Singapore Botanic Gardens
1 Cluny Road
Tel: 65 6466 8812
Set in a restored 1920s plantation-style cottage on the grounds of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, this restaurant serves up some of the city's most exceptional haute cuisine. The intimate dining room's 12 tables are hard to come by—especially for dinner, which is prix fixe. Friday lunches are less formal and enable diners to enjoy the daytime view of the surrounding gardens. Chef Galvin Lim's menus, emphasizing classic European cuisine, change frequently; recent dishes have included crab salad in vegetable nage, langoustine with caviar, and grilled pork belly with braised lettuce. Au Jardin was built as a follow-up to the smashing success of the flagship gastronomic temple, Les Amis; both restaurants are usually booked far in advance. Sister restaurant Casa Verde, also located in the Botanic Gardens, provides a slightly less formal alternative.
Open Mondays through Thursdays 7 to 9:30 pm (last seating), Fridays noon to 2 pm and 7 to 9:30 pm (last seating), Saturdays 7 to 9:30 pm (last seating), and Sundays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 7 to 9:30 pm (last seating).
54-58 Race Course Road
Tel: 65 6293 8682
This humble curry house in Little India may well be the most famous restaurant in Singapore. The huge, air-conditioned dining room, with its fluorescent lights and Formica, has all the ambience of a high-school cafeteria; still, it's unanimously acknowledged to serve the city's best fish-head curry (roughly equivalent to the best bagel in New York). Once you're seated, the waiter slaps down a fresh green banana leaf in front of you to serve as the plate. Then, dishes of fluffy rice, papadum, and vegetables, and a bowl of potently aromatic curry with a huge fish head staring back at you. Don't be unnerved; the dish is meaty, intensely flavorful, and delicious. The Apolo shows no sign of suffering from legend-itis: Discerning Tamil locals consistently throng here for lunch.
Shangri-La Hotel, 24th floor
22 Orange Grove Road
Orchard Road District
Tel: 65 6213 4598
The Shangri-La's headlining restaurant since 2000, this chic supper club occupies a stunning penthouse, where well-heeled locals and hotel guests hobnob among abstract paintings of nudes and glittery views of the city skyline. The global menu here is varied and inventive: A soup of oysters, clams, and mussels, garnished with crab ravioli, has the bracing, flavorful taste of the sea; a risotto of wild mushrooms is enriched with truffles and Parmesan; a tarte fine of mango is paired with spicy black-pepper ice cream. By the time coffee arrives, you may not want to leave—in which case, ordering a nightcap is the obvious thing to do.
97 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 65 6222 3928
Occupying a restored Chinatown shophouse with antique stained-glass windows, Blue Ginger specializes in the distinct local cuisine called Peranakan, a mix of Chinese and Malaysian influences. Also known as Nonya, Baba, and Straits Chinese, this piquant hybrid cooking style was reportedly born in the 19th century, when visiting Hokkien merchants first took local Muslim brides. Regardless of their origins, Peranakan dishes are fiery and unexpected. Pork is stewed with cinnamon bark; prawns are sautéed in coarse black pepper. Ayam buah keluak is a chicken dish flavored with (according to the menu) "Indonesian black nut," which, when combined with spicy chiles, makes a rich, almost chocolaty sauce reminiscent of Mexican mole. The signature dessert, chendol, a stew of red beans topped with crushed ice, coconut milk, and palm sugar and laced with durian puree, tastes as weird as it sounds—but don't miss it.
126 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 65 6324 6225
Buko Nero can be roughly translated as "hole in the wall" in Italian. And though it does only have 20 seats, the monthlong wait to get a table clearly places this Tanjong Pagar restaurant far out of the realm of your common dive. This is a foodie haven that mixes Italian and Asian flavors in dishes like minestrone soup with silken tofu and minced beef ravioli made with truffle oil and wonton skins. Venetian chef Oscar Pasinato does not tread lightly on spice in dishes like pumpkin and crab soup and pan-fried bean curd topped with a cornucopia of snow peas, carrot slivers, sprouts, and spinach leaves.
Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 6:30 to 9:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 2 pm and 6:30 to 9:30 pm.
Singapore Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre
Tel: 65 6467 7326
Two of the city's top tables—Les Amis and Buko Nero—joined forces to open this alfresco café in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Mornings start with comforting breakfasts like corned beef hash; an all-day menu features Italian sandwiches, pastas, and wood-fired pizzas, a specialty of chef Luciano Pan, who moved here directly from a pizzeria in Venice. The four-course prix-fixe dinner is an excellent value (around $25), allowing diners to choose an antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce—the last perhaps the best, thanks to the restaurant's association with Canelé, a local sweets institution. The wine list, worked up by the sommelier at Les Amis, thoughtfully points out eco-friendly and good-value choices.
Open daily 7:30 am to 11 pm.
4 Rochester Park
Tel: 65 6775 9000
The 5,000 square feet of gardens and alfresco tables that front this bright colonial bungalow hint at the relaxed vibe of Graze, a contemporary Australian restaurant in Rochester Park. The outdoor lounge hints at South Beach with a long, placid pool lit by candlelight and black-and-white movies projected against a whitewashed wall. Inside, mismatched wooden chairs and a Bisazza-tiled bar lend homey rustic touches to the modern vibe. The food, however, is unmistakably innovative, from starters like ginger wine–oyster shooters with wasabi and cucumber oil or roasted sweetbreads with a peppered onion tart to entrées like soy-lacquered Wagyu ox cheek with coconut rice, green papaya, and pomelo salad.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 6:30 pm to midnight, Sundays 9 am to 3 pm and 6:30 pm to midnight.
Singaporeans swear that the island's best laksa noodles, won ton mee (noodle soup with Chinese dumplings), and rojak (spicy-sweet salads made with fruit and seafood) are found at these bustling outdoor food courts. They can be found all over the island, and each is annually inspected for cleanliness and food hygiene, so you don't have to worry about the stomach bugs that often accompany street food elsewhere in the world. All hawker centers are crowded with locals around the clock (hours tend to extend past midnight); the fast, cheap food appeals to all walks of Singaporean life. So don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting right next to the same society matron you saw the night before, fabulously coiffed and bejeweled, at a luxe French restaurant.
One of the most popular hawker centers is on Maxwell Road, on the outskirts of Chinatown, where dozens of vendors have stalls set up in a huge, open-air, fluorescent-lit warehouse. With an excellent range of Singaporean specialties, it's a great starting point for your culinary explorations. Some of the tastiest seafood in Singapore can be found at Newton Food Centre, where grilled stingray with hot sambal (chili peppers combined with coconut) goes down well with roti prata (fried Indian bread with curry), especially after late-night clubbing (open late, starting at 5 pm daily).
Recently, a collection of Singapore's best hawkers opted out of the maddening din that defines places like Maxwell and Newton. Instead, the 12 vendors have set up shop—along with 500 outdoor seats and simple plastic tables—at the Singapore Riverfront at Makansutra Gluttons Bay (01–05 Esplanade Mall; 65-6336-7025; www.makansutra.com). With signage in English, Chinese, and Japanese, just about anyone can know what he or she is eating, from Indonesian mee goreng noodles to Chinese char siew bao (stuffed pork buns) and Heng Heng's rightly famous fried carrot cake.
1 Cuscaden Road
Tel: 65 6732 2234
Proprietor and culinary star Ignatius Chan proves that great food needs only the simplest backdrop to generate global buzz. A regular at the top of Asia's best-restaurant lists, this serious eatery inside the Regent Singapore near Orchard Road offers menus that blend European dishes with Japanese ingredients, like the Wagyu burger and cappellini with zucchini and smoked mullet roe. The 13 counter seats are Singapore's most coveted reservations; book ahead to dine elbow-to-elbow with Asia's famous faces and top tycoons who chat with head chef Sufian Zain while he works on their dishes. Three intimate private rooms create a dinner-party vibe, albeit one where the host can whip up foie gras mousse with sesame, white truffle linguine, and fig tiramisu with homemade Rocky Road ice cream. Throughout, the muted color palette of the d)cor keeps the focus on the food and its elegant delivery.
Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 1:30 pm and 7 to 9:30 pm (last seating), Saturdays and Sundays 7 to 9:30 pm (last seating).
1 Harbour Front Walk
Tel: 65 6337 0491
This culinary address is a must for foodie travelers with a sense of adventure. Enter with an open mind: The waitress feels each diner's pulse, then inspects the tongue before taking an order. Jet-lagged diners are invariably advised to start with fried egg whites, scallops, and ladybell root—believed to stimulate the body's energy source, or qi. A resident herbalist whips up organic remedies made from dried caterpillars and pickled sea horses, which are added to dishes like the double-boiled snow frog's glands with rock sugar, said to improve liver and kidney functions. Order over-the-top items for bragging rights only: Stick to the less outrageous-sounding dishes, and you're likely to be pleased.
Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11:30 am to 6:00 pm and 8:30 to 10:30 pm.
1 Fullerton Square
Tel: 65 6877 8188
Power brokers seal lunchtime deals in this light-filled, white-on-white dining room just off the Fullerton Hotel lobby. In the evenings, there's a more relaxed vibe, with tony couples and groups dropping in to linger over the world-class contemporary Chinese cuisine. Sam Leong, director of kitchens for the prestigious Tung Lok restaurant group, has created a menu that uses classical techniques and luxury ingredients from around the world. Little towers of terrine of foie gras, alternating with rectangles of roast suckling pig and Peking duck, resemble an Art Deco composition without looking silly. Confit of lobster in a rich stock, garnished with mushrooms and string beans, is hearty but delicately flavored. Even the humble homemade tofu, served with spinach, is wonderfully light and pillowy.
02–16 Shaw Centre
1 Scotts Road
Tel: 65 6733 2225
Les Amis, sister restaurant to Au Jardin and Casa Verde, is the culinary embodiment of high-society Singapore. It's lavish but elegant, has the right pedigree—starting with Chef Armin Leitgeb's French Laundry background—and is thoroughly modern: The sommelier will even e-mail you in advance to consult about wine pairings. Multicourse meals may begin with a rich foie-gras terrine with crispy apple bread and pear-verjus chutney, then drift luxuriantly into main courses like roasted Black Angus entrecôte served with cocoa bean ragout and truffled French fries. Globe-trotting gourmands will appreciate the details here, from Italian linen napkins to the aromatic cedar steak knives and exquisite Zwiesel stemware matched to your wine. The dining room itself, located near the designer shops along Orchard Road, is Singapore's most formal, with straight-back but plush chairs; intricate chandeliers from Istanbul's Grand Bazaar; and low, romantic lighting.
Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 2 pm and 7 to 10 pm (last seating), Saturdays 7 to 10 pm (last seating).
86 Circular Road
Tel: 65 6438 3836
Though set up like a bar—one raised woodblock communal table extends the length of the room—food is hardly an afterthought at this wine and cigar spot behind Boat Quay on Circular Road. The compact kitchen—run by Mag Tang herself—turns out some of Singapore's most delicious fare. Tang has even been knighted for her work importing from France's Champagne region. European-influenced dishes include a salad of smoked duck infused with coffee bean and tea, or crusty homemade bread for dipping into foie gras macerated with port and Armagnac. But the real indulgences come at dessert: In straight-laced Singapore, the melted chocolate fondant is one of the island's most worthwhile sins. If you'd prefer not to share the experience, book the upstairs private dining room, which adjoins an impressive wine cellar stocked with 2,000 of Tang's recent purchases.
Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 2 pm and 6 to 10 pm, Saturdays 6 to 10 pm.
2 Bayfront Avenue, No. B1-42-46
Admirer Luke Mangan admits, "I'm a big fan of anything Mario Batali does"and he's particularly enthralled by Batali's Singapore export. As at the Los Angeles original, the restaurant's star is the central mozzarella bar, which turns out more than 15 varieties of handmade mozzarella, while a soundtrack of U2 thumps in the background. "I love how you can sit at the bar while watching all the fun in the kitchen area," Mangan notes. It doesn't hurt that Osteria Mozza has an impressive 700-bottle wine list (entrées, $25-$43).
Must eat: We love the mozzarella cheese with braised leeks for its simplicity.
Chef Mario Batali's favorite new restaurant: Harold Dieterle's Kin Shop, New York City
Pan Pacific Hotel, Level 3
Tel: 65 6333 1788
As authentic as any place in Little India, this restaurant in the waterfront Pan Pacific Hotel is also posh enough for a special occasion. The dining room is plush and sophisticated, with lots of natural wood and stone enlivened by contemporary Indian art. The menu has an encyclopedic range of cooking from the subcontinent. An innocent-looking thin tomato soup, shorba, is forthrightly fiery, with chile flavor and a splash of heavy cream for body. For the crab curry, the meat is simmered in a rich masala, subtly spiced and served in the shell. There's a wide choice of vegetarian dishes; try paneer makhani, Indian cottage cheese simmered in a thick, spicy sauce.
No lunch on Saturdays.
Level 55 and 56, ION Orchard
2 Orchard Turn
Tel: 65 6592 5118
Singapore's food hawkers have long been the source of many a blogger obsession, but a recent blitz of celebrity chef-helmed restaurants has put the tiny nation at the center of the food world. Our favorite new arrival is Luke Mangan's Salt Grill & Sky Bar, a hot spot where the Aussie chef serves a mod-Oz menu, mixing classic French techniques with local ingredients like
coriander, ginger, and chili. And then there's the view: Perched atop the gleaming art-and-retail complex ION Orchard, the restaurant is
a glass-domed jewel box with unparalleled views of Singapore's urban
surrounds (entrées, $27-$70).
Must eat: Yellowtail kingfish sashimi with ginger, shallot, and goat's feta. Chef Luke Mangan's favorite new restaurant: Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza, Singapore
Grand Hyatt Singapore
10 Scotts Road
Tel: 65 6738 1234
Can't stand the thought of braving crowds and brutal heat to sample Singapore's famous food stalls? Street-food style has taken up residence indoors at the Grand Hyatt. Set aside a large amount of time (and stomach space) to eat your way through the offerings, from cult favorites like yam cake with prawns to a range of Indian dishes to local favorites like popiah (summer rolls with braised turnip, prawns, boiled eggs, and peanut) and ayam santan curry, a Malay chicken dish with fresh coconut milk. Not all the local fare will appeal: The sour plum juice and cheng teng, a warm herbal syrup with dried fruit and fungus, are a bit too funky for many Western palates. But the homesick can also devour perfect pancakes, authentic burgers, and Australian sirloin. The dining room, designed by Japan's Super Potato, draws an energetic vibe from its mixture of natural elements like rough-hewn stone and dark wood with playful wall sculptures made of brightly colored glass bottles. Food is served buffet-style from chef-manned stations for Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western fare; there are also a lengthy dessert bar and a fresh fruit-juice station. The reasonable prices draw hotel guests as well as office workers who dine at long tables or in semiprivate rooms.
Open daily 6:30 am to midnight.
16 Jiak Chuan Road
Tel: 65 6323 3189
This whitewashed traditional Chinatown shophouse, nestled between incense-filled Buddhist temples and Singapore's seedier hotels, has such a lengthy and eclectic menu that you could easily eat from daybreak till well after dark. Their home delivery service, an upscale nod to India's famous dabbawalas, has created a loyal following of locals, who now stop by the airy dining room to chat over breakfasts of hearty homemade oatmeal with brown sugar and vanilla and the best coffee in town. At lunch and dinner, the plush club chairs are the perfect spot for tucking into gazpacho shots, juicy burgers with homemade ketchup, or "lambsicles," Dijon-crusted lamb on a skewer with polenta and spring onions. Regulars drop by to pour their own glasses from the Enomatic machine, stocked with little-known wines from around the world. The best way to end your day? Snuggle up on the elevated loft for flourless chocolate cake and oatmeal cookies, just like the owner's mother makes.
Open Tuesdays 8 am to 6 pm, Wednesdays 8 am to 10 pm, Thursdays 8 am to 6 pm, Fridays 8 am to 10 pm, and Saturdays 4 to 11 pm.
Far East Square No. 01–01
18 China Street
Tel: 65 6438 3638
Since 1944, this chain of air-conditioned kopitiams, Singapore's answer to coffee shops, has been a breakfast and lunch favorite among those not counting calories. At this, the original Chinatown location, and others, the signature dish is the thinly sliced toast spread generously with kaya, a creamy mixture of coconut and egg infused with fragrant pandan leaves and sweetened with brown sugar. Generous slabs of butter melt on contact with the just-char-grilled squares. Thick, black coffee and soft-boiled eggs round out the minimalist menu. Ya Kun is a family-run enterprise, modernized and expanded by the founder's children to include outlets overseas. But the decor remains simple—plain walls, metal chairs, and fluorescent lighting—and the local flavor simply can't be exported.
Open Mondays through Fridays 7.30 am to 7 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 8 am to 5 pm.