The Gourmand’s Guide: Singapore

Singapore is nothing short of a foodie’s playground. After all, dining (along with shopping) is said to be the island city-state’s national past time. At street level you have the fieriest, most authentic and downright delicious dishes served up by local vendors, while the fine dining scene offers everything from celebrity chefs and award-winning international cuisine to uber-trendy hipster hangouts. 

In recent years, Singapore has become awash with gourmands, and for good reason too. Not only is it home to four main cuisines (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan), Singapore has also adopted a countless array of sub-category cuisines and international options to boot, making it one of the most diverse dining scenes in South-East Asia. But what’s most impresive is, whether these cuisines are found street-side at the smokey vendors, or in the finest of restaurants with world-renowned status’, the food in Singapore is served to an astonishingly high-standard.

Beginning with the street food, what you’ll first notice is that it is surprisingly “safe” compared to other South-East Asian street vendors. It doesn’t sit around in the heat all day and the vendors pride themselves on fresh recipes that have been handed down through generations. Expect to see the “national dish” of Chicken Rice on every street corner, as well as hot broths with steaming noodles and a whole heap of lip-smacking delicacies.

Here, we’ve selected a few of our favourite and most popular dishes synonymous with Singaporean street food, the ones you really won’t want to miss. But do not be afraid to explore further afield. Some of the best vendors are found in some unexpected places, and the variety of cuisines are never-ending.

Must-Try Hawker Grub

Hainanese Chicken Rice
If there is one dish that you simply cannot miss in Singapore (even if you tried), it is the famous Chicken Rice. Don’t be fooled by the simple-sounding name, this dish packs some complex and delicious flavours. Succulent breasts of chicken are boiled until tender before being plunged into a bowl of icy water to give the skin an incredible jellylike texture. The rice is then cooked in a homemade chicken stock to perfume the grains with added aromas of ginger and garlic. Tian Tian at the Maxwell Food Centre (Stall no. 10 & 11) is the most famous spot to grab this signature – so famous that even celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain raves about it.

Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow is the ultimate comfort food for Singaporeans. It doesn’t come much more gluttonous than a plate of stir-fried, silky rice noodles muddled with cockles, Chinese sausage and heaps of crispy pork fat. Some vendors have begun to introduce a more healthy version, using water or oil instead of lard, while others have simply upped the vegetable content. Our favourite “healthy” version can be found at No. 18 (Zion Riverside Food Centre on Zion Road), or for the real deal with oodles of sweet and savoury meat-filled goodness, try Hill Street Char Kway Teow on Bedok South Road.

If you spot a steaming bowl of orange-hued, fiery broth, it is probably Singapore’s famous Laksa. Refined recipes have been handed down through the generations, where juicy shrimps, fish cakes, tau pok and rice noodles are gently cooked in a richly spiced coconut gravy a bit like a curry. 328 Latong Laksa (51/53 East Coast Road) is undoubtedly the most popular spot for the best in town, and for an added hit of local bites, order a side of “otah-otah” (spiced mackerel cake grilled in banana leaf) or a few skewers of barbecued satay.

Hokkien Mee
Hokkien Mee sees a number of different versions across Asia (and even across the world), but in Singapore, there are just a few true varieties. As a generality, yellow noodles and bee hoon are stir-fried with garlic, eggs, soy sauce, bean sprouts, shrimp and squid, then sometimes pieces of crispy fried pork fat are added for extra “mmm”. Hokkien Mee can then take on either a wet or dry version, referring to how much broth/gravy is used. Geylang Lor 29 on East Coast Road is the best for the wet version (and they even use traditional charcoal cooking methods) while, Nam Sing Fried Hokkien Mee (Old Airport Road Food Centre) is the most popular place to catch the dry version. Be prepared to queue up for around twenty minutes to get your order in at both of these spots, but don’t be put off by the wait, it really is worth it.

Chilli Crab
Technically, chilli crab isn’t considered hawker food, but it is found all over the city and the best versions are found away from the fancier restaurants. Chilli crab in a sense does exactly what it says on the tin – a whole, fleshy crab resting in a fiery chilli sauce. But at the same time, this vibrant red dish comes in a number of varieties. The East Coast Food Centre offers the best quality and range, with Long Beach restaurant laying claim to serving up the first black pepper crab; No Signboard serving the best white pepper crab; and Jumbo Seafood with its Hong Kong style, sweet-yet-savoury chilli gravy. We’ll let you decide which is your favourite.

The Culinary Juggernauts

With such impressive cuisine at street level, Singapore’s high-end restaurants are having to work even harder to impress. Luckily for us, they are doing just that. This year’s S. Pellegrino list of Asia’s 50 Best restaurants includes eight restaurants from Singapore, with six of those ranking in the top 25.

But the Little Red Dot’s fine dining scene doesn’t limit itself to the stereotypes, and in fact, some of the most popular restaurants have gained popularity thanks to their non-conformist take on good food. Here we give you a taster of both: a selection of some of the biggest culinary players in Singapore’s fine dining world, alongside the coolest and most raved about restaurants that you simply must try.

Restaurant ANDRE
Restaurant ANDRE is the highest ranking Singapore-based restaurant on this year’s S. Pellegrino list (ranked at number six). It is the brainchild of multifaceted chef-owner André Chiang, which means a visit to Restaurant ANDRE is a very special experience indeed. Chiang has honed his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, and he has also trademarked his own unique food concept, Octaphilosophy™. As a forward-thinking chef, Andre Chiang analysed the characteristics of his own gastronomy and thus came up with eight unusual categories for which he crafts his cuisine: Unique, Texture, Memory, Pure, Terroir, Salt, South and Artisan. Each of his dishes can be attributed to one of these elements and they offer insight into the inspiration and story behind the creations.

To give you a real taster of the chef’s repertoire, Restaurant ANDRE serves up a 5-course set lunch and an 8-course dinner. All-time favourites remain on the menu, such as the Unique barigoule of purple artichokes and charcoaled baby barracuda, served with red sorrel and discs of a crunchy Granny Smith apple. The chef has also introduced a few new additions like the Gilardeau oyster ice-cream with an apple espuma, or the three “Chupa-Chup” lollipops flavoured like fruity cocktails (raspberry sangria, pineapple gin & tonic and an apple gin & tonic). For a fine dining experience, Restaurant ANDRE presents the very finest.

NOX – Dine in the Dark
NOX – Dine in the Dark could well be the most unique restaurant in Singapore – if not in Asia – which means any trip to the island-state should include a dinner at this extraordinary dining experience. The reason it’s so unique? NOX invites its guests to dine in total darkness, temporarily surrendering the dominant sense of sight in order to enhance your four other senses while you eat. It is a multi-sensory dining experience that opens your mind and focusses your taste buds, plunging you into an intriguing new world of mystery and sensation through taste, smell, touch and sound – totally blind. The meal showcases a three-course innovative prix fixe menu of Modern European cuisine curated by Chef de Cuisine Desmond Lee. Each course consists of four small dishes, with each one specifically curated to challenge and tease guests’ senses with a variety of flavours, textures and aromas. Is it lamb or is it beef? Poached peach or poached pear? Every bite makes you question, explore and re-think what you are tasting. Every flavour is intensified.

At the end of the meal, the dishes you just enjoyed are revealed. That crispy mix of sweet and meaty flavours turns out to be the chef’s duck leg confit with chargrilled pineapple and a black pepper sauce. Those cool and delicate slithers of ocean sweetness was the signature wakame pasta with seared scallops and a truffle oil. And the presentations are as breathtaking as each tantalising bite. NOX – Dine in the Dark really is more than just a restaurant; it is a unique and mind-altering experience that will reshape and reignite your perception of food and the power of the senses.

As a foodie travelling around Singapore you’ll struggle to miss Purvis Street – the swanky little neighbourhood of restaurants with cuisine from across the globe. Representing French fare to award-winning standards, Chef Gunther Hubrechsen of Gunther’s invites you to try out his refined modern French cuisine. Dine at Gunther’s during the daytime and you will experience a totally different vibe compared to at night. By day you can bag yourself a very reasonably priced set lunch, then by night, the chic fine dining feel comes to life, ideal for a very special date night. But whatever time you visit, Gunther’s food is always down-to-earth, yet it is framed with an artist’s eye and each dish is handled with the utmost care.

Take Gunther’s carpaccio of beef for instance. The beef is marbled Wagyu, grade nine, and sliced to film-like delicateness – so delicate that it can rest upon a shatteringly-crisp sheet of potato. Then there’s the golden swirls of Gunther’s signature angel hair pasta, served cold and gorgeously scented with truffle oil and chives then topped with Oscietra caviar – a firm favourite among Gunther’s enthusiasts. A treat for diner’s both old and new, Chef Gunther often surprises guests with whimsical creations. The one-off dishes are made with the latest in-season ingredients and showcased throughout the dining room for all to drool over. Ask for the exclusive and off-the-menu suckling pig with Kriek beer sauce, where a tender cut of succulent pork is infused with a touch of roasted sweetness and cradled within a crispy layer of juicy crackling. Bon appetit!

Esquina is Singapore’s alternative tapas bar with an edgy underground charm – a hipster’s paradise if you will. It eschews the idea that a premier restaurant must have white table cloths and a formal fine dining ambience, instead blasting out heavy beats and cramming its casual diners around Barcelona-style counters and metal-back chairs. The food served is just as fun and funky, but don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s laid-back style that might suggest its dishes are as lackadaisical as its vibe. Esquina’s unique take on Spanish tapas has earned itself an admired reputation with Singapore’s gourmands and casual restaurant goers alike. All-time favourites include a twist on beef tartare with an egg yolk dressing, or the skewered Iberico BBQ pork & foie gras burgers served with a side of sauerkraut.

The restaurant has recently celebrated its second anniversary and with it, Executive Chef Andrew Walsh has unveiled a brand new seasonal menu that groups the tapas under five different categories: Snacks, Soil, Sea, Land and Desserts. Look out for the rustic raw hamachi with house-cured duck under the “Sea” section, the “Mini Spanish Breakfast” in the “snacks” section and the Cape Grim Sirloin with burnt onion taken from the “Land”. They have also just expanded by opening Esquina 2.0 upstairs, so you can worry less about bagging yourself a seat. Be sure to come hungry, and prepare to let your hair down.

If you’re the kind of gourmand that gets excited about exquisite presentation, then you really won’t want to miss the modern French cuisine at JAAN – the award-winning fine dining restaurant at Swissotel, The Stamford. The dishes here are truly stunning (almost too good to eat), with each one carefully crafted by Chef de Cuisine Julien Royer. But it is not just about looks here, because the flavours of the chef’s dishes are equally mind-blowing. Chef Royer prides his cuisine on using the freshest ingredients that reflect both culinary tradition and his own creativity. The result? His imaginative dishes celebrate and wholly respect seasonality, terroir and the skills of the world’s best gourmet producers.

For the upcoming summer months, Chef Royer has put together a 5- and 7-course Jardin Gourmand menu dedicated to the purity of Artisan vegetables. Our favourite dishes include the stunning smoked organic egg, the colourful “Autumn Garden” as well as the chef’s “Heirloom Beetroot Composition” that sees beetroot roasted and puréed, made into a sorbet and also a meringue. JAAN’s ability to play with flavour, texture and temperature all at once will truly rock your senses.

Tippling Club
For any fan of molecular gastronomy, you will be well acquainted with Tippling Club – Singapore’s avant-garde restaurant helmed by celebrity Chef Ryan Clift. Chef Clift’s brand of modern gastronomy is fun, playful and fresh, and it imbues dining with a sense of excitement and a touch of theatre. It was made famous for its experimental, ultra-progressive cuisine that is paired with its unique cocktails, and it has recently made its way into the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

After outgrowing its previous digs, the chic diner has moved addresses, and with it, the food is bigger and better than ever before. The best way to try all of Clift’s creations is by selecting one of his Tasting Menus consisting of either six or twelve courses. Look out for signature dishes like his innovative twist on scampi, his artistic display of venison and onion that resembles the horns of a deer, as well as his own interpretation of a Terry’s chocolate orange. With the new location, the restaurant now spans three shophouse units and features a bar, dining room and an upstairs private dining room. And in true Tippling style, the restaurant is as quirky as the cuisine. Futuristic touches include seats that are engineered with a table lamp so they light up when occupied, so be prepared to have some fun with this kind of fine dining.

Waku Ghin
With only 25 seats available at Celebrity Chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s Waku Ghin restaurant, you might want to consider making a booking if you plan on visiting this world-famous restaurant – and we highly recommend you do. Once you’ve secured your hot seat, you can look forward to a very special dinner indeed. Opened in 2010 to rave reviews, Waku Ghin showcases the brilliance of Chef Tetsuya Wakuda in his only establishment outside of his famed Sydney restaurant. It is located inside Marina Bay Sands and it is the go-to restaurant for discerning foodies. Try the chef’s ever-recognisable Marinated Botan Shrimp, artistically presented in a colourful sea urchin (spikes and all) then finished with a very generous portion of heavenly caviar. Other signatures to look out for include the Australian Wagyu with Wasabi and Citrus Soy, and the Braised Canadian Lobster with Couscous and Tajine Spice.

The restaurant offers up a 10-course degustation dinner served at the Chef’s Table, so you can watch your food being prepared in front of you. And with so few seats in the house, you can expect a truly private and exclusive experience. You can also expect to be totally blown away by the fresh and innovative cuisine, the same cuisine that earned it a reputation as Asia’s second best restaurant, as voted by the Miele Guide.