Friday, September 4, 2015

72 Hours in Singapore

Published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, September 3, 2015

What to eat, see, and do, eat, and eat

I live for the long weekend and recently, we were lucky to enjoy quite a few. While most people hopped over to Japan and Hong Kong, I revisited the Lion City. As a gastro-tourist (meaning I travel to eat, eat, and eat), I was magnificently enamored by the city’s offerings and even brought home with me a few extra pounds to prove it. Eating is a national pastime in Singapore and when you’re there, do as the locals do—eat! Although I adore Singapore’s iconic dishes and strongly believe that one must devour each one of them on one’s first trip to the city, there is really so much more to eat than chili crabs, chicken rice, prawn mee, and bah kut teh. Here is a guide on how to plan your next long weekend in the city. Enjoy, overeat, and do not think about the waistline lah!


Dinner at Burnt Ends

Drop off your bags at the hotel and head over to this gourmet barbecue destination with bad-ass wood-fired ovens at its heart and soul. Start off with beef marmalade and pickles on toast, small bites that explode in your mouth with big, big flavors. Split the famous Sanger, a sweet and tangy 10-hour pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and chipotle aioli in toasted brioche bun, and follow it up with the main event—a masterfully grilled rump cap that is so tender and packed with beef umami. You are allowed to eat all the bone marrow resting on top of the steak as long as you promise to order veggies. I recommend the charred leeks covered in brown butter and hazelnuts. Be warned that Burnt Ends is a tiny place with a long waitlist, but the beauty of it is you have all night and the whole weekend. 

 Beef marmalade and pickles

Rump cap, burnt onions, bone marrow

Burnt Ends is located at 20 Teck Lim Road, Singapore. 
Tel: +65 6224 3933


Breakfast at Ho Kee Porridge at Maxwell Food Centre

I make sure to always try something different when traveling and in this case, frog congee first thing in the morning. On your tray will be a hearty pot of tasty gong bao-style frog legs (They taste like chicken, promise!) that you ladle over a separate bowl of slow-cooked rice porridge. Wait a few seconds for the thick and smooth carbs to absorb all the flavors and then, dig in. I really don’t know how much more delicious your morning can get. 

Claypot frog legs

Rice porridge

Ho Kee Porridge is at Stall #01-45 Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore

Lunch at Candlenut

If I live in Singapore, this is the first place I will bring visiting friends to, not only because Peranakan cuisine is a good introduction to the diverse cultures and flavors of Singapore, but because dining at Candlenut is like enjoying a homecooked meal at your grandmother’s house. Every dish I had—from the ngoh hiang, wing bean salad, lamb rendang, and gula melaka prawns to the buah keluak wagyu—was made with so much love and care. I know because I tasted comfort and devotion in Chef Malcolm Lee’s creations, two very rare things to find nowadays despite the unbelievable surge in new dining establishments. Desserts are heavenly, the chendol cream and textures of coconut are not to be missed. I urge you to order all the dishes I mentioned, and I apologize in advance for causing you to eat more rice than you should. 

Ngoh Hiang

Lamb rendang

Candlenut is at 331 New Bridge Road, #01-03 Dorsett Residences, Singapore 
Tel: +65 8121 4107

Dinner at Restaurant Labyrinth

 This is a meal that will change your life forever. Chef LG Han takes classic Singaporean favorites and transforms them into something you will never in your wildest dreams imagine. His laksa comes in a bowl without broth, with noodles that are actually coconut jelly, the soup dehydrated into laksa snow, and a fat and creamy oyster resting on top of the pile. When eaten altogether, it is one of the most incredible noodle dishes. He applies the same playfulness to Hainanese chicken rice, beef satay, pisang goreng, and chendol dessert, which comes in the form of xiao long bao and is served in a dimsum basket complete with “gula melaka” vinegar and chopsticks! The winning dish for me, however, is the Singaporean chili crab course that is designed to look like a beach, with deep fried soft shell crab resting on sand made with mantou crumbs, and shares the space with seaweeds, a shell-shaped chili crab sauce ice cream (one word: Genius!), and prawn bisque foam, on a blue-colored plate that resembles the sea. The dishes at Labyrinth scream confidence and make up my most unforgettable meal this trip.


Chili crab

Restaurant Labyrinth is at 8 Raffles Avenue, #02-23 Esplanade Mall, Singapore
Tel: +65 6223 4098

Breakfast at Tiong Bahru Bakery

There is something about the sight of freshly baked carbs and the smell of freshly brewed coffee that complete the morning. A friendly warning though: there are too many temptations inside this house of sin. Grab a kouign amann (Skip all the others no matter how devilishly handsome they look!) and wash down the flaky, buttery layers of the Breton pastry with a cup of joe specially crafted for you by Common Man Coffee Roasters. 

Carbs heaven!!!

Kouign amann

Tiong Bahru Bakery is at 56 Eng Hoon Street, #01-70, Singapore 
Tel: +65 62203430

Lunch at Corner House

I imagine how even more romantic it is at night inside the black-and-white colonial bungalow that houses the new restaurant of Chef Jason Tan. The talented young chef serves gastro-botanical cuisine in the midst of the city’s most famous garden, where you enjoy pretty plate after pretty plate of his exquisite creations. To this day, I still think about the Spanish Carabinero prawn served with the most gorgeous tomatoes, each treated uniquely, my favorite being the one marinated in honey and Thai basil. And the onions, oh God!!! I’ve always enjoyed the humble vegetable but his Cevennes onion destroyed it for me forever. I can never eat onions again without secretly fantasizing about his baked onion cup filled with sous-vide egg, onion puree, and black truffles with his onion tart, topped with parmesan, his dehydrated onion chips, and the most amazing onion tea that is a harmony of cold and warm, sweet and savory, silky and creamy. It gave me pleasure too great to bear. Do not leave until someone gives you a salted egg macaron. It is one of the best things I ate this year and if anyone offers me a box of 12, I will scramble for a seat on the next flight to Singapore. 

Carabinero prawns and tomatoes

Chef Jason Tan's iterations of Cevennes onion

Corner House is at 1 Cluny Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens, E J H Corner House
Tel: +65 6469 1000

Dinner at My Little Spanish Place

I know what you’re all thinking. Who eats Spanish food in Singapore?! But the cochinillo asado at this unassuming little Spanish place is even better than the one I had at the world-famous Meson de Candido in Segovia, the Land of cochinillo. Chef Edward Esmero, who proudly hails from Batangas, has perfected the art of roasting suckling pigs, resulting in an extra crunchy skin and the most tender, moist, and milky meat. His garlic shrimps made me feel like I have never eaten a proper gambas al ajillo before. Aside from the usual ingredients of olive oil, garlic, and chili, he added—drum roll, please!—shrimp head juice into the mix! I’ve never had anything like it before and took pleasure in mopping up the dangerously addicting sauce with bread. But cochinillo and gambas aren’t just the reasons to visit My Little Spanish Place. It is also the only restaurant in Singapore that carries whole legs of Joselito, Cinco Jotas, Sierra Mayor, and Fermin jamon. 

Cochinillo asado

Gambas al ajillo

My Little Spanish Place is at 619 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6463 2810


 Breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast

You must not leave Singapore without having an authentic local breakfast of kaya toast with thick slab of butter, soft-boiled eggs swimming in soy sauce and sprinkled with white pepper powder, and washed down with your choice of kopi or tea. There are multiple branches of this popular breakfast chain across the city, but nothing beats the experience at its very first shop in Chinatown. So old school chic, and according to local friends, still the best outlet. 

Soft boiled eggs

Kaya toast

Ya Kun Kaya Toast is located at 18 China Street, Far East Square
Tel: +65 6438 3638

Lunch at Tippling Club

There were purple gluhwein bubbles on my foie gras plate. Whoa! Only the playful and imaginative Chef Ryan Clift can think of something so whimsical, as proven again and again by the never-ending, fun little snacks he served before the mains. Imagine fish on seaweed cracker, pancetta on manchego pillow, red bell peppers coated in squid ink (that you eat with a tong), Singaporean curry with rice crispies in a jar, margherita-flavored fried beef tendon, basil “lava lamp” shot, and hay smoked quail egg that arrives in no less than a makeshift nest. I’ve never seen a prettier snow crab dish wearing a crown of onion ring adorned with edible flowers, or a more handsome Mangalica pork collar blanketed in milk skin and freshly shaved black truffles. I let out a giggle as I popped the cheesecake “pills” into my mouth. Go to Tippling Club with an open mind and be in for a pleasant treat. 

Snow crab, onion ring

Mangalica pork collar, milk skin, truffles

Tippling Club is located at 38 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore
Tel: +65 6475 2217

Dinner at Jaan

The newly appointed Chef Kirk Westaway of Jaan proved to be the biggest surprise of my trip. From beginning to end, he impressed me with his quiet genius, with little snacks of wagyu tartare, fish and chips, and foie gras macaron to the incredibly sweet and luscious, stuffed heirloom tomato with basil sorbet and burrata espuma, and finally, the piece de resistance—his signature forest pigeon with the breast slow-roasted to a beautiful medium rare. The tender fillet is covered simply in chives and is served with white polenta, grated Hokkaido corn, and a rich and decadent cromesquis of pigeon heart and liver. Each course was unpretentious, brilliant, and most importantly, delicious. I was at Jaan for lunch, but I am recommending it for dinner so you can fully appreciate the vibrant and stunning views of Singapore at night. (Don’t forget to request for a window seat!) As you enjoy your roasted French peach dessert and petit fours, I know you are already planning your next trip back. 

Heirloom tomatoes, basil sorbet, burrata espuma

Forest pigeon, polenta, corn, cromesquis

Jaan is located at 2 Stamford Road, Swissotel The Stamford, Level 70, Equinox Complex
Tel: +65 6837 3322

For more information on what to see and do in Singapore, visit

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