Mention Singapore to anyone and the first response will be, ‘Are you going to Raffles?’ It may not have a long history by European standards – 126 years – but what a history: the Singapore Sling was created in the hotel’s Long Bar by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon between 1910 and 1915 (for the ladies because they weren’t supposed to be seen drinking; hence its pink hue); its guest list reads like a Who’s Who (check out its Hall of Fame, located in the heart of the hotel); it was declared a National Monument by the Singapore government in 1989 and was restored to its colonial heyday of 1915 at a cost of S$160 million, reopening in 1991.
During its restoration all rooms were converted to suites with teak floors, handmade carpets, and 14-foot ceilings. As well as the 103 suites, the grand building (covering 27,731 square metres) is home to an arcade of designer boutiques, plus a theatre and a museum (located in the former stables); 12 top-notch eateries and bars; a luxurious spa and a rooftop swimming pool.
High tea in the Tiffin Room or Singapore Slings in the Long Bar are on most to-do lists. With straw fans swaying back and forth from the dark wood ceiling, a peanut shell-littered floor and boisterous soundtrack (or live band performing), the Long Bar may be a tourist hotspot but service is excellent and it has a colonial clubhouse feel.
We breakfasted in the elegant Tiffin Room (faultless service offering both an Eastern and Western a la carte and buffet selection) and dined amid swaying palms in Raffles Courtyard. An Italian chef looks after this casual, buzzy restaurant where we enjoyed generous starters of vitello tonnato (S$32) and gazpacho (S$14), followed by pizza oven-cooked quattro funghi pizza (S$26) with smoky scarmoza cheese and spaghetti con vongole zucchini e botarga (S$32), rounded off with a rich chocolate and hazelnut ice-cream (S$9). After a (very strong) Sling (S$28) at the central bar, I moved on to a theatrical Final Waltz (vodka citron, limoncello, sugar, raspberries, mint leaves; S$29), prepared with liquid nitrogen.
Every suite has its own parlour, bedroom and spacious dressing room, served by a traditional butler.
Our Palm Court suite had an outdoor veranda with rattan seats facing the serene Palm Court. We loved the whirring ceiling fan, old-world furnishings, private bar and inclusive wi-fi. We would have preferred one king-size bed instead of our two queens.
Who Goes There?
Royalties, heads of state, movie and music stars. Book a tour with resident historian (and author of Memories of a Raffles Original) Leslie Danker if you can – he’s been with the hotel since 1972 and has earned celebrity status in his own right.
Out & About:
Super-clean Singapore is a city of ambitious architectural design and fine dining. We arrived at Pollen restaurant (sister to Jason Atherton’s award-winning Pollen Street Social in Mayfair) not long before the Flower Dome of the new 135-acre Gardens by the Bay closed for the day, so had it almost to ourselves before dining; and marveled at the skyline, G&T in hand, at Ku De Ta, located on the landmark observation deck of Marina Bay Sands.
Marina Bay Sands
We shopped for fashion (Matchbox is great for local designers) on Orchard Road and gadgets (make sure you try before you buy) in Sim Lim Square; and wandered past lakes, through rainforest and under a waterfall in the Ginger Garden to take in the National Orchard Garden’s many-coloured collection in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The Worst Thing:
You might need to ask housekeeping for earplugs: the sound of walking on those teak floors can grate.
The Best Thing:
When a colonial uniform-clad doorman opens the door of your Bentley limousine (complete with its own Raffles flag flying on the bonnet) you immediately feel like you’ve arrived somewhere special. As writer Somerset Maugham once famously said, ‘Raffles stands for all the fables of the exotic East.’
View from Ku De Ta
The Courtyard Suite starts from SD$1,400 (approximately £668) per room, per night excluding taxes.
Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Road, Singapore 189673; www.raffles.com/singapore; +65 6337 1886