I am enjoying the thought of time spent in Singapore and Vietnam. There are many things I like about Singapore: the gardens, the fact that every sign is written in four languages, that the food is as varied as the languages. Four nights there, and we ate Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, French-inspired, and contemporary Australian. It’s interesting how many Australians are settling in Singapore and making their names in food.
Where to stay? We stayed at Naumi, which is a boutique hotel in Seah St, near Raffles (which is still being renovated, although it is operational inside). Well-designed rooms, good beds, great toiletries, and wonderful staff. Almost no material in the rooms, but if you want to know anything at all, ask the staff at the front desk.
There are endless guides to Singapore eating. I’m always a bit wary of guides, but I came to trust the hotel staff, and the Michelin guide to Singapore, whose judgments seem very sound. First night we ate at Lei Garden, in the nearby Chijmes development http://chijmes.com.sg/lei-garden-restaurant This is the Singapore branch of a restaurant group that extends from Hong Kong to China and Macau. Always a pity to have only two people around a Chinese table, but we chose from a limited menu which provided a bottle of wine or half a bottle of Charles Heidsieck with two dishes, including a singularly good plate of greens and mushrooms. We also had excellent glutinous rice dumplings with a black sesame filling, in a ginger broth. It’s quite a formal place, slightly old-fashioned, big, and with lots of staff. As with most Chinese restaurants, prices depend entirely on the cost of the ingredients – lobster, abalone, and all the other delicacies.
The two great discoveries for me were The Corner House http://www.cornerhouse.com.sg/ and Burnt Ends http://www.burntends.com.sg The Corner House, named for a former assistant director of the Botanic Gardens who lived there, is one of the loveliest places to eat, white and cool, green outside, and a focus of botany and plants. We had the business lunch (S$58, plus taxes and service): foie gras with grapefruit and apple and a jasmine rice cracker, Patagonian toothfish, and a dessert that was a clever take on kava toast, the Singaporean spread (a bit like Nutella). The wine list is remarkable (and yes, of course prices are high): we drank a half bottle of 2011 Puligny Montrachet.
Burnt Ends (which incidentally is very close to the other Naumi hotel in Singapore, the Naumi Liora) bills itself as contemporary Australian, and I did wish I could find one like it in Melbourne. The cooking is done over a grill and in a big grill oven, with sauces cooked on a tiny plug-in stove top. The mood is casual, with everyone sitting at the bar, except for a big group and those outside. Imaginative and exciting food to eat: we start with grissini, flattened, spread with pale taramasalata and chopped fresh herbs, and went on to a series of dishes including cooked leeks with browned butter, hazenuts and shaved black truffle. Beef, of course, with house-made pickles.The menu is written daily. The chef is the talented Jake Kellie, Melbourne-born, who worked with Scott Pickett at Estelle, and won a couple of notable awards. He works in a tight kitchen – about 13 people in a tiny space, moving as if they were choreographed. Bookings are essential.