Singapore is a confluence of nationalities and cultures, something which is reflected in the dining scene across the city-state.
It’s also somewhere that can seriously hit your bank balance when you’re exploring with your tastebuds. If you want to treat your inner gourmand to a Champagne lifestyle on a beer budget, this round-up of eclectic hotspots will keep you satisfied while leaving you with enough money for a shopping spree along Orchard Road.
Here are some options.
If you’re after a sexy, contemporary trattoria, &Sons is the place. Wooden stools line the long black bar before you reach a chequered floor littered with square tables and backed by shelves of wine bottles.
Located on Cross Street, China Square Central, you’ll find artisanal Italian small plates, like roasted snails with Parmesan gratin and tagliatelle with truffle pesto, plus Italian wine and beer.
Small groups get the best of &Sons if they order a range of dishes (though single travellers or couples can easily do this, if they’re hungry). According to the restaurant, it’s the only place in Singapore that cures its own meat on-site, so order their salami platter with high expectations.
2. Nude Seafood
Even when it’s packed, Nude Seafood sends out fish dishes so promptly you’re unlikely to be waiting long. Inside Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower, it’s a popular lunch haunt for CBD workers. Highlights of the menu, built around one-dish meals, include the salmon, which is hickory smoked before being grilled, and barramundi roasted in brown butter.
All surprisingly affordable — though the elegant detail on each plate would have you thinking otherwise — and most dishes are available to take away. At dinner, bookings of four or more can choose a three- or four-course omakase of the day’s catch, which is combined with Nude Seafood’s classics to create a ‘seascape’ on curvy wooden boards.
If you get the chance, visit early: they can run out of the most popular dishes as all the fish is brought in fresh each day.
3. Fresh Fruit Lab
‘Laboratory chic’ doesn’t seem on-trend but somehow, in a quiet corner of Kembangan, the Fresh Fruits Lab manages to make it work. Any quirk is subtle, and the space is filled with light from hanging bulbs held by thin metal wire. Pale wooden chairs and tables resemble outdoor furniture (there’s even a strip of artificial grass to sit on).
Unsurprisingly given the name, the menu is prone to included experimental dishes, and there’s usually a fruity element (watermelon in the fish and chips side salad, anyone?). Food is no joke, however, with masago caviar pasta and sous vide chicken giving it authority as a serious, well-priced bistro. The vibe is casual, making it the ideal place to get away from the fuss of the city.
4. Tiong Bahru Market
The Tiong Bahru market sits surrounded by gentrification: apartments with art deco finishes, small shops specialising in fashion and homewares, and more. The market is resolutely steeped in heritage as one of the country’s oldest hawker centres, and arguably the best joint to experience an authentic Singaporean breakfast.
Downstairs, get the senses stirring with a stroll through the wet market before heading upstairs to eat. You’ll find an eclectic range of fusion street food, some more appetising than others — soup made using pig offal is one for the brave.
The standout dish is chwee kueh — steamed rice cakes — from Jian Bo, which you can pick up from under $3. The chwee kueh is served with a piquant chilli sauce and diced preserved vegetables. Also, try yuanyang before you leave: an interesting mix of coffee and tea.
5. Ronin Cafe
No chintz or unnecessary clutter in this thoroughly modern cafe. Inside, lights hang low inside copper lampshades, casting just enough light over rustic-style dark wood tables and up the walls (usually empty other than some mirrors, or exposed pipework).
Ronin is a real hidden gem cafe, not at all easy to find with an exterior that lacks any real signage (keep your eyes peeled for 17 Hong Kong Street). For those in the know, it’s a hipster favourite for breakfast and brunch, so be prepared should you need to queue.
The Brioche French toast packs a sweet punch, the drizzled syrup offset by the saltiness of crunchy bacon, and the scrambled eggs are smooth and creamy. Coffee is a real draw, from the bitter notes of a long black to their signature take on a cup o’ Joe, like The Wicked (a mocha infused with a shot of mint syrup, plus mint leaf on top).
6. Super Loco
A fun spot in Robertson Quay overlooking the river, Super Loco is Mexican cantina dressed in pastel shades as well as the bright colours reminiscent of the country’s festivals. The deep flavours of Mexican street food jumps off the menu, blending real tastes of ‘The Land of Enchantment’ with modern flair at a reasonable price.
Tacos, quesadillas and tostadas all go down easily but for a sharing experience choose the El Amigo selection, a substantial spread of seven dishes with a sweet finish. If you’re drinking, you can keep your alcohol Mexican with a wide range of tequila and mezcal.
Named after the Bacchus Roman festivals of revelry and freedom, Bacchanalia is an intimate fine dining restaurant on Hong Kong Street. Luxurious scarlet red arms chairs allow you to sink back as you eat in the dimly lit room, while above you a mass of bulbs encased in glass spheres give a bright starry sky.
Menus are set courses, with lunch made up of three courses and dinner a choice of three, five or seven. The restaurant sources ingredients from across the world, including fruit and vegetables form their own organic farm in Malaysia.
Dishes reflect their global culinary philosophy: a melting pot of produce from East to West, cooked and styled using authentic techniques to let the flavours do the talking. A popular dish is the scallops, borlotti beans and cacao, which you can find on most menus.
8. Chopsuey Cafe
When it’s busy, this convivial restaurant, nestled in a charming black and white house on Dempsey Hill, buzzes with upbeat vibes and good conversation. Chopsuey Cafe is predominately white, across floors and walls, made even brighter by floor-to-ceiling windows.
Colonial-style furnishings and giant pandan are just some of the details you’ll see dotted about the place as you slip into rattan chairs in front of granite-esque tables. Each dish comes to you neat as can be on the plate, or steaming in a bamboo basket.
Food is carefully curated to bridge traditional Chinese and influences of Anglo-Chinese meals found in the UK, USA and Australia. The Hainanese-style pork fillet demonstrates this, with tender meat swathed in a rich sweet and sour tomato sauce served with crinkle cut fries and edamame.
The tapas trend has grown across Singapore during the last five years, and Sabio is one of the best for combining indulgent eating out with sleek stylish design, all without hitting the wallet too hard.
Most importantly, a meal there does give you a true Spanish experience (the restaurant is between a Russian eatery and a French patisserie, so you get a very European jaunt if you wish). Imported wine, beer and spirits help wash down the mix of cold tapas (embutidos mixtos, a selection of cheese, sausages and ham, scream Iberia) and hot tapas (croquetas de jamón is a fail-safe addition to your spread).
Sabio doesn’t take reservations so get in early — though it’s fun to spend time gazing over the fusion of painted Catalan tiles with neo-industrial Sean Dix chairs.
10. Tekka Centre
Visit a landmark in Little India for fruit and vegetables, clothing and halal meat as well as the renowned hawker stalls — Tekka Centre is the closest Singapore has to the bustle of a South Asian bazaar.
A magnificent place for Indian food, there’s a fierce rivalry between Allauddin and Yakader over who serves the best biriyani. A lesser-known stall, SJ Tandoori, is perhaps the best of the lot, serving delicately spiced butter chicken and crisp naan bread as the speciality for under $5.
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