Only 3 hours away from Hong Kong, Singapore is one of our favorite short-term destinations. It's no doubt that Singapore is great for tourists visiting for the first time, boasting good food, great views, and convenient transportation. And of course you are not going to miss out its iconic skyline and the Singapore Flyer, but once you've done that, here's how we out-of-towners can get more out of the city like savvy locals.
Without further ado, here’s my itinerary for the weekend:
Day 1 – Café Hopping and Friday night out
During my 30-minute taxi ride from Changi Airport to the Westin Singapore, I was informed by the friendly driver that the hotel is SG's first integrated hotel, located within the vicinity of Marina Bay, the heart of the country’s bustling financial district.
I love red-eye flights because it maximizes time for exploring the city, albeit in a laid back way. Having arrived at 6 a.m., I was escorted to level 32, the highest lobby in Singapore. First impressions are important, and the lobby did well by offering tall floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive views of Marina Bay. Morning rays, natural light, and wooden-toned walls gives off a harmonious feeling. What I love most about the décor is how an elegant palette of muted colors and velvets in grey, mustard, and turquoise complements the distinctive pendant lights.
Just as I was expecting to be told to leave my luggage at the concierge while my room is being prepared, the thoughtful team allowed me to check in early (so I got to take a nap before walking around town). Handy smartphones are available in the room so it wasn’t a problem for me who did not purchase a data card – I use it for google map and ordering taxis while I’m out.
I instantly spotted a sign saying “Food Garden” outside the hotel, which is one of the largest dining halls in SG designed in a relaxing green space, conveniently hosting a variety of international restaurants. Soup Stock Tokyo from Japan and Guzman y Gomez from Australia have opened their first-ever overseas outlets there. I however resisted the temptation and went on to my first stop.
Brunch at Common Man Coffee Roasters. The place looks like a super popular place for expats to me, and was packed even on a Friday afternoon. Everything on the Menu looks super delicious and it certainly gave me a hard time in choosing between the Broche French Toast and all the egg dishes. According to owner Harry Grover, the name of the cafe is to pay tribute to the fact that coffee is grown and drank by the common men. If you want a café in Singapore that serves both good coffee and good food, this is the one.
Jalan Besar neibourhood. There’s plenty to do there, and it has a thriving culinary scene. Butter Studio (red velvet cupcakes) and Chye Seng Huat Hardware (coffee joint with its own roaster and private tasting room) are musts while you’re there!
I also visited Brawn & Brains which was further away. As instagrammable as it is, it’s probably not worth the travelling time if you’re just here for the weekend since it’s more detached from other points of interest. But if you have the time, it’s a really good place to bring a book and chill for the afternoon. The downside is that the washroom is a public one across a car park. Other places I recommend include: RONIN (best scrambled eggs) and Artistry Café.
Since I’m meeting a friend after work hours, I visited the National Museum and National Gallery to experience the cultural side of SG while I wait.
Drinks with a view. Ce La Vi at SkyPark Observation Deck of Marina Bay Sands is super popular among first timers, but this time I went to Lantern at Fullerton Bay. They serve lovely happy hours drinks and bites with a side of the panoramic view of the Singapore skyline and waterfront; but wasn't crowded at all on a Friday night. My friend and I chatted the time away with the company of truffle fries, satay skewers, and glasses of wine.
For second round, my friend took me to Ang Siang Hill, which is near the Westin and just a little outside the main Chinatown area. There are plenty of trendy bars, intimate restaurants, and chic boutiques. You can find Operation Dagger, an underground secret bar with artistic interior, under Oxwell & Co. They serve omakase sets to go with their experimental cocktails too. For us, we went into Lolla, which caught our eyes because of a fully crowded chic dining bar. We were seated in a communal table underground and enjoyed their homemade ice cream a lot. Other places you might want to check out include Nutmeg and Clove, and Gem Bar. Back at the hotel satisfied and tired, I’m glad the Westin offers White Tea Aloe bath amenities, extra-large combed cotton bath sheets, custom-designed bathrobes, and their Signature Heavenly® Bed. Its well-being movement allows me to Sleep Well and Feel Well.
Day 2 – Good eats and discovering charming neighbourhoods
I started my day with a buffet breakfast at the Westin’s Seasonal Tastes, the restaurant has panoramic views of Singapore’s garden city and it encompasses a generous selection of classic international dishes, local favorites and wholesome choices. What’s special is that it features revitalizing SuperFoodsRx™ items that are nutrient-rich and delicious. I enjoyed the homemade muesli and fresh fruits with dark chocolate sauce, as well as made-to-order poached eggs topped with smoked salmon.
First stop of the day is Pollen at Gardens by the Bay. Its famed flower dome is romantic and beautiful, but the food did not meet my expectations considering the price point (the bread was pretty good though). I’d totally recommend just grabbing a bite or tea on the terrace (which is walk-in only) instead of dining at the main seating area because the view is much better and the items on the menu are more reasonably priced.
Feeling somewhat unsatisfied, we continued to walk through the Helix Bridge to snap some shots before heading to the next spot. The Art Science Museum next to the bridge is currently showing an exhibition by Bulgari, curated by Lucia Boscaini, Bulgari Brand and Heritage Curator.
I ordered a cab through the Handy Phone to reach PUNCH, a café with modern interiors complemented by dashes of marble and wood. I opted for a seat in the open courtyard, but it started raining. Just as I was about to move, the staff saved my life by letting the motorized shade out so that I can continue to enjoy the greenery. I enjoyed their iced black in a hot afternoon; the bite-sized doughnuts looked amazing too, but I didn’t order because my dinner reservation is in an hour. (Please try them for me and let me know?)
To kill time (and to fulfill my duties as a sister and a daughter), I headed to get souvenirs for the family. The most sought after Singaporean items are the pandan cake from bengawansolo and the salted egg fish skin. Both of which can be purchased in the airport at a tax-free rate, but if you don’t want to be disappointed by a “Sold Out” sign, you better get them beforehand.
Dinner was at Candlenut, the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant located at COMO Dempsey. It’s a lovely secluded area with an old world charm, also having Dover Street Market as a tenant. Their menu is always changing, and it’s also very intriguing, as I was unable to comprehend most of the words. Instead of having to resort to google, I was so glad the informed and friendly staff explained each item on the menu and recommended us some of their signatures. They also have an “ah-ma-kase” menu to save you the trouble where the team selects assorted canapés, soups, main courses, and dessert for the table. Since we wanted to sample more of the dessert and had a rough idea of what we wanted to try from the menu, we ordered a la carte.
For starters, we ordered the homemade Kueh Pie Tee Shell stuffed with curried Crab Meat and Wing Bean Salad. The first “pastry cup” did not win my heart over but I really liked the refreshing salad served with lemongrass and calamasi lime dressing, especially after a long summer day.
The Bakwan Kepiting Soup is more than just a bowl of clear chicken broth, it’s light but not bland, with a hint of bamboo shoot aroma and served with crab pork balls.
While all the dishes are authentic, the Buah Keluak of braised local chicken introduced me to a whole new flavour, which I believe came from the Peranakan signature black nut sambal. The black sauce is thick and tasted like a mix of spices with nuts, also with an aftertaste similar to soysauce. It’s definitely one of those dishes you should try, but I personally would not order it again on a second visit. The Blue Swimmer Crab Curry was also recommended to us, and even though we did not order it, it was certainly a tough decision eliminating it. Lastly also tried the local Red Lion Snapper from the grill section, the chilli sambal served with it is pretty spicy but not so overpowering that I can’t taste the fish.
Coming to dessert, we got the Buah Keluak Ice Cream made with Valrhona Chocolate and chilli, served with warm chocolate espuma. If you remember “Buah Keluak” from the chicken dish above, it’s a black nut that’s used in Peranakan cooking. Here, it’s sweetened and mixed with chocolate and made into ice cream. It tastes like 99% cocoa that’s bitter with a sour note which I surprisingly enjoyed. I also ordered Candlenut’s Ice Kachang, which is something like Japanese shaved ice where there are toppings and sauces. Here, the shaved ice is rose and pandan flavoured, topped with azuki red beans. I thought I was going to like it but it was too sweet for my liking, the mix of favours was also a bit puzzling. The third and last dessert we sampled was the homemade kueh salat served with bankit crumble and young coconut sorbet that tasted rich and condensed.
The night isn’t complete without a trip to Whiterabbit, a restaurant housed in a beautifully restored chapel nested in the lush foliage of Dempsey Hill. It’s only a 5-minute walk away from Candlenut. But no, of course we did not come here for another dinner (even though I heard a lot of good things about it), we headed straight down the Rabbit Hole, a whimsical gin garden bar. Girls would enjoy the Hendrick’s Gin that’s mixed with house tonic, beautifully presented with cucumber ribbon and rose petals.
Day 3 – Late check out and chill
Morning Swim at Westin's Infinity pool with the view of Marina Bay, Art Science Museum and Singapore Flyer is a must. I thoroughly enjoyed Westin Weekends with late checkout and extended breakfast hours so that I don't have to rush on my last day.
Following on from yesterday, other intriguing neighbourhoods that you can visit include Tiong Bahru (I particularly loved Plain Vanilla Café, where there is an outdoor area to chill and read while you taste their highly rated cupcakes, as well as BooksActually, a well stocked book store that sells everything from local work to internationally best sellers), Haji Lane (great for unique independent boutique stores and colorful street view), and Everton Park.
Before heading to the airport, I got my daily coffee from Botanist, and stopped by for an icecream on the way.