In our first annual ‘Best Food and Drink’ issue, Time Out Singapore scoured the island trying chilli crab and cheeseburgers, sashimi and champagne brunches, looking for the best of the bunch. After rounding up the nominees, we left it to our panel of judges to weigh in critically where our food-friendly stomachs failed. So don’t waste your time or money trying restaurantsand bars on a whim – just take our word for it.
Devagi Sanmugam, the ‘Spice Queen’ of Singapore, is one of our island’s most dynamic and talented food personalities. She is the author of 16 cookbooks and owner of Devagi’s Restaurant & Café and Epicurean World, a cooking school.
Edwin Soon is the author of The Wines of France and co-author of Wine with Asian Food. He is TOS’ wine critic and has been a member of various food-judging panels, including that of Wine & Dine and the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards.
Amy Van currently contributes articles and recipes to a variety of food, travel and lifestyle publications such as Singapore Women’s Weekly and Vacations & Travel. She has also edited and styled a wide range of cookbooks as well as written travel guidebooks for Insight Guides and Time Out Singapore.
Once upon a time, Daven Wu was a lawyer who soon saw the extreme error of his ways. These days, he writes about design, travel and food for Wallpaper*, Monocle and DestinAsian. He is also TOS’s food critic, and for the sake of his job, will remain anonymous.
Hard Rock Café
Runners-up: Astons, BlooiE’s@ Rail Mall, Relish
Is it fair to pit an American chain against local joints? After all, at least five Americans claim to have invented the hamburger (they battled it out in the late 1800s). But why mess with success? HardRock Café’s burgers are ‘still quite original’, says Ed Soon.‘ [And] why would anyone want to have a different burger when it has already been perfected?’ Try the classic bacon cheeseburger on a toasted bun ($14.90).
Runners-up: The Sandwich Shop, Simply Sandwich/Simply Bread, Toast @ Raffles Place
How can you compete with a shop that regularly features a blue swimmer crab sandwich with marinated wakame, tobiko and avocado? Not to mention chef Norman Tan bakes the bread daily on the premises – pillow-soft walnut, onion and sage, tomato or dark rye loaves. Daven Wu enjoys the unanimous winner for its imaginative fillings and basement location, while Soon could only manage a ‘yum!’ – our thoughts exactly.
Average price of sandwich $8-$9.50.
Runners-up: Carousel, Marmalade Pantry @ Palais Renaissance, Whitebait & Kale
Another runaway winner, The Line, with its modern decor, ‘amazing dessert spread and superb bread pudding’ (according to Amy Van), decimated the other entrants. We mean ‘decimate’ in the nicest way possible – though it did prompt Soon to simply reply ‘duh’. In the end, it’s ‘still the one to beat’, says Wu.
Runners-up: Choupinette, Scrumptious Café, Ya Kun @ Far East Square
The judges practically salivated over clear winner Epicurious, known for its walnut bread French toast with orange butter and a cup of (no!) good coffee (for more kopi recommendations, scroll down). It’s hard to go wrong with this ‘old standby’ with a ‘cosy setting, exuberant menu and delicious food’, says Wu. And better still, it’s good value.
Da Paolo Pizza Bar
Runners-up: La Braceria, Rocky’s, Spizza
The verdict is in: the judges prefer thin-crust pizzas with ample toppings, and Da Paolo does it best. ‘Spice Queen’ Devagi Sanmugam recommends ordering the pie with arugula, Parma ham and shaved parmesan cheese, a ‘simple yet tasty option’. Wu attributes his Da Paolo vote to the ‘simple and flavourful toppings [that] do all the talking’.
Price per pizza $24-$36.
Runners-up: 7 Sensations (formerly Yogi Hub), Food #03, Ling Zhi
After some initial debate over what belongs in the vegetarian category (halal? vegan?), it came down to what restaurants classified themselves as ‘vegetarian’ – simple enough. Of the group, Original Sin – though admittedly pricey – dominated with its Mediterranean menu that even defined what’s friendly for octo lavo, vegan or jain vegetarians. ‘It’s a good place to entertain your vegetarian friends,’ says Sanmugam. ‘The mezze plate with the dips is a must-try, as is the moussaka.’
Café with the best reading material
Runners-up: 25 Degree Celsius, Project Shop Café, Whatever Bookstore & Café
While it was tough to choose between all four, especially when Soon picked 25 Degree Celsius for its ‘gastroporn’ – yes, you read that right, and yes, it is legal – ultimately, Sanmugam’s sentiment hit the mark: ‘[Book Café is] my all-time favourite for breakfast, for meeting friends, to sit and read quietly, books on so many subjects.’ With its overstuffed couches, it’s the definition of cosy.
Best Dim Sum
Runners-up: Crystal Jade Palace @ Ngee Ann City, Din Tai Fung, Red Star
Cherry Garden combines elegant decor with an all-you-can-eat dim sum buffet – basically, you can stuff your face with prawn dumplings in style. Menu highlights, according to Sanmugam, are the somewhat controversial ‘shark’s fin dumplings in superior stock and pan-fried sea scallop stuffed with prawn mousse’.
Runners-up: Akashi @ Orchard Parade, Shiro, Sun Japanese Dining
‘So good,’ says Wu, raving about the ‘Japanese [food] in an austere cloister-like setting’. (The decor is meant to ‘embody the essence of Zen minimalism’, according to its website.) Soon offered that this sushi was ‘the best in town, no doubt about it’. With time, though, Akashi may give Aoki a run for its sashimi.
Best Chilli Crab
Runners-up: Long Beach, No Signboard Seafood, Ponggol Seafood
Ask any Singaporean his/her favourite local food and chances are chilli crab will make it to the top five. While all four nominees produce consistently fresh crab options, it was 32-year-old Red House that won with its signature crab in Red House chilli stew, which Soon describes as ‘good and still good’.
Runners-up: Les Amis, Chef Chan’s Restaurant
At a time when we have had a few impressive makeovers, it was tough picking a winner. Wu raved about Chef Chan’s intimate dining rooms in its new National Museum home, and Les Amis made a good effort spending $3 million ($1m of that on the wine list) sprucing up its flagship outlet. But ultimately, Shang Palace and its $4m overhaul – complete with hand-painted flowers on the wall and elegant red-lacquer ceiling panelling – took the beauty contest crown.
Best Hotel Restaurant
(New Majestic Hotel)
Runners-up: The Cliff (Sentosa Resort & Spa), Desire (The Scarlet), Global Kitchen (Pan Pacific Hotel) When a restaurant is helmed by someone with as long-standing a reputation as Majestic Restaurant’s chef-cum-owner Yong Bing Ngen – formerly from Hai Tien Lo at the Pan Pacific Hotel – you can almost bet that the eatery will always be buzzing with activity. And it is, thanks to the crowds who can’t get enough of Yong’s ‘well-executed’ (according to Van) Chinese fare with a modern twist. Dishes such as crispy prawns with a subtle wasabi dressing and the succulent Peking duck served with pan-seared foie gras have had critics like Wu raving about its ‘excellent Canto-classics’ since its opening.
Best Meal with a view
il Lido (Sentosa)
Runners-up: Chatterbox (Meritus Mandarin Hotel), Jaan (Swissôtel the Stamford), San Marco (The Fullerton Hotel)
With a 360-degree panoramic view of the South China Sea, we weren’t too surprised that il Lido came out on top. While Jaan boasts an uninterrupted view of Beach Road and the surrounding area, the ‘gorgeous sunset views’ (quote Van) ultimately triumphed, while Wu calls the Italian restaurant ‘charmingly bucolic, a genuine slice of the tropics’. The evening champagne deals certainly add to the ambience, too.
Set dinner menus from $90pp.
Runners-up: Flutes at the Fort, Gunther’s, Hua Ting
Splurge is right: dinner at Iggy’s will set you back a minimum of $175++ (the tasting menu is priced at $195++) and that’s even if you choose the veggie option and go without a glass of wine or a bottle of sparkling water. With that said, you’re also paying for a meal at the 60th Best Restaurant in the World (according to Restaurant magazine). Iggy’s is ‘always at the forefront, always world-class,’ says Soon. ‘Every foreigner I have taken there has left impressed.’
Lunch tasting menu from $55++. Dinner from $175++.
Best Food for value for under $25/head
Runners-up: Banana Leaf, Curry Favor, Tuk Tuk Thai (Katong)
TOS blushed when Sanmugam wrote in, ‘Why didn’t you think of Devagi’s?’ So is the dilemma for ‘best food for value’: Singapore is known for its quality food for cheap (hawker centres, anyone?), so narrowing down the nominees was difficult. In the end, Rice Table deserved recognition for its sit-down Dutch-Indonesian buffet, boasting 20 dishes at dinner. ‘It’s just sensational for its quality and quantity,’ says Wu, and even Sanmugam admits that the ‘waiters are quick to replace the portions’.
lunch buffet $14.80++ pp. Set dinner buffet $23.80++ pp.
Best New Restaurant
Runners-up: Goto, Picotin, Si Bon
Yenn Wong’s latest offering, Kha, won the most difficult category. Ambience-wise, Soon gave it props because it represented ‘Thai [food] deconstructed, reinvented and represented and in really nice leafy surroundings’, while Wu sent his vote their way for ‘excellent food, perky service and great for its gettingaway- from-it-all vibe’. Too bad for Picotin, which was praised by Sanmugam for its Turf Club location, delicious (and huge) profiteroles and rhubarb crumble, but eventually lost out because it simply ‘smelt of horses’, said Soon.
Mains $12- $30.
Best Alfresco bar
Runners-up: Hacienda, Privé, Timbre @ The Arts House
Screening Room leads the pack with its rooftop bar. ‘You can’t go wrong with [this] wraparound view of downtown,’ says Wu. (‘Downtown’ in this case would be Chinatown and the mesh of charming Peranakan shop-houses and modern buildings.) Coupled with an excellent bar bites menu and extensive drink menu, this place is ideal for an afterwork drink…or five.
Average drink $13.
Best Champagne Sunday Brunch
(The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore)
Runners-up: Mezza9 (Grand Hyatt Hotel), Senso, Town (The Fullerton Hotel)
Pricey as it is – expect to fork out just under $200 for most places – the best Sunday brunch experience often has little to do with the food, and more to do with the type (and amount) of champagne served. Soon singles out the winner, Greenhouse, for ‘one of the best freeflows and staff who generously pour’. Seeing as he is an oenophile, we’re confident in his judgement. For the record, they serve Möet & Chandon Vintage Brut and Rosé, and top that off with endless (and extremely potent) mojitos and caprioskas. As for the food, think half lobsters, fresh tiger prawns, oysters, roast beef, an extensive cheese platter and ultramoist chocolate and raspberry soufflés.
Sunday vintage champagne brunch 11.30am- 3pm, $132++.
Best Late-night dining
Runners-up: En Japanese Dining Bar, Mr Bean @ Selegie Road, Tong Shui Café
Hawker centres notwithstanding, good late-night bites are hard to track down in Singapore, which is why we heart Crossroads Café. Known for its ‘high-quality food and great location’, says Van, the café is – according to Soon and Sanmugam – ‘great for people-watching’ because of its position on Orchard Road, which Soon aptly calls ‘right at the golden triangle’. Once you’ve had your fill of gawking, turn your attention to the menu, where favourites such as the nasi lemak istimewa and saucy beef hor fun make perfect beer-soaking meals.
Average mains $22-$30.
Best Wine Bar
Le Carillon de l’Angelus
Runners-up: Pump Room, Universal Restaurant & Wine Bar, Wine Network
Le Carillon is all about atmosphere – French movie posters decorate the walls of both branches of this wine bar (Ann Siang and Tyler Print Institute), while chill-out music sets the mood as you sip $10-a-glass vino. But if that doesn’t suit you, Soon recommends ‘dark horse’ write-in candidate Wine Company at Evans, speaking highly of its ‘good value wines and ambience of yesteryear’.
Wine from $10-$18/glass; happy hour 4-8pm, $8/glass.
Best Beer bar
Runners-up: Brussels Sprouts, Ice Cold Beer, Pump Room
Though each bar has its merits – mouthwatering Belgian beers at Brussels Spouts, variety at Ice Cold Beer and ambience at Pump Room – microbrewery Brewerkz and its range of crafted brews emerged victorious. The Brewerkz hub at Riverside Point is the perfect alfresco spot for one of its chilled ales; ask the staff, always knowledgeable, to help you pick a pint, says Wu.
We’d be remiss not to feature some of the best hawker centre meals in town. While waiting in two infamous queues, Sinnie Lee finds out if it’s worth the wait for that plate of…
Ah Hock Fried Hokkien Mee
Hawker centre: Chomp Chomp
Day/time: Tuesday, 7.35pm
Number of people in line: No one. You have to register your table number. Their order list (from 5-7.50pm) hit 54 orders. Within ten minutes, roughly 10-12 orders were filled.
Time it took for the 5th person in the queue to get food: 15-20 minutes
Average waiting time: 10-15 minutes
Process: Only after sufficient orders are placed will they proceed to fry a large wok of hokkien mee (about 15 plates’ worth), which takes about ten minutes.
What say you? ‘What do you like about this dish?’
‘It’s very yummy, [especially] this chilli – not too bland or dry. It’s moist.’ Kevin Tan, 31
‘The prawns – [they are] fat and juicy. The noodles are also not too dry, [they are] just nice.’ Eileen Song, 28
Extra: Vendors said they have another stall at VivoCity (Food Republic) – Yong Heng Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee
Meng Kee Satay Bee Hoon
Hawker centre: East Coast Hawker Centre
Day/time: Sunday, 8.37pm
Number of people in line: 9
Time it took for the 5th person in the queue to get their food: 14 minutes
Average waiting time: 2-3 minutes
What say you? ‘Did you come specifically for this dish?’
‘It’s very nice; you can’t get the gravy anywhere else. It is also very worth it for the price [$4]; the cheapest is only $2. It’s very hard to get anything like this for only $2.’ Alan Tan, 22
‘Not really. Actually, it’s my daughter [who likes it]. But the taste of the sauce is delicious and it’s just different. You can’t find [it] from elsewhere. The ingredients as well are good.’ Ivy Ching, 40, and Vanessa Ching, 9 (pictured).
TOS coffee picks
If there’s one thing our team knows, it’s coffee. We don’t want to admit how many cups we collectively drink per day, but consider this: our photo editor, Lester, has more coffee-making contraptions in his cupboard at home than cookware. We like to think of each new brew we try as ‘research’, so here are our local kopi favourites:
Wee Coffee (#01-55 Amoy St Food Centre)
Don’t let the name put you off; if you drop by Wee’s buzzing mini-emporium – emblazoned with vivid red lettering on a white background – ‘urine’ for a treat (sorry, couldn’t resist). Local characters simply don’t come any more colourful than the Crocs-wearing owner from Bugis, whose irrepressible wit and friendliness is matched only by his dedication to providing a double-quick service at the low cost of $.70. Drop a few coins for the full-tilt, coal-black brew that’s an instant shot of adrenalin from the first sip.
Choon Seng Coffee (#01-26 Amoy St Food Centre)
Marvel at the genius of a classic immigrant recipe at Choon Seng, where for $0.80 you’re treated to the heady taste of coffee-making, Hainanese-style. The ground bean is mixed with water, sugar, margarine and maize; the brew is wok-roasted, and then poured from almost a metre above – through a sock-style strainer – and into what I can only describe as a metal watering can. Then into the cup it goes, leaving you dazzled by the sheer artistry of the whole performance. This might not be the healthiest cup of joe in town, but it’s one of the most flavourful by a long shot.