by Cedric. Manhattan is a glamorous bar, but it's dim and sexy lighting will make you feel at ease in more casual clothes. Take a seat at the bar in front of the slickest backbar in the world and marvel and that perfect piece of ice that Frank, Sophia, Tim and Gab use to prepare their stunning cocktails.
Tippling Club alumnus Luke Whearty opened Operation Dagger in the basement of a residential building, serving inventive cocktails made using techniques you’d expect to find in a chemistry laboratory. Wheartys’s creative departure from the usual classics was inspired by his boredom of encountering the same old cocktails all over the world.
Whearty’s menu at Operation Dagger makes no mention of the spirits, so the customer can instead focus on the other ingredients that provide the soul of a cocktail. You will also notice nondescript brown bottles behind the bar, some of which contain spirits that are redistilled and infused with new flavors. Just like his menu, Luke’s goal is to take the emphasis away from brand names and preconceived biases, allowing his customers to better experience the intricately woven flavors that make up his drinks. This is a breath of fresh air our industry and it make his success in the brand-driven World’s 50 Best Bars list even more impressive.
Luke Whearty, like Matt Whiley of Scout London, is a major proponent of fermented drinks, devoting an entire section of Dagger’s menu to natural wines. The highlight is the Cabbage wine in which Luke naturally ferments red cabbage, rose vinegar and red apples using lactobacillus cultures for a week in his underground lab. The result is a pleasantly tart and floral drink that can pair well with many food dishes.
In fact at Operation Dagger, Whearty has managed to elegantly pair his cocktails and ferments with delicious food, a very challenging feat. This trend is now catching on even in Italy with Filippo Sisti’s chef’s table at TALEA Milano offering a 5-course cocktail/dish tasting menu.
One of the most talked about new openings in Singapore is Native, headed by talented Vijay Mudaliar (ex-Operation Dagger). The concept at Native is daring but refreshingly original. The idea is to source spirits and ingredients exclusively from SE Asia. That obviously means no Agave-based drinks here. However as Vijay and bartender Leon Tan explained, there are great spirits in the region, including Chalong Bay Thai rum, Paper Lantern Gin from Singapore, Ceylon Arrack from Sri Lanka, and Amrut Whisky from India. Instead of using citrus fruits, the bartenders find creative ways of incorporating acidity into their drinks such as the fermentation acid from Korean kimchi.
Vijay's decision to source locally goes against the grain in Singapore, where restaurants and bars often use ingredients that are shipped from lands far away. The regional concept at Native extends even beyond the drinks, with bar aprons, decorations and music all provided by local artists. Native is another bar following the welcomed trend of eco-friendly bars. Native is solar-powered and minimizes waste through reusable coasters made of banana stalk and straws made of lotus stems.
Vijay was inspired to work with ingredients he grew up with like mango, turmeric, cinnamon, and tapioca. He is also into foraging new ingredients for his creative drinks with one interesting example being the weaver ants used in the Antz cocktail (Chalong Bay Thai rum with aged sugarcane vinegar, coconut yogurt, salt-baked tapioca and soursop topped with ants on a frozen basil leaf). The ants add a pleasant acidity (and crunchiness) to the savory drink. Their latest masterpiece is called Grasshopper – a far cry from the classic New Orleans cocktail. Native’s version combines Chalong Bay rum, wheatgrass, lemongrass, Thai basil and coconut ice cream and actual grasshoppers! It’s a complex drink that evolves beautifully as the ice cream slowly melts in the drink.
Junior is the intimate 10-seat bar in the back of the head office of Proof and Company, the outfit that owns 28 HongKong Street and helped launch Manhattan, ATLAS, Charles H and this summer will complete renovation of the historic Raffles Hotel. Junior is a concept bar, following a theme which switches up every 6 months. Their latest concept is Magnolia, a tribute to the great classics of New Orleans.
Head bartender Peter Chua and creative director Joe Alessandroni have come up with an epic list of classic NOLA drinks, with subtle twists that are improvements on the originals. The most popular drink on the menu is the Truffle Sazerac with Pierre Ferrand Renegade Brandy Eau De Vie de Vin, Michter’s Rye whiskey, rich demerara syrup, Rare Tea Cellars Truffle Bitters, Scrappy’s Orleans bitters, 2 dashes absinthe glass rinse and a lemon peel garnish.
The rotating theme has also found traction in Italy, with Iter Milano periodically changing their fusion Italian menu. However at Junior, the bar gets an entire makeover each six months including the drink and food menu, interior design, artwork, music and even the bartender's uniform.
ATLAS is a vibrant all-day venue for dining and drinking featuring a gin tower, holding over 1,000 bottles of gin, the largest collection of its kind. As you approach ATLAS in a taxi, you will be in complete awe of the majestic building just outside the central business district, which follows classic Art Deco style.
As you enter the lobby bar, your eyes will be uncontrollably drawn towards the 15-meter high ornate ceiling and then its gin tower. One of the biggest tasks of the ATLAS project was given to Master of Gin Jason Williams, who was responsible for accumulating the largest collection of gin in the world. Williams estimates there are now at least 2,000 gins in the world and as of today, ATLAS bar had secured 1,200 of them.
The head bartender is Roman Foltan, previously of the Artesian in London which won World’s Best Bar for four years running. The highlight of the menu is the Vintage Martini cocktail section, allowing you to discover the different style of Martinis over the decades with both vintage gin and vermouth bottles. The entry point is 30 EUR for a 1990s Martini up to 150 EUR for a 1920s version. The most popular drink on the menu is the signature ATLAS martini (London dry gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters and champagne vinegar), which is a more delicate version of the classic, and better suited to the local palate. Every self-respecting cocktail enthusiast should visit Singapore to experience the magic of ATLAS, perhaps the best place in the world to drink a gin martini.
The Other Room
The Other Room is a totally original concept for a cocktail bar. Even though it's located in the Marriott Tang Plaza hotel, it took us a while to figure out where the entrance was. But that's part of the excitement, isn't it? Once inside the beautiful and dimly lit space, you will be treated to world-class hospitality and delicious drinks made with house made ingredients and cask finished spirits. Dario Knox is a true innovator in the industry and with The Other Room, he has the coolest new bar in Singapore.
My favorite drink from the current menu is the Sir Winston Churchill with Guatemalan Coffee Beans finished Dictador 12 Rum, Angostura Bitters, Chocolate Bitters, Sugar, Wide Churchill Romeo y Julieta Smoke.
You want a sign that Singapore has an important cocktail scene? Employees Only. The highly-lauded NY institution has opened up shop in Chinatown thanks to Steve Schneider and Igor Hadzismajlovic. When I visited EO SG, Igor was managing the floor - and what a job he does. He gracefully glides from one table to another, making sure all of his patrons are jovial. He's an adorable guy and is without a doubt, of the keys to EO Singapore's success. At the bar you can admire bar star Steve's magical free pouring and enjoy one of the best made drinks in Singapore. Steve also has the best bartending podcast in history.
28 Hong Kong Street
Owners Paul, Spencer and Snehal met 10 years ago while doing law gigs in NY. They all shared a common passion for cocktail bars, and were particularly inspired by the drinking institution Employees Only. Pursuing various new ventures in booming Singapore, they decided to put some cash together to come up with 28 Hong Kong Street, a NY style cocktail bar in a country with almost zero drinking culture. The big risk paid off. In the first year they made the World's 50 best and they are still there 7 years later. 28 paved the way for many new cocktail bars in Singapore, even if Tippling laid the initial ground work. At 28, you can be sure to have amazing drinks, delicious american-inspired comfort food, friendly people and still, the most beautiful bar team in the world. I'm looking at you Rainbow!
Thanks to Kathleen Wong, 28 has always had great food, perhaps the best of any cocktail bar in Singapore.
Zee first told me about this project a couple years back. He was inspired by Bar Basso, the quintessential aperitivo bar in Milano famous for inventing the Negroni Sbagliato. While in Milano Bar Basso is slightly run down and feels like you're stepping back in time when you walk in, Marcello is quite the opposite. It's an elegant and modern twist on Basso, with great negroni variations and awesome bar food thanks to the shared space with Publico. Marcello is also home to the largest collection of amaros in Singapore. Bar manager Palmira Bertuca is a great host with an infectious smile. You must visit her for a great negroni before heading up to 1880 to end the night.
Caffe Fernet is an Italian-inspired cocktail bar/restaurant with one of the best views in Singapore. Enjoy a Negroni variation from Aki and Cherrie while savoring the best Cacio e Pepe outside of Italy. Congrats Indra and friends for another great spot!
CE LA VI offers a stunning view of Singapore from atop Tower 3 of Marina Bay Sands. The view event beats the one at Spago on Tower 2. Come to CE LA VI to sip on a drink while the sun sets. CE LA VI greatly benefits from the management of Din Hassan, who makes all of his guests feel like home.
Once you enter Free the Robot an instant feeling of serenity will come over you, in part thanks to the large overhead skylight, which provides a soft natural lighting to the neutral colored cafe. The honest smiles from the staff also provide a calming influence, as you sit down to recharge on a coffee made by the talented Nora, my idol when it comes to coffee. Running the morning crew is Fiona, who is awesome to chat with up at the bar. At 5pm, Free the Robot transforms into a dope cocktail bar called Bitters and Love, featuring homemade syrups and the freshest possible juices and fruits.
Nylon Coffee Roasters is located in a mixed residential/commercial building in Everton Park. These guys made me a killer V60 of Danbi Uddo (Ethiopia). Although this place is a bitch to find and is cash only, it's definitely worth a trip. Nylon's baristas are up there with Nora in terms of skill. Thanks Yoma for the great recommendation!
Common Man is a great 3rd wave coffee roaster in Singapore that has two locations: Martin Road and Stanley Street.
Yan Kee BK Eating house
Open 24 hours and offering exquisite bak chor mee, Yan Kee Noodle House is a stone's throw from 28 HongKong Street and Skinny's Lounge. As such, you're sure to stumble into slightly intoxicated bartenders such as the awesome guys of The Curator, in town to do guest shifts during Singapore cocktail festival.
Props to Joe for bringing us to this dope place. I ordered the Crispy Balinese Marinated Duck, Pork Wontons & QQ noodles. It is a drug, be warned.
Liao Fan Hawker Chan/Hongkong Soya Sauce chicken
Although many foodies hold Sinagpore's hawker centers in high regard, it caught everyone off guard when Hong Kong soya sauce chicken in the Chinatown complex market and food centre won a Michelin star back in July. I headed there to check out what all the fuss was about. To my dismay, they had already finished all their food for the day at around 2pm.
However, they suggested I try their new 80-seat restaurant, which chef and owner Chan Hon Meng opened in November. Located 3 minutes away from the food stand at 78 Smith St in Chinatown, the new restaurant is extremely touristy, with the sign outside boasting the "cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world".
At 3pm, I waited about an hour for a delicious combination meal of soya sauce chicken/char siew with noodles and gai lan. I prefered the fatty and crispy char siew to the soya sauce chicken, but for me the highlight was the black bean sauce and noodles. Although the restaurant wasn't as cheap (12 SGD, 8€) as the stand, at least there was air conditioning! Is it worth the wait? If you have 2 hours for lunch, why not!
Friendly staff with great brunch and good coffee - the perfect cure for a hangover can be found at Punch, conveniently close to 28HKS.
Khansama Tandoor restaurant
For the best northern Indian cuisine, head to Khansama. The highlights of the meal were the paneer butter masala, butter chicken, lamb vindaloo, Rumali roti and paneer
For the best south Indian restaurant in Singapore, check out MTR, by now a world-famous chain. I recommend the dosa or masala dosa. Delicious!
For great dim sum in chinatown (Neil Road), I recommend Jing Hua. Start with their Zha Jiang noodles with minced pork and soya bean sauce before enjoying their delicious Xiao Long Bao steamed pork dumplings. For dessert, a must have is the rose water rice ball soup.
Perhaps the best hawker center is Tekka in Little India, obviously specializing in indian food. Check out the amazing butter chicken at Al-Madina and the biryani at Yakader.
People's Park hawker center
For great chinese food, hit up Hawker center People's Park, located in chinatown. Focusing mainly on chinese food, People's Park is one of the grimiest hawker centers in Singapore. However, it's one of the best thanks to the Sichuan hot pot, spicy dumplings and curry laksa pictured below.