Raffles hotel is a vast colonial sugar lump in the centre of Singapore known to the locals as the ‘Grand Old Lady’. Representing a time gone by, she sits central to the rest of Singapore’s landscape, which has grown and changed around her. The juxtaposition between old and new only cements her grandeur. Starting out as a private beach house in the 1830’s means Raffles is steeped in history and many of the original features remain. By 1887, change was afoot when the Sarkies brothers leased the property and turned it into a high-end ten-room boutique hotel naming it after Singapore’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles. It’s these first ten rooms where we stay overlooking the central gardens. Over the last century Raffles has continued to grow and now boasts one hundred and three suites, expanding the hotel tenfold. Part of Raffles’ success as the most prestigious and lavish hotel in Singapore can be attributed to those who frequented it with acclaimed writers, musicians and royalty having all passed through. The renowned Singapore Sling, once created as a way for high society women to consume alcohol, was first served at the Raffles Long Bar which continues to draws visitors from near and far. For the community of Singapore it’s the one place where you can freely litter, Raffles positively encourages you to dispose of the monkey nut shells across the floor (in the bar only) which everyone eagerly partakes in. Droves really do flock to sample one of the worlds most classic drinks from the very bar it was created.
Within the mahogany and whitewash villas that make up the hotel are endless corridors that form the main courtyard. The rooms are luxuriously spacious, all with lounge and private dining areas offering a feeling of home once inside.
Burdened by jetlag I wake at three and watch the clock desperate for time to fast forward so we can begin to explore the city and start our day before later boarding the Eastern and Oriental Express. It occurs to me that days don’t get much better than this! At six on the dot I’m in the pool, it’s still dark and we’re surrounded by both gloomy clouds and modern skyscrapers. I make the husband sit poolside on watch, patiently counting my lengths so I’m not alone. The silent leafy oasis rests amongst the city so beautifully it doesn’t quite feel real. As the sun rises and daylight is upon us, the pool seductively reflects its surroundings; this really is an incredible sight. With a busy schedule ahead we head back to our palatial accommodation, pack and head for breakfast. Raffles Tiffin restaurant offers both traditional dishes as well as the European and American style breakfasts. I sample the Nasi Lemak; coconut rice served with fried egg, Ikan Kuning (yellow fish), dried anchovies and peanuts plus deep fried chicken, cucumber and sambal chilli which comes as a chef’s recommendation. The Vegetarian rewards his gym visit with French toast; it arrives an impressive inch and a half thick and is surprising light. He scoffs it before I even get a chance to steal a mouthful. The excitement for all the many more Asian meals I’ll be devouring over the rest of our trip feels like the most brilliant prospect right now!
Curry on Sunday was an essential aspect of colonial life in the early 20th century and with Raffles Singapore has been serving it since 1899. To recognise this tradition the main dining room was officially named Tiffin Room in 1976 and serves a North Indian Curry buffet which judging by the hustle and bustle is hugely popular amongst locals and tourists alike. The Vegetarian really comes into his own here. The majority of the dishes served are vegetarian and he gets to really indulge in a rich vibrant plethora of flavourful curries. Vibrant green matter paneer, hohlapuri baigan masala, tandoor roasted aubergine with coconut, peanut and sesame seeds, dal makhani, overnight cooked black lentils with tomato, butter and cream. The list goes on. There are endless chutneys, salads, pickles and breads plus many meat curries. There is a charming sense of occasion to the hotel on a Sunday. The hotel itself is strikingly beautiful and is entirely seducing. For anyone with an occasion to celebrate or just for those wanting to indulge, Raffles is the place to stay and is renowned the world over. It’s absolutely one for the bucket list!
Despite our fleeting visit of just two days in Singapore, we venture out to The Gardens by the Bay and wander the Cloud Forest, The Flower Dome and swing by the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre to sample traditional street food. Not knowing where the best food is we copy the locals and join the longest queue we can find ordering what everyone else seems happy to wait for. Haiwanese chicken and rice seems to be the big seller here, with the popular stall catering for a never-ending queue.