Thursday 25 September 2014

A Beginner’s Guide To Singapore’s Chinatown... ‘sort of’

This is a ‘sort of’ guide to Singapore’s Chinatown as I never intended to write one – I had planned to write about some of the places featured in this post as separate articles but, as I have been busy recently, I’m going to have to group them together to clear my back log.

This is a real shame for me because ‘high end’ places like Burnt Ends, Esquina and The Tippling Club and the famous Maxwell Hawker Centre certainly deserve to be featured in greater detail… there’s always next time.

Since my stepson settled in Singapore, we have made several trips to ‘The Lion City” – of course, the primary purpose of our visits has always been for my wife to see her first born, but the fabulous food and drink on offer comes a close second.

On our first few visits we did all the usual touristy things and stayed at Raffles; recently however, we have chosen to stay in the increasingly hip and happening area of ‘Greater Chinatown’ – an area which covers the five districts of Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer, Bukit Pasoh, Tanjong Pagar and Ann Siang Hill.

Kreta Ayer is Chinatown’s traditional heart – on the lantern-lined streets you can find the usual range of Chinese restaurants, medicine shops and cheap tat.

After years with a reputation as a red light district and the destruction of many traditional “shop houses” to make way for high rises, a few forward thinking entrepreneurs are acquiring these 'heritage buildings' and once again putting the great into Greater Chinatown with their cool cocktail bars, boutique hotels and top notch restaurants.

Thanks to local businessmen such as Loh Lik Peng and overseas restaurateurs like Jason Atherton, some of Asia’s and The World’s finest restaurants can be found amongst the remaining historical temples, Clan Association buildings and Hawker Centres.

With Chef André Chiang, Peng owns Restaurant André (currently rated at 37th on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list), which is the area’s most expensive and celebrated restaurant. Next door to André, on Bukit Pasoh Road, Peng’s New Majestic Hotel has been our preferred base for our previous three trips. We like the Garden Rooms.

Over the road from the hotel, a short cut through a walkway brings you onto Keong Siak Road. Here, multi-Michelin-starred British chef Jason Atherton has The Study and speakeasy style cocktail bar, accessed with password via the neighbouring ‘tailors’. Jason’s menu is ‘British inspired’ – ‘Fish, Chips & Mushy Peas’ is on the menu… so is Steak and Chips albeit with Wagyu beef!

Over the road, housed in the iconic corner building that once housed the Tong Ah Kopitiam, the guys behind the celebrated Potato Head Beach Club in Bali have brought “dirty food” to the area with Potato Head Folk. I tried one of their hot dogs and a chicken burger.

Opposite, is Australian grill guru David Pynt’s Burnt Ends (another pie which has Peng and André’s fingers firmly embedded in it). Having made a name for himself with his London pop up of the same name, Pynt’s Burnt Ends is at the top of its game and should be at the top of the splurge list for anyone visiting the area. We had an exceptional meal there – Burnt Ends will be on the top of our list of places to revisit next year. The meat is obviously exceptional but don’t forget to order the charred marshmallow for dessert.

On the next corner (with Jiak Chuan Road), Jason Atherton and Chef Andrew Walsh’s Esquina Tapas Bar is one of my favourite casual dining places to eat in the world. Since our last visit they have opened an upstairs area where they offer a set menu and run ‘supper clubs’ – I still prefer the downstairs counter seats where you can observe Chef Walsh and his team work their magic.

Also on Jiak Chuan Road, The Cufflink Club is highly regarded as one of the best cocktail bars in Singapore. Whichever restaurant people visit in the area, many start or end (or both) their evenings in The Cufflink Club. 

Nearby, in Tanjong Pagar, British Chef Ryan Clift heads up The Tippling ClubIf you're are a fan of molecular dining and innovative tasting menus, it's up there with the best in the world. This year, it was named no 23 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.  

Chef Ryan Clift also oversees the menu at Ding Dong - a menu of modern imaginations of local and South East Asian favourites. The ‘48 Hrs Beef Cheek Rendang’ I ate was top dish – fabulous meat and a full on flavoured rendang.

For authentic local flavours Maxwell Hawker Centre offers a wide mix of Singapore’s finest flavours. Vying for the unofficial title of ‘the island’s best’, Maxwell has a number of places specialising in Hainanese Chicken Rice - Tian Tian is widely regarded as the best but Ah Tai (run by the ex head chef of Tian Tian) and Tong Fong Fatt also have their fans. For me, agreeing with Anthony Bourdain, Tian Tian gets my vote.  

Maxwell Hawker Centre is not the only place to get authentic Singaporean cuisine. Small local favourites also include the Foong Kee Coffee Shop (famed for its Wonton Mee), Tong Ah Eating House and the quirky Yixing Xuan Teahouse (which once hosted Queen Elizabeth II).

Tong Ah Eating House is a great place to try Kaya Toast – a ridiculously sweet breakfast dish of kaya (coconut jam), pandan, sugar and a thick slice of butter; this is usually served with soft boiled eggs for sipping and kopi (coffee) sweetened with condensed milk.

The Study: Ibérico Pork and Foie Gras Scotch Egg

The Study: Wagyu Onglet, Bone Marrow Salad, Triple Cooked Duck Fat Chips

Potato Head Folk: Honky Tonk Chicken Burger / Beets By Dre / D.O. Double G Hotdog

Burnt Ends: Smoked Quail Egg & Caviar / Sea Urchin & Cauliflower

Burnt Ends: Artichokes & Taleggio / Toast, Tomatoes & Lardo

Burnt Ends: Leek, Hazelnut & Brown Butter with Black Summer Truffle

Burnt Ends: Burnt Ends’ Sanger 
(pulled pork shoulder, coleslaw, chipotle aioli, brioche bun)

Burnt Ends: Jamaican Chicken

Burnt Ends: Dry Aged Rump Cap, Burnt Onion & Bone Marrow

Esquina: Sea Urchin & Crab Bisque, Sea Grapes & Smoked Herring Roe

Esquina: Thyme & Onion Bread with Smoked Bone Marrow Butter

Esquina: Popcorn Milk, Chocolate Mousse, Hazelnut & Burnt Orange

Tippling Club: Snacks

Tippling Club: more Snacks

Tippling Club: Omelette – smoked eel, chives, crispy shallot

Tippling Club: Cauliflower – cheese & truffle

Tippling Club: Foie Gras – cold confit apple, spiced biscuit

Tippling Club: Celeriac – crispy duck tongues, vegetable jus

Tippling Club: Venison – liquid onion ring. Salsify

Tippling Club: desserts

Tippling Club: desserts

Tippling Club: Terry’s Chocolate Orange – chef’s take on the classic

Ding Dong: Kingfish Sashimi with Black Daikon, Wasabi & Yuzu

Ding Dong: Crispy Pig Ears with Sichuan Pepper & Lime

Ding Dong: 48 Hrs Beef Cheek Rendang with Rice Puree & Crispy Herbs

Maxwell Hawkers Centre: Tian Tian Hainanesse Chicken Rice

Maxwell Hawkers Centre: Ah Tai Hainanesse Chicken Rice

Maxwell Hawkers Centre: Tong Fong Fatt Hainanesse Chicken Rice

Maxwell Hawkers Centre: Marina South Fried Oyster Omelette / Prawn Crackers

Maxwell Hawkers Centre: Wonton Mee

Foong Kee Coffee Shop: Wonton Mee

Yixing Xuan Teahouse: Dim Sum

Tong Ah Eating House: Kaya Toast


  1. Hi! There are many places to eat in Singapore other than the higher end restaurants! I'd recommend Two Chefs at Commonwealth! If you are a big eater ( I assume you are), go with 2 others to try most of the dishes, otherwise go with 3 or 4 others! (: hope you'll try it soon!

  2. recommend you this chicken rice stall. its call HUA KEE located at Redhill market (not too far from chinatown abt 10 mins drive), closed mon and tues. operate between 10am to before 2pm.
    i would say they serve the most affordable and best tasting chicken rice than those serve in maxwell market.)

    rice- 9.5/10
    chilli- 8/10
    chicken 8/10

    try it when you come, you will not regret. (be inform the quene is slow as only operate by 2 person and long quene


  3. for wanton noodle, best in sg should be Kok Kee Wanton Mee .The location is at Lavender Food Hub @ Zhuge Liang Hoa Nam Building or KOKA wanton noodle (be prepared to wait at least 45 mins at #01-99, North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre, 861 North Bridge Road, 198783. for koa i think they start 7pm but kok kee unsure.

    hold you enjoy


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