By: Shamus Sillar
Thinking of a short holiday vacation from Hong Kong? There has been plenty of new-opening activity on the Singapore hotel scene in the past year or so; Shamus Sillar checks into three of the most recent arrivals to see what they have to offer.
SOFITEL SO SINGAPORE
35 Robinson Road
+65 6701 6800
Standout feature: DESIGN
I flick an innocuous-looking switch labelled “light box” in my room at the Sofitel So and – voila! – the ceiling above the bed is illuminated with an image of a great glass cupola, so it feels like I’m inside European palace. It’s just one of the countless ultra-cool touches you’ll find in this impressive and often entertaining 134-room hotel in the heart of Singapore’s CBD.
It helps that the ceiling is three-metres high; this is a heritage building with almost a hundred years of history, so there’s none of the space-saving pokiness you find in many modern buildings. Chanel’s creative director Karl Lagerfeld assisted with the design, which combines Parisian elegance with some impressive contemporary touches, and more than a little bit of bling: the rooftop pool is lined with gold tiles, and the front-of-house staff wear couture – no wonder I found myself sharing a lift with Aussie fashion designer (and Asia’s Next Top Model judge), Alex Perry.
With this kind of design aesthetic, it’s little wonder the hotel has opted for Apple-based technology in rooms. Everything from lights to music to room service to messages is coordinated through a supplied iPad – or you can use your own device if you prefer. There’s no button for opening the minibar (which is free, by the way), but you can’t have everything.
- Among Singapore’s best hawker centres – certainly its most atmospheric – is Lau Pa Sat, an octagonal-shaped, Victorian-style gazebo of wrought iron. At night it plays host to “Satay Street”, a pedestrian-only alley where delicious food is barbecued on charcoal fires and the cold Tigers flow freely. Happily, all of this is directly adjacent to the Sofitel – so close, in fact, that I could watch the flames being fanned from my window.
- If you do eat Lau Pa Sat satay one night, be sure to eat at Xperience Restaurant & Bar the next. The Sofitel’s in-house restaurant shares some of the avant-garde flourishes of the hotel’s design, including dishes listed not by size or order but rather by taste and texture. Try the foie gras and truffle siew mai.
AMOY BY FAR EAST HOSPITALITY
76 Telok Ayer Street
+65 6580 2888
Standout feature: PEOPLE
The 37-room AMOY has plenty going for it, but perhaps the single-most important factor in its very healthy ranking on TripAdvisor (second among all Singapore hotels at the time of writing) is the friendliness of its people. Scroll through the reviews and you’ll see repeat mentions of the “kind” and “accommodating” staff.
This was my experience, too. One night after coming in from some work meetings I made a casual request for a room-service order from the in-house Japanese restaurant, Jin, which I knew had been closed for 20 minutes or more. (Worth a go, I thought.) After a brief conversation between concierge and restaurant manager, I got the green light, and 15 minutes later a winning chirashi bowl (HK$115) was delivered to my room.
The tone set by the staff is reflected in a feeling of generosity that pervades the AMOY; there’s a welcome drink at check-in, a free fridge of drinks and snacks in the rooms, free airport pickup, handwritten notes left in your room from time to time, and discounts galore at the many nearby restaurants and bars when you show your hotel room card.
- The entranceway to the AMOY is unlike any other hotel: to reach the lobby, you walk through the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore (now the Fuk Tak Chi Museum), built on this spot because it was the landing site of Chinese immigrants who sought their fortunes on the island. (Many of them came from Amoy, now Xiamen, in China.) Note: this museum entranceway is closed for renovations to the old building; it will reopen later this year.
- The design of the two room types, Cosy Single and Deluxe Double, reflects this Chinese history; touches include blue-and-white porcelain sinks and the use of the geometric motif from Chinese folding screens. There’s also a slight Japanese feel to things, from the tatami-mat style of the corridors leading to the rooms, to the wooden slatted floor of the bathroom.
HOTEL CLOVER 33 JALAN SULTAN
33 Jalan Sultan #01-01
+65 6830 7888
Standout feature: LOCATION
Guidebooks to Singapore once focussed largely on the likes of glitzy Orchard Road and Sentosa; increasingly, they point tourists in the direction of more quaint historic neighbourhoods like Tiong Bahru and the Kampong Glam.
The latter is one of my favourite parts of Singapore, and Hotel Clover 33 Jalan Sultan is perfectly located to provide access to it. Leave the lobby and turn left then left again, and you’re immediately in the heart of the Arab quarter. From there, it’s a three-minute walk to the atmospheric old Malay cemetery, and a similarly short stroll to the Masjid Sultan mosque, built in 1826. Just a little further is Haji Lane, full of hipster boutiques, top-notch coffee joints and more.
Not surprisingly, Malay, Indonesian and Middle Eastern food is the order of the day in this grid of narrow streets, and though the quality can vary, there’s a happy, lively feel to the eateries here. Excellent contemporary restaurants are cropping up too: don’t miss Symmetry on Jalan Kubor.
Head for five minutes in the opposite direction from the hotel lobby (right not left), and it brings you to an entirely different setting: the palm-lined banks of the Kallang River. This is a superb spot for an early morning jog or an early evening stroll.
- Like the rest of the Hotel Clover collection (there are currently four hotels in the group in Singapore), the 33 Jalan Sultan property consists of a row of restored shophouses – 17 of them, in this case. This not only adds a welcome heritage appeal but it means the hotel has plenty of quirky touches, reflecting the architectural differences in the original buildings.
- For this same reason, the 88 rooms of the hotel come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. My Loft Suite has a living area downstairs, and two plush beds on raised platforms upstairs, all under an A-shaped roof. The Garden Rooms, for instance, are entirely different, and have small outdoor patios with vertical gardens. There’s an equally varied range of price points for rooms, which is good for those on a budget or others who’d prefer to splurge.